Is there a best diet for losing weight? This is question on the lips (and the hips) of a whole nation and the magazines, the popular press and television bombard us with new or rehashed diets almost every day of the week. We can be forgiven for being a little confused. So what is the key to losing weight and what is the best diet to achieve this. All successful weight loss diets and programs share common features that we can identify and find the one most suitable for us.
Most diets fall into several categories. One that is very popular over the past 15 – 20 years has been the low fat diets. The argument goes this way. A gram of fat contains 10 calories of energy. A gram of protein contains 4 calories and a gram of carbohydrate also contains 4 calories. Therefore if we reduce our fat intake we are sure to lose weight. This is false logic. The argument is that a cat has four legs and a dog has four legs. Therefore a cat is a dog! Using the same logic with regard to the bodys use of fats, proteins and carbohydrates is equally false. But supposedly educated dieticians and nutritionists have been plugging this line for many years. It is not only wrong. It is also unhealthy.
Now a gram of fat contains 10 calories of energy, a gram of protein contains 4 calories and a gram of carbohydrate also contains 4 calories. Therefore if we reduce our fat intake we are sure to lose weight because we can see that fat is energy dense. When we study philosophy we find something called a a syllogism. So, the argrument goes, a cat has four legs and a dog has four legs. Therefore a cat is a dog! Dieticians used the same logic with fats, proteins and carbohydrates and it was equally false. Unfortunately it became so entrenched that no one dared to challenge the presupposition and educated dieticians and nutritionists have been plugging this line for many years. For dieting the whole concept is fatally flawed.
The mistake is that it assumes all calories are equal and the body treats all calories the same, but it doesn’t. Protein is used differently by the body from carbohydrates for example. Protein is digested into amino acids which are used to rebuild muscles and skin. Although each gram contains four calories, it does not contribute one gram to your overall body fat. Similarly fat has other functions such as to absorb vitamins and minerals. Excess fat is flushed out of the system via the liver and gall bladder. Too much fat may contribute to heart disease, loose bowel movements and greasy skin but not pounds on the hips. Excessive intake of carbohydrates is the dietary evil making people fat as I will explain later.
Food-combining diets that have been made popular by Hollywood stars is another category of diet. Hollywood stars can afford the luxury of finding the right foods and combining them to lose weight. The rest of us eat normal foods and have household budgets. The diet is based on the argument that different foods work in concert to produce unusual weight loss as they enhance each others effects. It is really questionable and no true dietician advocates them. I think they fall into the fad diet category but some swear by them.
I mentioned the Pritikin Diet previously that was a super low fat diet designed by Nathan Pritikin. It was undoubtedly successful for some but it restricted the eater to a very limited diet of sprouts, greens, nuts in small quantities. It essentially reduced eating to a necessary evil with little enjoyment. The other end of the scale is the low carbohydrate diet proposed by Dr Robert Atkins and this comes with some excellent science attached.
Finally we come to the popular low carbohydrate diets popularized by the Atkins Diet. Dr Robert Atkins worked on existing research of doctors who had studied the insulin response of the body to carbohydrate intake. Through the research he discovered that when we digest carbohydrates our blood sugar levels rise. The more quickly we digest carbohydrates, the quicker the rise in blood sugar. The body reacts to this rise in blood sugar by releasing insulin which binds with the blood sugar and converts it into glycogen to be stored in the liver. If the liver’s glycogen store is full the body stores it as adipose tissue, more commonly known as fat. High blood sugar is bad for the body so maintaining a steady blood sugar is vital for good health. Unfortunately when we eat highly processed carbohydrates such as sugar, our blood sugar levels spike and we overproduce insulin to correct the problem. Our blood sugar levels plummet and we are immediately hungry again. So we eat again and so the cycle perpetuates itself.
Atkins realized from the research that severely restricting carbohydrate intake would lead to the body going to its own store of energy, its stored fat reserves. So the Atkins Diet was born. Atkins also realized from research that high sugar levels in the bloodstream contributed to heart disease far more than fats in the diet. This was demonstrated in research many years before the fad that led to the low fat diet which was based on a flawed premise. For many people the Atkins Diet was a savior and they have taken on the diet as a long term lifestyle.
As effective as the Atkins diet was, many found the first month just too hard to get through. For these people an alternative diet was needed that would help them lose the weight without the strict self discipline the Atkins Diet required in the beginning. For most, which is the majority of us, a diet that worked in the real world was needed. An effective diet should include food, exercise and a meal planner to help make life easier. Food can be our greatest ally in losing weight because some foods are better at helping us lose weight than others. We need to be educated as to which foods to avoid and which to include, correct portion size and eating habits.
Combined with this we need an exercise program that gets us moving and the fat burning off. Exercise is the cornerstone of any effective and successful diet. Combined with sensible eating and good advice it can put us on the road to success. The best diet programs also include a meal planner which gives you meal suggestions and prepares a shopping list for the week’s food. That way you don’t spend the day worrying about what you are going to eat that day. Obsessing about food is the poor preparation for losing weight!
So if you are looking for the best diet look at the programs that include a good balance of foods, from the different food groups and not unbalanced on their avoidance of any one group. Also look for a good exercise program included that will work for you and a meal planner is a must. Good luck is just a matter of research, commitment and dedication. The more committed you are, I bet the luckier you become.