When it comes to weight loss, there's no shortage of advice. Check any magazine rack or bookstore and you're bound to come across that latest and greatest cure for being overweight. Some even work for a while.
But what you need to look for is something that works for a lifetime a weight-loss approach that can help you establish a healthy lifestyle to control weight. And the best weight-loss program for you is one that you'll commit to long term.
Here's a summary of five different types of weight-loss strategies in circulation today. Though these approaches may not be the ultimate weight solution to your weight-loss quandary, they may help you see the relationship between what you put in your mouth and its eventual effect on your body.
1. Low-fat diets
Eating foods low in fat is a logical strategy for losing weight. A gram of fat contains twice as many calories as a gram of carbohydrates or protein. So cutting down on high-fat foods can help you cut down on your daily calories and thus help you lose weight.
So why don't low-fat diets always work? The truth is that even a low-fat diet can lead to weight gain when people ignore the total amount of calories they're eating and regularly exceed their daily calorie goals. Too many calories from any source, low-fat foods included, can add pounds.
It's also not a good idea to cut most or all fat from your diet. This may deprive you of essential fatty acids which are necessary for the health of your body and possibly other nutrients sometimes found in foods that contain fat. In addition, your body needs some dietary fat to help absorb certain vitamins, such as vitamins A, D, E and K.
Whatever percentage of your calories is from fat, choose fats that will promote your long-term health. Limit saturated fats found in animal products, coconut, palm and palm kernel oils and trans fats (hydrogenated oils). Instead, use monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats such as those found in nuts and nut oils, avocados, and olive, canola and other plant oils
Another popular strategy for losing weight is to limit the amount of carbohydrates you eat. The theory behind this weight-loss program is that carbohydrates raise blood sugar levels, which causes an increase in your body's insulin production. High insulin levels drive blood sugar into your cells, where it's converted to fat.
Proponents of low-carb diets, such as the Atkins diet, believe that a decrease in carbs will result in lower blood sugar and insulin levels, leading to weight loss. By reducing the amount of carbs you're taking in, your body turns to stored carbohydrates (glycogen) for energy. When these reserves are exhausted, your body turns to the next source of energy, fat tissue, leading to weight loss.
Some people do lose weight on low-carb diets, but the weight loss probably isn't related to blood sugar levels. More likely, it's related to these factors:
- Loss of water weight. When you initially decrease your carbohydrate intake, your body burns glycogen. Glycogen contains large amounts of water, so burning glycogen leads to the release of water and increased urination, causing weight loss.
- Decreased appetite. Burning fat without carbohydrates creates byproducts called ketones that build up in your bloodstream. When this happens, you may not feel as hungry.
- Increased feeling of fullness. Low-carbohydrate diets are usually higher in fat. And fat takes longer to digest, which makes you feel fuller longer.
- Reduced calories. Most low-carb diets reduce your overall calorie intake because they strictly limit the variety of foods you can eat. Carbohydrates including bread, pasta, rice, cereals, milk, most fruit and any sweets are to be limited or avoided, thus leading to a significant reduction in calorie intake.
The glycemic index ranks carbohydrate-containing foods based on their effects on blood sugar. For example, eating highly processed foods, such as bread made with refined white flour, raises blood sugar higher and faster than does eating whole foods, such as coarse whole-grain bread or an apple. This earns white bread a high glycemic-index rating and whole-grain bread and apples a lower glycemic-index rating.
Similar to the theory behind low-carb diets, glycemic-index diets such as the G.I. Diet or the Sugar Busters diet are based on the premise that increased blood sugar levels lead to overproduction of insulin, leading to weight gain. Therefore, eating the right carbs foods low on the glycemic index can help you lose weight by lowering insulin production and regulating your appetite.
Using the glycemic index for meal planning is a fairly complicated process, however. Many factors affect the glycemic-index value of a specific food, such as how the food was prepared and what you eat with it. Also, the glycemic-index value for some foods isn't known. And people typically eat a combination of foods, which may affect blood sugar differently than does a single food.
Meal replacements, such as Slim-Fast, provide fewer than 400 calories a meal and are nutritionally complete. You replace one or two meals a day, such as breakfast and lunch, with a low-calorie shake or meal bar. Then you eat a healthy third meal, between 600 and 700 calories, of your own choosing. You can eat healthy, low-calorie snacks, such as fruits and vegetables, throughout the day. Most of these programs encourage regular physical activity. Meal replacements can be as effective as a traditional calorie-controlled diet.
5. Commercial weight-loss programs
Commercial weight-loss programs, such as Weight Watchers, offer a reduced-calorie diet and individual or group counseling. These programs assist your weight-loss efforts by giving you eating plans, exercise recommendations and ongoing support. Some programs also offer ready-made meals delivered to your home.
The most popular commercial weight-loss programs Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig and LA Weight Loss vary in the services and programs they offer.
- Weight Watchers. As a member of Weight Watchers, you attend a weekly meeting for a private weigh-in, group information or activity session, and supportive conversation with fellow participants. The program involves a three-step approach encompassing the foods you eat, your activity level and the use of specific strategies that promote long-term healthy weight.
- Jenny Craig. This program encourages long-term weight loss through exercise, stress reduction and individual support. Jenny Craig also offers ready-made frozen meals delivered to your home overnight. The meals contain the proportion of fats, carbohydrates, proteins and other necessary nutrients you need. The plan also offers telephone counseling and an at-home program for people who don't live close to a Jenny Craig center.
- LA Weight Loss. This weight-loss program includes one-on-one counseling sessions and help in planning meals and snacks, which you prepare at home. The program encourages clients to make food choices from readily available foods.
Which weight-loss plan is right for you?
How can you determine if a weight-loss program is right for you? The American Dietetic Association suggests that you ask yourself these questions. Does the program:
- Include various foods from the major food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains (particularly whole grains), low-fat dairy products, lean protein sources (meat, poultry, fish), nuts, seeds, and beans and other legumes?
- Include foods you find appealing and that you would enjoy eating for a lifetime not just for several weeks or months?
- Feature foods you can easily find in your local grocery store?
- Allow you to eat your favorite foods, or better yet, all foods?
- Fit your lifestyle and budget?
- Include proper amounts of nutrients and calories to help you lose weight safely and effectively?
- Encourage regular physical activity?
If you answer no to any of these questions, the weight-loss program isn't right for you, as you probably won't stick to it long term. Successful weight loss requires permanent changes to your eating and physical activity habits. This means you need to find a weight-loss program that you can commit to and follow for life.