Updated: Apr 18
Nearly everyone is trying to lose weight. That’s a good thing. Your health depends on it. But doing it right is also important. Let’s dive in!
According to the CDC, the obesity prevalence in the US was 41.9% in 2020. This was an increase from 30.5% in 1999. Obesity related symptoms include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers. All these conditions can lead to preventable premature deaths.
World renowned researcher Walter C. Willett, MD, DrPH, Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and author of Eat, Drink, and Be Heatlhy… says that keeping your weight in a healthy range, not smoking, and exercising can
“…prevent 80 percent of heart attacks, 90 percent of type 2 diabetes, and 70 percent of colorectal cancer.”
In other words, staying slim needs to be a high priority for all of us.
The Problem With Dieting
One of the top issues I hear from people wishing to lose weight is deciding which diet is best. I’m sure you’ve been there. As well intentioned as this concern is, there is a problem.
Dieting just doesn’t work. In fact, most diets set you up for continued failure and even greater weight gain.
Registered dietitian Alissa Rumsey, MS, RD says “research shows that diets don't work: 90 to 97% of people who lose weight through dieting will regain it back within two to five years.”
The vast majority of people I see who have lost weight, gain it all back and then some by the next time I see them. Not only is it hard to lose weight, it's even harder to keep it off.
Historian, Adrienne Rose Bitar puts it succinctly:
“Despite decades of faithful dieting - fat-free, sugar-free, low-carb, high-carb - American obesity rates have not fallen. More than two-thirds of adults are now classified as overweight or obese.”
Think of all the diets you have undertaken. Most likely, you lost weight for a time but eventually gained the weight back. Blaming yourself for screwing it up, you tried dieting again. Possibly a new diet. You failed again. You concluded you just don’t have the will power to be successful. That being said, perhaps you are contemplating, even after numerous failings, starting yet a new diet.
Let’s look at the facts.
Why don’t diets work?
Here’s what the science has to say:
Diets are generally restrictive in nature. Many diets require you to drastically reduce calories or eliminate whole food groups such as carbohydrates. This can heighten the sense of deprivation and increase cravings, while decreasing adherence to the diet.
Many diets are unsustainable. Most weight loss diets are designed to be short-term and are not doable in the long-run. Once you stop the diet you are prone to regain the weight you lost or even gain more.
Commonly, weight loss diets don’t consider the individual differences between people. What may work for you may not work for someone else. This one-size-fits-all approach lowers the effectiveness of the diet.
Diets rarely address the underlying issues of weight gain. The emotional causes of overeating are left unexamined.
Severely restricting calories can slow down your metabolism which can make it more difficult to lose weight and keep it off in the future.
What to do?
“…it’s important to adopt a healthy lifestyle rather than embracing extreme or fad diets.“
There are many things you can do to adopt a sustainable lifestyle that leads to weight loss over the long-term. You may not lose weight as quickly as you would on popular diets, such as keto or carnivore, etc., but the weight you lose will lead to a healthier and more trim physique that will last and serve you well for a lifetime.
Here are some things you can do to establish a healthy lifestyle that can sustain long-term weight loss:
Focus on whole foods: incorporate fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats into your everyday diet. These foods are nutrient-dense and loaded with fiber which will keep you full longer. You will also be provided with all the vitamins and minerals you need to be healthy and robust. Plant-based is best.
Related: Take an in-depth look at optimal diets that promote health and longevity. .
Avoid fad diets: rather than following popular restrictive diets, take small sustainable steps that help you make changes for the long-term. Small or gradual steps help you in creating new healthier habits.
Related: Read my article on how taking Small Steps can help you reach your goals.
Eat mindfully: start paying attention to your hunger and fullness cues while eating slowly. This approach allows your brain to register that you are full and help avoid overeating.
Reduce processed foods: processed foods are high in salt, sugar, calories, and fats that contribute directly to weight gain. Make an effort to focus on whole, unprocessed foods. You will lose weight and promote overall health.
Stay hydrated: a key to feeling full and reducing the urge to eat is to drink plenty of water. It is usually advised to drink 8 glasses of water a day. Experiment on the quantity of water that works best for you.
Exercise: being active can help in losing weight and keeping it off. Although no substitute for proper dieting, daily exercise (aim for 30 minutes, minimum per day) is an important component of reasonable weight loss.
Related: Exercise can lower your risk of death by 47%.
Self-care: Seek to manage stress, get enough quality sleep, meditate or practice relaxation techniques. Reduced stress can curtail compulsive or emotional eating while reducing food cravings.
Related: For an in-depth look at managing stress and promoting a calm lifestyle read my article on promoting calmness.
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The Keto Diet
The keto diet is a very popular weight loss plan. I want to take a little time discussing the health concerns adopting this diet may entail.
The keto diet is a weight loss diet that has demonstrated effectiveness in short-term weight loss. It has also shown benefit in medical conditions such as epilepsy and type 2 diabetes. But there are several health concerns about which you need to be aware.
Since the keto diet severely restricts an entire food group, carbohydrates, there is the possibility of experiencing deficiencies in essential vitamins and minerals found in fruits, whole grains, and many vegetables.
The keto diet may also be high in saturated fat that can increase LDL or “bad” cholesterol and further the development of heart disease. If the keto diet is also high in protein it may put extra load on the kidneys, especially for those with kidney disease.
Constipation may occur since the keto diet is low in fiber. This lack of fiber can also have negative consequences for your immune system and microbiome.
Regarding weight loss, it has been found that many people experience difficulty in adhering to the keto diet and even experience significant weight regain after stopping the diet.
If you decide to adopt a keto diet or any of the popular diet plans that eliminate whole food groups, speak with your health care provider to see if the diet is right for you.
A note on sustainability
In recent years the environmental impact of our diets has become a concern due to the climate crisis. A sustainable diet is a way of eating that is both nutritious for you and helps mitigate the effects of climate change. Here are a few characteristics of an environmentally conscious diet.
Plant-based: eating lots of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds helps reduce greenhouse gases and the use of land and water resources.
Locally sourced: choosing locally grown foods can lessen the impact of having to transport foods long distances, as well as reducing the energy needed to store and preserve food.
Organic: foods that are grown organically reduces the use of pesticides, and harmful chemicals and their impact both to you and the environment.
Sustainable seafood: using sustainably caught seafood helps protect marine ecosystems while protecting against over fishing.
Minimal packaging: using your own reusable bags can help and choosing foods with little or no packaging can promote a better food system.
Related: Check out my article on Sustainable Diets.
When wishing to lose weight, it’s important to adopt a healthy lifestyle rather than embracing extreme or fad diets. Solid, plant based lifestyles are best for both long-term weight loss and overall health. Try the Mediterranean, Dash, and Flexitarian diets for best results. These diets have been proven to promote health and longevity.
Taking small, doable steps is the key to successful weight loss. Creating a healthy lifestyle that incorporates a healthy relationship to food is essential to losing weight and keeping it off.
Talk to a healthcare provider before starting a weight loss program, especially if you have underlying health conditions.
Remember, establishing a healthy life-style is the best approach to losing weight. Be wary of fad and extreme diets that are unhealthy and don’t bring about the desired results.
If you have any questions, you can contact me at email@example.com.
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Dr. Oliva, ND is the founder of the health and fitness website Transform Your Life. He is a New York State licensed Master Social Worker, a traditional Naturopath, a board certified Holistic Health Practitioner in addition to being a health and fitness writer.
He is a member of the American Naturopathic Medical Association, the American Association of Drugless Practitioners, the Society of Complementary and Holistic Practitioners, and the National Association of Social Workers. Dr. Oliva is a former Adjunct Assistant Professor of Sociology at Brooklyn College (CUNY), and director emeritus of the Brooklyn College Magner Career Center. He has earned certification in Mindfulness meditation from Molloy College.
Dr. Oliva received Zen meditation and Hatha Yoga training at the Ruah Institute as well as tutelage in Chinese Chan meditation under Master Sheng-Yen.
The information contained in this article is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical conditions. Please consult your healthcare provider with your medical concerns.