Weight Loss: Woes, Wins and Whims

Lose 30 pounds in one month! Shed pounds while still eating all your favorite foods! Slim down without exercising!

We’ve all seen the ads tempting us with a quick fix weight loss plan. The mere thought of shedding unwanted pounds with little to no sacrifice is very alluring. By July, you’ll proudly be wearing a bikini by the pool. In three months, all you guys out there will fit into the tuxedo you wore 20 years ago at your wedding. Or, in just a few weeks, you’ll be back into your skinny jeans. These are called fad diets, and they typically promise only one thing: quick, easy weight loss. Google “weight loss” or “diet,” and you’ll find a seemingly endless number of pages, posts, images, testimonials and research about the quest to become lighter and thinner.

Dieting isn’t new. As far back as 150 years ago, companies have been pledging products offering weight loss, from pills to eating only baby food. Rubber corsetry, called “reducing garments,” promised to help people lose one to three inches in a week in the early 1900s. In 1903, a soap company named La Parle made and advertised obesity soap that claimed to “wash away your fat.” Lucky Strike cigarettes encouraged people in 1929 to “Reach for a Lucky” whenever they had a craving for food.

Even though research and medical science has taught us a lot since then, there is still a demand for quick and easy weight loss. Neelay Gandhi, MD, FAAFP of North Texas Preferred Health Partners in Frisco, says fad diets are popular because of our societal desire for a “quick fix” to issues. “Weight is no different,” he says. “Many fad diets ‘promise’ an easy, quick way to lose weight, which makes them intriguing. As there can occasionally be an initial weight loss, these diets catch on quickly and become popular, but then ultimately lose popularity once their limitations come to light,” says Dr. Gandhi.

What is a fad diet exactly? “Fad diets are a style of eating that is restrictive and eliminates food groups and also is meant for shorter durations. People usually can’t sustain this style of eating for long periods. These diets are not made for the long-term. Some people might push these diets for longer than they’re intended. When it’s carried on for too long, that’s when problems are more likely to develop,” says Kelsey Hampton, a Sports Dietician at Nutriworks, a comprehensive nutrition consulting practice that specializes in sports nutrition.

Keto, perhaps one of the most popular fad diets in the last few years, gained much of its popularity through social media. Keto, which is short for ketogenic, is a strict eating plan of low carb, high-fat foods that forces the body into a metabolic state of ketosis, so the body burns fat and not muscle. While many people have lost weight on a diet (it may take several days to a few weeks before your body begins to burn fat), ketosis does have its adverse side effects. For starters, it deprives the brain of glucose, which dampens the brain’s electrical activity. That’s why many people report feeling sluggish, tired, and spacey, sometimes called “keto brain fog” or “carb flu” while following the eating plan. Beyond that, it’s reported the keto diet can increase liver, kidney and heart problems.

Another restrictive weight loss program, the HCG diet, has also come under criticism from health professionals. HCG, which stands for human chorionic gonadotropin, is self-injected daily to help stimulate the metabolism. Combined with strict caloric restriction, the diet claims to help people lose one to two pounds per day. “During my time as a practitioner, I have seen many diets come and go, but the diet that I least liked was the HCG diet. Essentially, this is a starvation diet (500-800 calories per day) with the addition of over-the-counter HCG products to theoretically suppress hunger,” says Dr. Gandhi. “The potential for significant malnutrition always worried me since I felt that it would be difficult to get enough nutrients in a 500-calorie diet. Additionally, the FDA has advised consumers to avoid over-the-counter HCG products for weight loss.”

What’s a person to do? If fad diets are typically not the answer, what nutrition programs are good to follow? Many experts praise The Mediterranean Diet, which also happens to be the number one, top-rated diet of 2020. What do experts love about it? It emphasizes simple cooking with plant-based ingredients, like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, and nuts and reducing sugar intake like sugary beverages (soda) and highly processed foods. In essence, it’s clean, healthy and nutritious eating.

Dr. Neelay Gandhi says looking at a daily intake of calories, without any initial changes, is an excellent way to start a program like The Mediterranean Diet. “I usually recommend patients start by using a calorie-tracking app to identify what they are eating and the calories associated with each food, without making any changes. Just knowing that each slice of pizza can have 300 calories or more can help us think twice about that extra slice moving forward,” says Dr. Gandhi. “Next, we make changes to the diet, with continued use of the calorie tracker. I try to follow a Mediterranean-style diet as an outline, to increase the frequency of their healthier meals and decrease the frequency of the unhealthier meals. I don’t feel like there is a “one size fits all” with weight loss. When I talk to patients about weight loss, I think it is important to understand cultures, foods and habits that drive them and incorporate them as best we can into their recommendations’” says Dr. Gandhi. And what about exercise? “I ask patients to plan for at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity (or an equal combination of both) spread throughout each week,” he says.

Intermittent fasting is another popular weight loss program, involving cycles of fasting (for example, only eating during an eight-hour window and abstaining from food for the rest of the 24-hour period). Eve Mayer of Carrollton said she lost 40 pounds by combining low carb with intermittent fasting. She found the plan so successful; she even wrote a book about it, the New York Times bestseller, Life in the Fasting Lane. “After 24 years of obesity, simply eating less often was effective. It was easy because it cost zero dollars and saved me time from shopping, cooking and cleaning. It surprised me that it wasn’t a fad at all … millions of people have practiced this through a variety of religions for hundreds of years,” says Eve. “I had failed trying every other way at losing weight, including three bariatric surgeries. Fasting gave me my health and hotness back.”

Elora Bazanele, MS, RD, LD dietician, and owner of Luminary Nutrition, a nutrition therapy practice that helps people improve their relationship with food, says she doesn’t focus on weight goals with her clients. Instead, she focuses on assisting them to eat intuitively without fear, diets or guilt. “My clients are at their healthiest size when they’ve healed their relationship with food and their body, are honoring their health by choosing foods that make them feel their best and are participating in an exercise movement they actually enjoy.”

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Lisa Dawson is a full-time working mom of three, a freelance writer and a Frisco resident.