It’s no secret that many Americans would like to lose a few, or more than a few, pounds. A recent Gallup poll found that not only do two-thirds of Americans consider themselves over their ideal weight, but three in 10 are currently trying to lose weight.1
This may not sound like that many — until you consider that two-thirds of Americans have seriously tried to lose weight at least once in their lives, 25 percent have tried once or twice, 30 percent have tried up to 10 times, and 8 percent have tried more than 10 times.
With these statistics, losing weight could easily be described as the official national pastime!
Unfortunately, many people start out with good intentions for weight loss, but get caught up in unhealthy routines that are not only ineffective for slimming down, they can even put your health at risk.
The Wrong Way to Lose Weight …
Springtime is just around the corner, which for many marks the start of a mad dash to shed pounds before summer – and swimsuit season – arrives. But attempting to lose weight too quickly via crash diets or diet pills will be counterproductive in the long run.
For starters, if you try to “starve” yourself thin using a very low-calorie diet, you’re likely to gain it back when you start eating normally again. In fact, studies show that women who follow a very low-calorie diet may regain more weight than those who lose weight with a more sensible dietary approach. This may be because losing weight after dieting actually leads to changes in key hormones, including insulin, leptin and ghrelin. When you lose body fat, leptin (which tells your brain that you’re full) levels decrease while ghrelin, the “hunger” hormone, levels increase.
In one study, participants who had lost about 30 pounds had altered hormone levels for more than one year after the weight loss, and they also reported feeling hungrier than before. As a result, they regained an average of 12 pounds each.2
Not to mention, when you lose weight, your metabolism slows down, a mechanism that’s thought to be a remnant of ancient times, when lost weight could signal famine. So, in order to protect your survival, your body makes it harder for you to lose weight once you’ve already lost some.
There’s even more to the equation than this, as yo-yo dieting – or the tendency to lose weight, then gain weight, then lose it again, and so on in a never-ending cycle – not only messes with your metabolism and hunger hormones, it can harm your health. Studies show:
- Frequent intentional weight loss may have long-term effects on immune function;3 in one study, the more times a woman tried to lose weight, the more her immune function decreased.
- Yo-yo dieting lowers levels of HDL cholesterol — the kind that’s good for your heart — and therefore may raise your risk of heart disease.4
The Downsides to Diet Pills
If a starvation diet seems too extreme, diet pills may sound like a plausible quick-fix solution — but they too often cause more harm than good. Among the side effects linked to various diet drugs currently on the market are:
- Cramping, gas and diarrhea
- Reduced absorption of vitamins and nutrients
- Stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system, which can lead to increased blood pressure and heart rate, and may increase your risk of heart attack
- constipation, headache, dry mouth and insomnia
Even if you’re willing to take these risks, diet pills are not a long-term solution. Even those that are proven to help you shed pounds — this refers to certain prescription weight loss drugs, not the majority of products available over the counter — are only meant to be used for about six months. During that time they may help you lose as many as 22 pounds or as few as 4.4 — but then your body will develop a tolerance to the drug.5 This means that if you’re not able to continue on with a healthy diet and lifestyle plan, you’ll probably gain the weight right back as soon as you stop taking the drug.
What’s the Healthy Way to Lose Weight?
Sensible lifestyle changes, the kind you can stick to for the long haul, work best when it comes to weight loss. As you might suspect, among Americans who have successfully lost weight, the most effective strategies used include:6
- Eating less
- Controlling portion sizes
- Eating more natural foods
- Avoiding sugar, sweets and soda
While many people are successful at losing weight initially, the hard part comes in maintaining that weight loss — a feat that is achieved by only about 20 percent of overweight or obese individuals. Experts agree that successful long-term weight loss, which means you lose weight and keep it off for at least one year, involves dietary modification, physical activity and behavioral interventions, including the following proven strategies:7
- Eat breakfast every day
- Watch less than 10 hours of television a week
- Exercise about one hour per day, and increase your physical activity in general
- Modify your food intake in some way to lose weight
- Establish a social support network
- Limit or avoid disinhibited and binge eating
- Avoid eating in response to negative emotions and stress
- Be accountable for your decisions
- Foster a sense of autonomy, internal motivation, and self-efficacy toward weight loss maintenance
- Avoid periods of excessive hunger
In addition, certain supplements can work with your dietary, exercise and behavioral modifications to support successful and healthy long-term weight loss. This includes:
- Calcium: It’s important to get enough calcium in your diet, as low levels will prompt your body to release parathyroid hormone and calcitriol, substances that help your body release and absorb calcium. These substances also stimulate the production of fat, however, and research suggests calcium supplementation may help prevent weight gain, particularly in women who report inadequate calcium intakes.8
- L-carnitine: L-carnitine is an amino acid derivative found in almost all of your body’s cells. It’s essential for breaking down fats into energy, and promotes healthy fat metabolism. L-carnitine is found in avocado and fermented soy foods like tempeh, as well as in animal products. However, animal products contain only small amounts of L-carnitine, making it difficult to get enough from diet alone.
- Green tea extract: Derived from green tea leaves, green tea extractincreases the rate at which your body burns calories and enhances fat oxidation.
- Whey protein: Useful for supporting muscle and weight management, whey protein may be a useful dietary addition for reaching your desired weight and muscle mass. In one recent study, those who consumed supplemental whey protein lost weight and body fat, while those drinking soy shakes did not, and those who drank carbohydrate shakes actually gained weight.9
- Probiotics: The makeup of your gut bacteria has a profound impact on your overall health, and emerging research suggests it may even impact your weight. In one study, people with obese tendencies who drank a probiotic-rich fermented milk beverage for 12 weeks had a 4.6 percent reduction in abdominal fat and a 3.3 percent reduction in subcutaneous fat. Overall, their body weight dropped by 1.4 percent and their waist size was reduced by 1.8 percent.10 You can get probiotics in your diet naturally by consuming fermented foods like kefir and sauerkraut.
By combining the proven strategies above — dietary modification like limiting sugary beverages and sweets and eating breakfast, exercising regularly, modifying your behaviors, and taking advantage of supportive nutritional and supplemental options — you can achieve a healthy weight, the healthy way. Rather than simply being a “quick fix,” this will be your ticket to safe, natural and long-term weight loss.
1. Gallup.com November 28, 2011
2. N Engl J Med. 2011 Oct 27;365(17):1597-604.
3. J Am Diet Assoc. 2004 Jun;104(6):903-12.
4. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2000 Nov 1;36(5):1565-71.
5. American Academy of Family Physicians May 17, 2010
6. Gallup.com November 28, 2011
7. Am Fam Physician. 2010 Sep 15;82(6):630-634.
8. Arch Intern Med. 2007;167(9):893-902.
9. J Nutr. 2011 Aug;141(8):1489-94.
10. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2010 Jun;64(6):636-43.