A quick internet search of weight loss programs will provide more information on the subject than any normal human being could possibly digest. From low-carb diets, protein-based diets, rotating carbohydrate intake, and popular weight-loss programs such as Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers and Nutrisystem, you won’t have any trouble finding sites that claim they’ve discovered the secret to losing weight.
I’ve written about some of these diets in other posts, but I want to reiterate that weight-loss is not a secret. Any diet program that claims that losing weight involves the consumption of some “magic bullet” nutrient or avoiding other key macronutrients is likely a gimmick. Not only are they gimmicky, but they are costly. Personally, I find it funny that losing weight — which should actually lower your grocery bill because you are consuming less — ends up costing people thousands of extra dollars each year.
Luckily, you don’t need these costly programs to lose weight. These programs offer nothing you cannot replicate yourself. I will admit that most people I know who go on some of these diet programs do end up losing weight. In fact, some of them shed amazing amounts of weight very quickly. But when I look closely at their diet programs, I quickly realize one of two things. Either the program is physically dangerous, or it is no different than the tried-and-true weight loss strategies that dietitians have know for years. Here’s a closer look at what expensive commercial weight loss programs offer, and how you can replicate similar, or better, diet strategies at home for free.
Perhaps the biggest advantage commercial diet programs offer is the psychological benefit. They require you to set goals, monitor your food intake and exercise performance, and many even have counselors and support groups in which you can motivate each other and share stories. They require you to cut calories, exercise more, and stick to your program.
This will be the most difficult part of losing weight yourself, but you can do it. You have to start by setting a goal, and I recommend that your goal have nothing to do with the amount of weight you lose. There are no guarantees that you will lose a certain amount of weight with any program, and this should not be the key determinant of your program’s success. Instead, set a goal of achieving 30 minutes of aerobic exercise each day. Set another goal of cutting 250 to 500 calories from your diet each day. If you do these things, weight loss will take care of itself.
Most online weight loss programs allow you to record what you eat, enter it into a diary, and some even provide elaborate graphs and charts of your food intake. This simple goal measuring strategy is one of the key reasons commercial diet programs are so effective. They provide a visual representation of your progress, they allow you to see how well you are actually following your program, and they allow you to set new goals.
You can easily keep track of your own food intake. I suggest WebMd or the Mayo Clinic websites, which each have similar tracking systems. You can also simply graph your food intake and exercise patterns in an excel sheet or home diary.
Specific Diet Strategies
Here’s where commercial diet programs begin to veer in many different directions. Low-carb diets are popular because of the misconception that carbohydrates cause weight-gain. Protein-based diets help because protein requires more energy to digest, thus burning more calories. However, the small effect these programs have on your metabolism pales in comparison to the effects of simply cutting calories and increasing activity level.
According to the Mayo Clinic, most commercial diet programs are effective because they emphasize restricting caloric intake and monitoring your food intake. As mentioned above, you can easily do this yourself. Start by following the 3,500-calorie rule — you need to burn 3,500 calories beyond what your take in through food to lose 1 lb. of body fat. This rule may vary slightly from one person to the next, but it’s a great start. If you cut 500 calories from your diet each day, you’ll lose about 1 lb. each week. Burn more calories through exercise, and you’ll lose more.
Quick Weight Loss
Any diet program that advocates losing weight quickly is ill-advised, and places you at risk of nutrient deficiencies and dehydration. For example, much of the weight lost in protein-based diets is from dehydration, not fat. Low-carb diets should actually focus on avoiding simple sugars and foods high in the glycemic index, but not carbohydrates in general. Consuming less than a certain number of carbohydrates each day can limit your intake of certain vitamins and minerals.
Quick weight loss programs are dangerous and you don’t want them. Not only are they dangerous, but they typically do not provide lasting results. Once the weight is gone, many people resort back to their old eating habits. Losing weight slowly allows your body to shed fat rather than water weight or protein stores, and also forces you to engage in healthy physical activities which you can enjoy for the rest of your life. Avoid attempting to lose more than about 1 to 2 lbs. each week if you really care about your body.