Weight Loss: They Said It on TV, So It Must Be True
|"Lose 30 pounds in 30 days! Lose the weight without the effort! Eat anything you want, and still lose weight!"
Everywhere you look - magazine covers, print ads, radio, TV infomercials, the internet - headlines like those above, promoting the latest weight loss sensation, abound. They are impossible to avoid. Whether it is for the latest diet craze, magic pill, or infomercial gadget, we are inundated with a large daily dose of weight-loss-made-easy promises. And these ads obviously work, as the American Obesity Association estimates that American consumers spend over $30 billion per year trying to lose weight. Some estimates even put the figure higher, at over $50 billion.
Every day, in the quest to achieve the results claimed in the ads, people question which of these diets, supplements, or gadgets really work the best. It is a question that can best be answered with another question: If any of these products or diets really worked, why is it that, according to the Center for Disease Control, currently 65% of adults in this country are overweight? The truth is, while the ads work wonderfully, the products do not. Let's face it, if any of them did what the ads claim, nobody would be fat! We would all just pop a pill, or stop eating bagels, or use Suzanne Somers' latest gizmo for just 7 minutes a day, then run out and buy smaller clothes. Have you ever stopped to wonder why all of the "After" pictures in those ads have "Results not typical" stamped on them in really small print?
If these products do not work, why do we spend billions of dollars on them every year? There are a number of reasons, and some of the main reasons combine to create a very compelling force which drives people to make emotional spending decisions, when logic would dictate that they should know better.
* Overweight people have often tried dozens of different weight loss programs and some become desperate for a solution.
* People want to hear that there is hope.
* Very clever marketing, often disguised as science, reaches these people with the offer of that hope.
* Given that most people do not understand the science behind how the body works, they are willing to believe that this deceptive marketing actually is based in science, and the hope they desire can be theirs for just 3 easy payments of $39.95.
We are a society that wants instant gratification, and with a simple phone call and our credit card number, that weight loss is just a new, exciting miracle pill or best-selling diet book away.
Sadly, the only thing consumers are losing is money. Let's focus on the myriad of fad diets out there. Many of you will think I am crazy for saying this, but for the vast majority of people looking for long term fat loss, health, and fitness, diets simply do not work. Regardless of which book you run out and buy, in most cases calorie restricted diets, while showing short term weight loss on the bathroom scale, in the long term will lead to a slower metabolism and greater body fat than the dieter started with.
Think about it. We all know someone on a diet. How many of those people are dieting for the first time? Probably very few. Who doesn't know a dieter who can list all of the ‘great' diets he has been on?
"Oh, in '89 I lost 23 pounds on the Cambridge Diet, then in '92 I lost 27 pounds on the Scarsdale Diet, in '95 I lost 30 pounds on that grapefruit diet, I did The Zone in 2000 and lost 16 pounds, then in '02 I did great and lost 24 pounds on Atkins, but now I think I'm going to do the South Beach Diet because I need to lose some weight."
One more diet and this person should weigh about 34 pounds. The unfortunate truth is that just about every time someone attempts weight loss with a diet based on calorie deprivation, they will end up gaining back the weight they lost, and then some.
Low carb, low fat, nothing but grapefruit-. It does not matter what kind of diet you choose, because behind the marketing hype, they generally all have one thing in common: The dieter is restricting calorie intake. A quick science lesson is needed to understand how our bodies react to a calorie restricted diet. First, when a dieter severely cuts back on their caloric intake, especially by cutting out carbs, they will quickly deplete their glycogen stores. What is glycogen? Well, when carbohydrates are ingested, they break down into sugars that are transported by the bloodstream and stored in the muscles and liver as glycogen. Glycogen is one of the main energy sources used by our bodies. An important fact to know is that every gram of glycogen stored in our muscles stores approximately 2.4 grams of water with it. So, by restricting carbs and depleting muscle glycogen, the dieter also releases a lot of water. This is one of the main reasons the scale will show a large loss of weight when one initially goes on a diet. Unfortunately, the goal should be to lose fat, not water which the body needs.
Next, the body does not know why it is suddenly getting less food, so a million years or so of evolution kick in and direct it to go into famine survival mode. Fat is the body's long term survival energy source, so it decides that it must conserve fat to survive. That is probably not what you were hoping to hear, but unfortunately that is the way it works. In order to make up the deficit in available energy sources brought on by the diet, the body begins to break down muscle to use as an energy source. Another important science nugget to know is that muscle is metabolically active tissue and fat is not. In other words, muscle burns calories throughout the day, while fat just sits there. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn, even if you are just sitting on the couch. Of course, as we just discovered, the dieter is losing muscle due to the calorie restricted diet, so he is now actually burning fewer calories throughout the day. Again, looking to survive the perceived famine, the body becomes more efficient at storing fat and slowing down its metabolism to adjust to the lack of food coming in. Haven't we all heard someone complain that no matter how much they diet, they cannot lose weight because they are the victim of a slow metabolism? The reality is that, for the vast majority of people, we are the CREATORS of our metabolism, NOT the victims of it.
Now the body has slowed down it's metabolism to the point where the dieter stops losing weight. The usual reaction is to cut calories back even further. Of course, as we now understand, this only compounds the problem as more muscle will be broken down, further hindering the body's ability to burn calories throughout the day. Diets based on calorie deprivation usually are not sustainable for the long term, and eventually the dieter becomes discouraged and returns to their pre-diet eating routine. Unfortunately, this person has slowed down their metabolism significantly and is burning fewer calories than they were pre-diet. So, when they go back to their old eating habits, the weight comes right back on and it comes back as fat, not as the muscle that they lost. If they started out at 200 lbs with 25% body fat and lost 15 lbs during the diet, when they gain the weight back and hit 200 lbs again, their body fat percentage will now probably be closer to 30%! This is an illustration of a term most people are familiar with, yo-yo dieting, and it is why surveys show that over 80% of people who lose weight by dieting alone say that they gained back all of the weight they lost, if not more, within a year.
Does this mean that people should just give up trying to lose weight? Not at all. It just means people need to stop looking for the next quick fix diet that comes down the road. Nobody wants to hear that it takes actual effort to lose weight, but I am sorry to say that it does. It should say something that the obesity rate in this country continues to climb while all of the diet gurus out there rake in millions from innocent people looking for a solution. Obviously, reasons for being overweight vary, and every individual responds in a unique way to a weight loss program. But, for true long term fat loss and improved overall health and fitness, there are some common sense truths:
* A need to eat a balanced diet containing complex carbohydrates, lean proteins, and essential fats. Avoid highly processed carbohydrates, excess sugars, and excess saturated fats.
* Eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day is better than eating 2 or 3 larger meals. You will have more energy throughout the day, and your body will burn calories more efficiently.
* Performing moderate aerobic activity provides many benefits including improved cardiorespiratory function, improved endurance, lower blood pressure, and improved cholesterol to name a few.
* In addition to aerobic activity, people should perform resistance training to maintain or increase lean muscle mass. As we have learned, maintaining our muscles mass is critical in driving our metabolism and the key to losing not just body weight, but body fat.
Keep these points in mind the next time you hear about the latest "miracle" or "breakthrough" diet and you will be on your way to losing pounds, and not just your money.