For many people, losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight is very challenging. To make a difficult process worse, there is a plethora of weight loss advice, diets, and supplements to choose from; weight loss diets are a big business and everyone has an opinion. Attempting to lose weight in our country seems much more complicated and confusing than it needs to be. To help sort out fact from fiction, it helps to look at what good quality medical research says about weight loss.
Diet. This topic is perhaps the most important– as well as most confusing– topic to address. What type of diet should one follow? Many medical studies have been done in an attempt to address this question. The conclusion is that no one diet is superior to another. While a specific diet may claim theirs is the best (and may present a rationale that seems to make sense), no specific diet is more effective than any other. What is important though, is picking a diet that makes sense to you as an individual, and sticking with it. If a diet with reduced calories is followed, weight is lost. No matter how one looks at this topic, weight loss boils down to paying attention to what one ingests and ingesting less calories. Not surprisingly, once a specific diet is stopped, weight is typically regained. This weight regain is because less attention is paid towards what one eats, and more calories are ingested.
How many calories an individual should try to reduce from his or her diet depends on how overweight one is, and how aggressive a weight loss program they wish to pursue. For most people, reducing caloric intake by 500 calories per day will result in a gradual, steady weight loss.
Exercise. While the health benefits of exercise are immense, medical research has shown that exercise has a relatively small impact upon successful weight loss. Weight loss is best achieved through reduced calories. With that said, exercise is quite helpful at maintaining a new weight once one has lost weight. In addition, exercise helps build muscle and reduces the chance of developing many diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and even some types of cancer.
There are a number of common perceptions regarding weight loss that may be true, but in which the jury is still out. For example, in general, the medical research supports the notion of ingesting most of one’s calories by the afternoon, and avoiding a large dinner. However, we don’t know for sure how important this is for weight loss. Similarly, the importance of eating breakfast is traditionally recommended to help with weight loss, but the medical research has not given us a clear answer regarding how important this is either.
We do know that over the counter supplements have no proven benefit with weight loss. Prescription medications are of limited use and must be taken indefinitely to help with weight loss. Bariatric surgery clearly helps, but is indicated in only in very specific situations, and as is the case with any major surgery, there is a very real risk of serious surgical complications.
Losing weight is hard work, but it is attainable and worth the effort. My advice is to keep it simple, and to go with what scientific research supports. Pick a diet–or strategy– that seems right for you. Reduce your daily caloric intake by about 500 calories, and stick with your plan for the long haul. Make your lifestyle changes permanent, otherwise lost weight will probably be regained. Meanwhile, work exercise into your life, which will help keep the weight off. If after sincere effort you are still having difficulty with weight loss, consider seeing your doctor to discuss other options.
It would be nice to have a “magic bullet” that makes weight loss effortless and lasting. While there is no such special supplement or proprietary diet that makes it easy to lose weight, there is a refreshing simplicity to the advice medical research has to offer.