If you’re like most of the world’s population, one of your top three new year’s resolutions must be: I have to lose weight.
You will also probably start the uphill road by going online and checking out if maybe, just maybe, there’s a new gadget, diet, pill, or anything that you’re unaware of which might make your task easier. I know. Been there, done that.
Try googling the word “weight loss” and you’ll be bombarded by more than a million hits all catering to this worldwide demand. A lot of people are making a lot of money off the overweight issue.
There are simply too many options out there: low-carb diets, high protein diets, low fat diets, calorie controlled diets, and there are diets endorsed by celebrities.
Most diets will help you sharpen your math skills as you count grams of fat, grams of carbs, calories or glasses of water. Soon, you can even start doing fractions without using pen and paper.
But that’s really an add-on value. The reason you count, of course, is to keep track of whatever the diet you’re following wants you to keep track of.
Low Carb vs. Low Fat
Much to the misery of bread makers around the world, famous nutritionists have recently waged the war against carbs. Carbs, they say, are the real culprits of weight gain. The plan?
Eliminate carbs completely from your diet, stock up on the protein and watch the weight melt away. These diets, like the famous Atkins diet, have you counting grams of carbs.
So you can basically order a burger and eat it without the bread. You can eat vegetable sautéed with real butter and still lose weight. Load up on cheese but no.. you can’t have it on bread. And don’t eat fruit, they are carbs.
Dr. Mohamed Aboulgheit, a nutritionist from Egypt says that Atkins is in fact effective in weight loss: “In the beginning it was believed that Atkins was harmful. It increases the levels of cholesterol in the blood, due to the unlimited fat intake and so it was believed to be bad for the heart. However, a recent report by the European Association for the Study of Obesity showed that those following Atkins do lose weight and hence the level of cholesterol decreases even if they eat a lot of fat,” he said.
However, there are other problems. Lack of energy, lack of warmth, and most importantly, it’s impracticability. What happens after the weight loss?
“As soon as the person gets off the diet, there is a gain of 2-3 kgs, which is not worrying. But when they go back to eating normally, they regain all what they’ve lost,” Aboulgheit said.
Hence, weight maintenance is jeopardized because unless you plan to kiss all carbs goodbye for the rest of your life, you’re likely to put it all on back again.
Carbs are also an easy source of energy, so low-carb diets are particularly dangerous for children, adolescents, old people or women who are pregnant or lactating, he said, adding that it’s important to have medical supervision when following any form of diet plan.
“The ideal diet should give energy that helps a person perform in a normal way,” he said.
Whereas other diets that advocate eating carbs and reducing fat will have you counting grams of fat. According to Aboulgheit, following a low fat diet is also effective for weight loss.
“One gram of fat gives around 9 kilo calories and one gram of carbs or protein is around 4 kilo calories. So by reducing fats, I also reduced the overall calorie intake, however, low-fat diets present a different set of problems,” he said.
These problems include the deficiency of vitamins A, D, E, and K which are carried into the body by fats (fat-soluble vitamins), explained Aboulgheit. While taking a vitamin supplement may help in this respect, other obstacles also exist.
“Some oils are actually beneficial such as olive oil and oils found in nuts, they increase the body’s HDL (High Density Lipoproteins) which protects the heart from cholesterol,” he said. Another issue is that low fat diets make people tired and feel that they are unable to function.
Fats are also important for some neurological diseases. “The nerves are covered by fat and consuming a low-fat diet could be harmful,” said Aboulgheit.
“Normally, fat should constitute 15 to 20 percent of the calories intake of the day. If it is less, then there’s a problem,” he explained.
Cut to the Chase
According to Aboulgheit, there are three components for effective weight management. A diet program, an exercise program, and behavioral modification.
In terms of diet control, food is regulated in a way that maintains the patient’s healths as well as helping him maintain weight loss. “So it’s not just a slimming process.”
Lowering calories while following the food-guide pyramid is ideal. The food guide pyramid says a person’s daily consumption should be 50 percent carbohydrates (preferably whole grain), 15-20 percent fats, and 10-20 percent protein.
“It’s important to heed medical supervision since if anyone reduced his calories in a haphazard way it may be unsafe,” he said. Calorie intake depends on lifestyle and the person himself, said Aboulgheit, “their age, sex, medical conditions and if a woman, whether or not she’s pregnant or lactating.”
Which is why the optimal diet is tailored for each person. “We calculate roughly how many calories this person needs to lose weight,” he said.
For example, explains Aboulgheit, if you get a diet plan from your nutritionist and decide to distribute it to all the people in your neighborhood, you are in fact doing them a disservice. The reason?
“Because each person has his own requirements and health specifications. A diet that may work for a 20-year old is different from that which is recommended for a young child or a 60 year old.”
The perfect diet should help a person lose ½ (1.1 lb) to 1 kg (2.2 lb) a week. “This is a safe, heart-friendly ratio and is the recommended rate of loss around the world,” he said.
Hitting the Treadmill
The role of exercise in weight management is often misunderstood, explained Aboulgheit.
“A kilo of fat is almost 7,000 kilo calories (20 to 25 hours of exercise is required to lose that). However, a moderately intensive exercise program would only burn around 250 to 300 calories in an hour,” he said.
Exercise has a small role to play in weight loss but is vital for weight maintenance, Aboulgheit elaborated.
“That’s not to say that exercise is unimportant. It has endless benefits besides weight loss such as prevention of diabetes, cholesterol management, prevention of cardiac problems, and especially for women, prevention of osteoporosis. In terms of weight reduction, it may help in losing 200 gms (0.2 kilo or 0.44 lb) per week,” he said.
Aboulgheit explained that exercise helps in boosting the body’s basal metabolic rate and hence does affect weight loss.
It is recommended during a diet because later on, for weight maintenance, it’s an important factor. “If we are accustomed to changing our lifestyle while losing weight, maintaining will be made easier,” he said.
Because it’s a lifestyle change, Aboulgheit recommends behavioral modifications such as introducing movement to your daily schedule.
If you live on the fourth floor for example, take the stairs all the way or at least half the way up. Park your car a few blocks away from work or even walk to work (which in fact helps reduce pollution, so you’ll be doing everyone a favor).
Another strategy is to return the fork and knife back to the plate after each bite. “This helps you eat slower and hence feel fuller since the stomach takes some time to feel full,” he said.
He also recommends taking a sip of water after each bite. “You’ll find yourself eating half the amount of food, hence reducing calorie intake,” he said.
Surgery, Pills, and Other Extreme Measures
Eagerness or impatience might make you want to go under the scalpel, just to get it over with. It’s tempting but is it worth it?
Most honest doctors would only recommend surgery for serious problems or for those who have failed repeatedly, after genuine attempts to lose the weight and are suffering health consequences.
Medications are less drastic but there are too many out there, all falling under two groups. The first are those sold over the counter. They include carbohydrate blockers, slimming teas, green tea and other herbal concoctions.
“They are all proven to be ineffective, some of them are even unsafe,” stressed Aboulgheit. The only two medications that are approved by the Food and Drug Administration are sibutramine HCl monohydrate and Orlistat.
“Orlistat increases the metabolism and works centrally to suppress appetite. So you eat less and burn more. The side effects include thirst and increased nervousness in the beginning. The second is sibutramine HCl monohydrate, which prevents 30 percent of the fat absorption and should be avoided by people with severe colon problems. Both are safe if given to the right person and should always be prescribed by a doctor,” he said.
The internet is filled with claims about how drugs or certain programs can help you shed the weight “easily” or “without changing your lifestyle”, or my personal favorite: “eat all you want and still lose weight”. Wishful thinking.
The truth of the matter is, weight loss, like any goal, requires discipline, effort, change of lifestyle, and creating time.
Put simply, you can’t eat all you want and lose weight. You also can’t lose the weight without effort and you can’t hope to maintain the weight you lost, if you don’t change your lifestyle.