Most popular diets have two things in common; they guarantee success, and they promise that with a just a few minor changes to your eating habits you can do whatever else you want without any consequences. Both of these statements are nonsense, and I’ve decided to write an article to discuss some of the major myths concerning popular weight-loss diets.
1. Low-Fat Dieting Reduces Fat Storage
The concept behind low fat dieting is that if you do not consume fat, then your body cannot store fat. This is actually not true, because fat storage is something that occurs after the ingestion of carbohydrates- not fat.
When the human body digests carbohydrates, they are broken down into glucose, which is a simple sugar and is the body’s primary source of energy. Glucose is then absorbed into the intestines, and then into the bloodstream (hence the name “blood sugar”). When glucose enters the bloodstream, the pancreas responds by secreting insulin. Insulin is a hormone, which makes glucose usable by the body’s cells. Insulin binds to glucose and allows it the body to use it as energy- or stored as fat. By avoiding junk carbohydrates (sugars), the pancreas produces less insulin, and the body is therefore less inclined to store incoming energy as fat.
Avoiding fats in your diet will not have this effect on blood-sugar/insulin. On the contrary, consuming healthy fats such as monounsaturated fats has been discovered to aid in body-fat-loss. However, you should completely avoid trans fats and try to minimize saturated fat intake.
2. Low-Carbohydrate Diets Reduce Fat Storage
The concept behind low-carbohydrate dieting is that when carbohydrates are restricted, the pancreas will not produce large quantities of insulin, and the fat storage will be limited. This blood-sugar-effect is true for this type of diet. However, what really happens on a low-carbohydrate diet is that insulin levels are reduced, and therefore hunger is also reduced. Low-carbohydrate dieters’ appetites eventually diminish, and their overall caloric intake usually decreases.
Eventually, the low-carbohydrate dieter just eats less, they become less active, and their metabolism eventually slows down, and they ultimately plateau. Other problems with low-carbohydrate diets is that they tend to be very high in saturated fats, low in fiber, low in vitamins, and they can lead to dehydration.
If you are considering a low-carbohydrate diet, I recommend looking into a cyclical ketogenic diet (CKD), which is basically an on-off-on-off low-carbohdrate diet. The strategy is to have low-carbohydate days, moderate-carbohydrate days, and high-carbohydrate days. This is much more effective, because it can prevent the metabolic slowdown, dehydration, and malnutrition that usually comes with zero-carbohydrate diets. There are lots of variations on CKD diets, and if you are interested, I encourage you to find a program that works for you.
3. Vegetarian/Vegan Diets Lead to Inevitable Weight Loss
Eliminating food products from animal sources is a very compassionate thing to do, however it will not magically translate into weight loss. Vegetarian diets have been found to have profound effects on health such as reduced risk of cancer, heart disease, etc., which makes them an excellent option for overall health. However, it will not necessarily result in fat loss.
Most of the health benefits of vegetarian/vegan diets comes from the fact that the foods are loaded with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals, and they are very low in saturated fats and added hormones. The foods are also bulky, and have a low calorie density. In other words, it takes less calories of vegetables to fill your stomach than it does meat/cheese calories. Needing less food to feel full makes weight loss easier. However, there are plenty of calorie dense vegetarian foods as well. So, if you decide to switch to a vegetarian diet, stick to fresh fruits and vegetables, and avoid processed carbohydrates and junk foods.
Conclusion: What Works
Most popular diets can be effective for short periods of time, because eliminating particular food sources usually leads to reduced calorie-intake. It is not usually the elimination of a particular food source that results in the actual weight loss, but the reduced calories. This is because weight loss is about calories-in vs. calories-out; its about energy consumed vs. energy used.
The most effective way to lose weight is to track your caloric intake, and maintain a steady, moderate calorie deficit (500 to 1,000) calories per day. Make sure to exercise daily, because even a moderate calorie deficit can slow the metabolism, leading to a weight-loss plateau. Make sure to eat high-quality, healthy proteins,such as: chicken, fish, eggs, whey, cottage cheese, etc (protein ingestion has been found to increase metabolism). Avoid processed carbohydrates such as: white bread, white rice, foods in boxes, etc. And, eat a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Although these suggestions may seem obvious to many readers, the continued success of new fad diets demonstrates the undying effectiveness of misinformation. I have some free tools on my website that will help you calculate how many calories are burned by doing hundreds of various exercises, as well as a nutrition calculator that will help you construct healthy meals.