I’ve been on more diets than I can count, and I’ve lost more pounds than I can count. And the only thing those diets had in common for me, was that I learned how not to do things in the future and how quickly weight can come back. Keep in mind that I’m not speaking from a professional point of view here, read my disclosure for more information on that, just from the point of view of someone who has tried all of these diets first hand, succeeded and failed at all of them over and over, and has put a lot of effort and time into figuring out why I’ve had such trouble losing weight and keeping it off. None of us are exactly the same, so your experiences will differ somewhat from my own. Finding out exactly what worked for me has taken some trial and error, and I can guess the same will be true for you. That being said, here are my humble opinions on dieting.
Dieting is not the way to sustainable weight loss. Dieting is an on again off again merry-go-round of losing and gaining weight. There are as many reasons to stop dieting as there are diets out there. Some people say they don’t have the will power to stick to something unless it’s a regimented plan. But how long do any of us really stick with these plans? Long enough to lose some weight, maybe hit a short term goal, but then something inevitably shifts. Either we get bored, or we have trouble continuing to lose on the diet, or we have trouble maintaining the strict demands of the diet.
Let’s talk about a few different diets.
What about a super low calorie diet?
Our bodies think that we are in danger of starving, so they will conserve as much energy as possible. This means our metabolism slows down which actually means we burn fewer and fewer calories. Then as soon as we start to consume more calories again we gain weight, or at least stop losing weight because our bodies are conserving this food as fat, assuming another famine is coming. I’ve done this before, I know it’s true. I’ve lived off of less than 1000 calories per day and wondered why I wasn’t dropping weight quickly. Because my body thought it was starving! Then, anytime I ate more, I gained weight! Imagine gaining weight from 1200 or 1400 calories? My body thought it was finally being reprieved! Nature is actually a good thing. We haven’t always had this problem, right? There was a time when our bodies needed to keep us from starving, not from being fat.
Now, I’m not saying you won’t lose weight if you cut your calories really low, I’m saying that:
Your body will try not to starve, so your metabolism will slow and then in the long run you’ll be doing yourself a huge disservice. And also, your body won’t just burn fat, it will burn your muscle as well and you definitely don’t want that.
What else did I usually do when I cut my calories super low? Tons of cardio. Hours on the elliptical. Running. Aerobics. I was wasting my time and energy and wondering why I wasn’t losing weight. While cardio is good for our overall health and should be included in a workout plan, when it’s overdone and combined with a very low calorie diet, it’s not effective for fat loss! Resistance training is the best way to build muscle. Combine that with short bursts of intense cardio activity and you have the best way to burn fat.
I’m not saying don’t take walks outside though! Walks outside are calming, soothing, and can be the best way to decompress from your day. I just don’t recommend them as your only source of exercise.
What about a really low carb diet? ie. The Adkins diet
A lot of people lose weight very quickly when they first try a low carb diet for the first time. The issue is that you cannot live forever on a low carb diet. These are extremely low levels of carbs here, starting at less than 20 grams per day for the first two weeks. There’s not even a whole lot of room for vegetables when you first start our. Imagine, vegetables being off limits, but bacon being OK? You slowly add more carbs back in but you never do eat any type of grains or certain fruits on the plan. Even as it becomes less restrictive, it’s still pretty strict.
What I found in my experience was that I lost more than 30 pounds really quickly the first time I tried it. But I couldn’t wait to take a break from it. I could not maintain it. I had to have a cheat day, and a cheat day on the Adkins diet is not a good thing. Your weight loss in the beginning relies on remaining in a state of Ketosis, which takes three to four days of low carb intake to achieve. Ketosis is when your body burns fat for energy instead of storing it.
Anytime I would return to the diet I would find it didn’t work as well as it had before. It was like my body was getting used to it and was finding ways to combat it. I read online about the “Golden Ticket.” This referred to the first time anyone would go low carb. They would lose weight like it was their job. Go off the diet and get back on, however, and that amazing weight loss would never be the same. Was this true, or just an urban weight loss myth? I don’t know, but it sure seemed like what I was experiencing. Now at the time, I wasn’t that overweight, so I didn’t have a whole lot to lose, and maybe I was expecting results too quickly.
I also kept finding new low carb products to supplement my diet with, and of course none of those were helpful! Why? Because they were all relying on net carbs and the fact that net carbs should only have a negligible effect on blood sugar levels. Well, eat enough net carbs and negligible becomes noticeable. I had to curb my low carb friendly chocolate bar addiction and give up the low carb ketchup, low carb yogurt, low carb ice cream, and low carb milk. Some of these things are still for sale in the grocery, so a lot of people are still low carbing.
I gave up the Adkins way of dieting after giving it a few more tries. I still think low carbing is probably a good idea for a lot of us. No carbing? Not so much. There’s a very big distinction! Any time you cut out veggies and fruits and natural foods in favor of mostly meats and low carb substitutions is not a great idea. Plus, I just didn’t feel healthy on this diet. There are other, healthier ways to eat a moderate level of carbs in your diet if you think that is what will work for your body. Check out my post on carbs.
Diets that sell you packaged and prepared foods? ie. Nutrisystem or Jenny Craig
This type of diet assumes that overweight people don’t know what we should be eating and don’t know how much we should be eating. So they take out the guesswork and make our decisions for us! Great, right? Well, not exactly. There are a few holes in this theory. Starting with the types of foods that are normally packaged in these diet plans. This isn’t what we should be eating! They aren’t the fresh, produce rich, meal plans we should be eating to lose weight. They choose the types of foods they think will appeal to us. Like mac and cheese and pasta and rice and a lot of other carb loaded foods. So, the portions are teeny and the food doesn’t always taste great. Basically, what they are saying is, get used to eating this tiny portion size because this is how much food you should be feeding yourself.
But if we were eating the right type of food, our portion size could be five times that big! And we’d never feel full from those tiny portions of food that don’t have the proper nutrients to sustain anyone. They do say you should supplement your meals with produce. So while you’re at the store picking up this produce, just pick up some real food too and ditch this diet!
Of course there are some other factors that go along with these types of plans. There is some accountability, some counseling, a network of support. But you can get that from a nutritionist or a dietitian or a free online community and you can make enough food to feed a football team for the price these plans charge! I’m speaking from experience here, I’ve tried so many different things! And the ones I haven’t tried, I watched my mom try when I was a kid. I never thought any of them were worth the money.
Diets where you track points? ie. Weight Watchers
These can be effective for some, but for me there wasn’t enough structure. Now, there have been changes made to the program since I’ve last used it. They’ve gone from points to smart points. I can’t speak for all of the changes, but I can guess they were attempting to get people to stop doing what I was doing. I soon realized I could go hungry all week long and then eat like a piggy on Saturday I had lots of extra points to binge with. Or, eat hardly anything all day and then eat a huge dinner, again, no problems there except I wasn’t losing weight. Oh yes, that was a problem. Half of my points spent on chocolate cake? Sure, why not? I’d just eat salad the rest of the day. Vegetables and fruit had no points so I ate them like a rabbit. Which would have been good, but there is still a good amount of sugar in fruit. It adds up after a while, so it should have some points. I was only cheating myself with all of these things, but it was way too easy to do, and I hear of a lot of people who do this. They get into the mindset of having points left and wanting to eat them whether they are hungry or not. Then they wonder why the scale doesn’t co-operate.
The other issue is that it’s something that you don’t want to stay on forever. It’s not free! So unless it teaches you lifestyle maintenance skills, you’re better off learning to track macro’s than points. It just seems to be another diet that people go on and go back off. Of all the plans though, it’s probably the least of the evils. I know this plan can be used to lose weight, I just have my doubts about the weight loss retention.
So why do I recommend My Fitness Pal? Isn’t that a diet plan?
Technically speaking, no! My Fitness Pal is a tracking tool. Yes, it sets goals for me, but I can change those goals. My Fitness Pal thinks I should eat more carbs than I do, and less fat than I do. So I don’t listen to some of the preset goals. I just use My Fitness Pal as a calorie, macro-nutrient, nutrition, exercise, and progress logging device. I set my own plan and intentions. And it also makes a great social support network, and motivating tool.
There are my thoughts on a few of the big ones. Low Calorie, No Carb, Pre-Packaged Foods, and Points Counting.
What should we do to lose weight? Check out a few of my previous posts…