All you need to know about Dieting and Weight Loss
All you need to know about Dieting and Weight Loss
This post will cover various aspects related to Diets, Dieting and Weight Loss. I have been reading a lot about various diets over the past few years (and have dabbled in some in the past).
Research into Diets consistently shows the following:
- For most people Diets work in the Short term (6-12 months) but rarely work in the long term (24 months+)
- Most people lose very little weight or none at all (on average) in the long term (some actually gain). Some are extremely successful with their Diets but these are exceptions rather than the rule (you will only read the exceptions in the media but not about the thousands that have not been successful). Average weight loss in the long term is +/- 2 kgs.
- Dropout ratios for Diets are extremely high- between 60% and 90%
Caution: Before we proceed further, a note of caution. In general Diets are not advisable for Children, Pregnant or Lactating women. Also if you have a serious disease (cancer, kidney problems etc.) you should seek medical advice before you jump on a diet as Dieting can harm than help you (for example Atkins Diet is not advisable for people who have kidney problems)
Why Do Diets Not work?
For a number of reasons – partly down to the individual and partly down to the Diet itself.
My own take on this is as follows:
- People jump into Diets without doing the necessary homework or upfront thinking and realise over a period of time that it doesn’t work for them (e.g. If you are vegan you will struggle to undertake Atkins Diet)
- Some of the Diets impose such restrictions that people will feel they are not practical for a busy day to day life or they make you hungry and tired etc.
- More importantly, Dieting is not about just Food and Drink. It is much more about behavioural change and Will – in essence about the Mind. This is often underestimated (or not considered at all) and perhaps that is why Diets fail. Human mind is a creature of habit and will resist change and Will is like a muscle and will get tired if you use too much. If you don’t grapple with these two aspects of the mind, then success is harder
Whether Diets fail because people give up or people give up because the Diets are not successful (resulting in weight loss) is a chicken and egg situation.
Why do people Diet anyway?
For a number of reasons
- For weight loss
- For better health (to avoid or manage diabetes, gout, heart disease etc.)
- As part of some treatments (some doctors prohibit specific foods or encourage some for certain diseases)
- For religious or cultural reasons (Lent, Ramadan Fast, Hindu vegetarian Diet etc.)
So how should I choose a Diet?
The best way to approach this problem is on an analytical basis by means of having a framework or a template (I know, I know – this is corporate speak – what I mean is that we need a set of criteria to evaluate any Dietary initiative to be undertaken). You assign points to any Dietary initiative using this criteria and then choose one with a relatively high total score. Given that some of the criteria are more important than the others, some of them have a maximum of 10 points and some 5 points.
By definition, this is subjective and judgemental.
The criteria I propose are as follows:
- Practicality – Any Diet has to be practical. If the Diet expects you to calculate points or calories all the time or tells you not eat some stuff on a Monday and something else on a Wednesday it will score low on this
- Nutrition – Any Diet has to provide all the nutrients required for a healthy life and if a Diet is deficient in certain nutrients and expects you to undertake supplements and vitamins lifelong, it will score low
- Cost – If you need to subscribe to websites or clubs or buy food or books then the Diet will score low on this
- Portion control – If a Diet imposes constraints on portion sizes or calories then it will score low on this
- Restrictions – If a Diet imposes too many restrictions on what not to eat and when to eat or now then it will have a low score on this
- Availability – The food items proposed by the Diet should be easily available to get a high score on this
- Evidence – Diets that are backed by scientific evidence score high on this. If the evidence is lacking or is not strong enough it will score low
- Side Effects – Some of the Diets can have side effects and they will score low on this
So how do the major Diets compare?
- Low Carb (High Fat)
- South Beach
in that order.
(The Med Diet is slightly higher in Carbs to my liking and the Low Carb has slightly higher saturated fats (though there does not appear to be any problem with it) to my liking so I prefer a combination of 1 and 2 – less amounts of Carbs than a Med Diet and less amount of Saturated Fat than a Low Carb (High Fat) Diet. It is just a personal preference given that I am Ovo-Lacto-Vegetarian (a vegetarian who eats milk products and eggs) (with occasional meat).
What does research tell us about success of various Major Diets?
There have been many trials held to assess the efficacy of various Diets and typically these trials include two or more of the following Diets
- Low-Fat / High-Carb – Energy / Calorie restricted Diet (typically 1500-1700 for women and 1800-1900 for men)
- Mediterranean Diet – sometimes energy / Calorie restricted Diet (typically 1600-1800 for women and 1800-1900 for men)
- Low-Carb / High Protein Diet – normally unrestricted – eat as much as you can
- Low-Carb / High-Fat Diet – normally unrestricted – eat as much as you can
Time and again, the trials prove that Low-Carb and Mediterranean are the best for weight loss (in that order) and Mediterranean and Low-Carb are best for lowering Tri-glycerides, increasing HDL and reducing inflammation (in that order). This is despite the fact that Low-Carb Diets generally do not restrict Calorie intake. Also the drop-outs tend to be lower on Low Carb Diets.
So how many Calories should I eat?
There is no need count Calories if you eat right. Counting calories is an unnecessary drag on your mind. The calories will (should) take care of themselves. Also as explained in the previous paragraph, some of the Diets do not restrict calories and people have struggled to eat more than 2000-2200 calories even when allowed to eat as much as they can on these Diets.
But if you still need numbers – here you go.
The daily recommended intake in the UK is 2500 cals for men and 2000 cals for women. I suspect for most people who are not undertaking physical work or working out a lot, 2000-2200 for men and 1600-1800 for women should suffice (again please bear in mind that these are not valid if you are a child or are pregnant/lactating).
So what would you recommend?
As mentioned earlier, anything that imposes too many restrictions or expect you to remember what to eat on any given day of the week has a lesser chance of success.
Before we get into lists the following broad principles should be considered
- Eat when you are hungry
- Eat enough to relieve your hunger. Don’t starve yourselves. If you severely under eat or starve yourselves, you are likely to end up tired, hungry and irritable and also unlikely to lose weight in the long run
- Aim for variety / rotation (different colours on your plate will look better. Won’t they?)
- Eat food that is grown/available locally and that grows in season (this is likely to provide immunity towards colds, flus etc.)
- Drink plenty of water
- If you can, fast every now and then (perhaps one or two meals a week or whenever it is convenient)
Here is the list then (with Traffic Light System – Red, Amber, Green (RAG) if it helps)
Eat the following in GENEROUS or UNRESTRICTED amounts (GREEN)
- Oily Fish
- All Vegetables (except starchy vegetables like potato, turnip etc.)
- All leafy vegetables
- Meat (avoid red meat if you are doubtful but there is no need to)
- All types of fruits (not fruit juices) (go easy on bananas, dried fruits etc.)
- Sprouted or Germinated seeds
- Fermented foods – Yoghurt, Miso, Tempeh etc.
That’s plenty to eat. Isn’t it?
Eat the following in MODERATE amounts (AMBER)
- Dairy products (Cheese, Butter, Ghee (clarified butter), Cream etc.)
- All types of Seeds and Nuts
- Legumes, Beans and Lentils
- Whole grain products (brown rice, wild rice, stonemilled whole meal flour)
- Basmatic Rice
- Extra virgin olive oil (not cooking olive oil) or Virgin Coconut Oil
SEVERELY RESTRICT the following (RED)
I am afraid there will have to be some restrictions:
- All foods made with sugar – anything that is man made and tastes sweet
- White rice particularly long grain polished white rice
- Foods made with white flour – white bread, croissants, bagels etc.
- Processed (unfermented) Soy products
- Vegetable cooking oil
- Deep fried foods / snacks
- Completely avoid foods made with Trans Fat or Hydrogenated Fat/Oils – this includes margarine, spreads etc.
A lot of diets completely eliminate Alcohol, Caffeinated products etc. but I am not sure there is a need for this. As long as the quantities are low and reasonable it should be fine.
So how much fat or protein should I eat?
Official guidelines suggest that you should eat 50-60% Carbs, less than 20% Fat and approximately 25-30% protein.
To keep it simple, eat a third each i.e. 33% of Fat, Protein and Carb (whole grains). That should be fine.
So is that it?
I am afraid not.
Any Diet has to go hand in hand with other aspects and has to be a part of an overall balanced lifestyle.
- No Smoking
- Consumption of low to moderate amount of alcohol (preferably Red Wine)
- Sleeping well (this is a major issue in developed countries)
- Exercise – HIIT, strength and resistance exercises etc.
- Managing stress (meditate, exercise, take long walks, pick up a hobby – learn a musical instrument, watch movies, read books, start playing a sport / game you enjoy (if you don’t enjoy the sport then perhaps it will not last long) (also a team game perhaps) – spend time with friends and family, work for a charity or best of all write a Blog around a theme you enjoy !!!! etc.)
So how do I know the Diet is working?
You need to look at a number of things apart from weight. That will be the subject of the next post..
I will add some details about each of the Major Diets in the next few days in pages 2/3 of this Blog. But please write an email or comment if you need any particular detail.