Making Sense of the Diet Wars

by Marsha Hudnall

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Do Diets Really Work for Weight Loss?

Why restrictive eating doesn't make us thin | How diets make us fatterIf the ongoing debate between high protein/high fat diets vs. high carbohydrate diets has left you confused, join the crowd. Even the experts sometimes find themselves wondering as they read the latest headlines, which often leave out facts that are critical to making informed decisions about what to eat for healthy weight management.

But the truth is, the entire issue is very complex. There are no simple answers. Part of the reason is because we’re individuals. What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another.

That makes diets and other prescriptions that give blanket recommendations about what we should ‘all’ be doing fall short of the mark.

When genetic scientists succeed in figuring out all the variations that make individuals tick, then perhaps we’ll be able to better say what works and what doesn’t.

In the meantime, there is a lot we do know about how to stack the odds in our favor when it comes to eating to achieve and maintain healthy weights. These facts are supported by science as well as validated by our years of experience at Green Mountain at Fox Run helping women who struggle with eating and weight issues. These facts also incorporate a lot of common sense, leaving room for individual needs while giving us a base to operate from.

So as the Diet Wars continue…

 

Consider these points:

  • Weight-loss diets tend to exclude many foods we really like to eat. And that begs the question: Can we really follow these plans long term? Think about any weight-loss diet you’ve gone on in the past. How long has it lasted? For most of us, it’s been short-lived.
  • Weight-loss diets are by nature temporary. They are something we follow to get unwanted weight off. What happens after we accomplish that goal? We go back to our regular eating style, and the pounds creep back on (sometimes they come back a little faster). What’s the problem here?
    • It gets down to the fact that we don’t enjoy the way we have to eat when we’re dieting. A plan that’s nutritionally-smart AND takes into account the pleasure most of us get from eating holds better hope for long-term success. Because we don’t have to give up anything – we just need to start putting it all together in a way that supports our health and well-being. For the vast majority of us, that means a plan that encourages a balanced blend of carbohydrate, protein and fat.
    • To make it last, it needs to be one that’s meant to last. We need to start eating the way we’ll eat for the rest of our lives. So it has to be something we enjoy. Otherwise, we won’t stay with it.
  • You can lose weight on any diet plan if it has fewer calories. When extreme diet plans (which includes both high-protein/high-fat and very high carbohydrate diets) seem to help people lose weight, a closer look shows it’s probably because they usually eliminate certain types of foods that are commonly consumed — and frequently overconsumed. The reason for the weight loss, then, is that a person following the diet often ends up eating fewer calories than usual. Hence, the weight loss.
    • But why do we commonly consume certain foods? Because we LIKE them! So it follows that we generally find ourselves eating them again at some point. And if we don’t know how to eat them reasonably, which extreme diet plans don’t teach, then we find ourselves overeating them again.
  • Healthy eating is flexible, individualized and nutritionally sound. Rigid eating plans characterize approaches that set us up for struggles. We have to have room for making choices based on what’s available and on what we feel like eating at times.
    • That said, we still need to use common sense. If everything we eat is rich in calories, fat and sugar, then we’re likely to find ourselves with a few more pounds of fat on our bodies than we might want. To say nothing of the health impact of a constant diet of too many rich foods.
    • Likewise, a diet that eliminates particular food groups sets us up for poor nutrition, which has a real impact on well-being now and in the future. Regularly eating well-balanced meals that contain all the food groups is a nutrition basic that promotes and preserves energy levels and healthy bodies.

At Green Mountain, women seem to get a good sense of what they need and really want after a few days of eating three balanced meals a day with a snack or two if they’re hungry between meals. See our Plate Approach for an idea of what these meals look like.

 

So Why Do Americans Seem To Be Getting Fatter?

The high-fat/high-protein diet advocates blame high-carbohydrate diets (and vice versa) for the seeming upswing of obesity in this country. But a more likely reason is an upswing in calorie intake — from any source. Food intake research estimates that, on average, Americans now consume almost 350 calories more per day than 10 years ago. Combine this with a less active lifestyle, and the results are predictable.

Why are we eating more? We can speculate that one reason might be that we are eating bigger portions. See “How Much Is Enough” for more on that. We also wonder whether unbalanced eating styles that interfere with satiation, and restrictive notions that set up overeating due to deprivation, play a role.

To us, it all seems to be common sense. And given the lack of anything more reliable, that’s where our vote goes.

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