We are pleased to bring you this regular column by David Creel, PhD, RD, who is a weight management specialist and the author of A Size That Fits: Lose Weight and Keep it off, One Thought at a Time (NorLightsPress, 2017). See all of David Creel’s articles here.
Most people who want to lose weight try diet after diet, feeling worse after each successive failure. The weight almost always creeps back, along with discouragement and anger at themselves. Their hope quickly fades.
Statistics show that the probability of achieving and maintaining a ten percent weight loss without bariatric surgery is one-in-six. But I promise you that losing weight and keeping it off isn’t based on luck.
I don’t believe people are doomed to obesity. Although losing weight is never easy, I believe each of us has the ability to make permanent changes that result in a healthier weight. In these columns, which are based on my book, I plan to share the nutrition, exercise, and psychological principles I believe matter most.
Healthy living doesn’t look exactly the same for each person. Instead of a rigid, restrictive diet plan, we’ll explore how thoughts, emotions, and past experiences can work in your favor. Stories and patient experiences will help you change your thinking and strengthen specific skills, including:
- maintaining persistence
- eating mindfully
- setting goals
- managing the food environment
- quieting emotional eating
- preventing relapse
Let’s get started with the first weight loss fundamental.
Calories In, Calories Out
If I asked you to tell me in simple terms why someone is in debt, what would you say? Admittedly, finances can be complicated, but let’s cut to the core of it: people are in debt because they spend more money than they earn. They may spend too much, earn too little, or both.
By comparison, obesity is also a complex condition we can explain in simple terms. We gain weight when we absorb more calories than we burn. We lose weight when expend more calories than we consume. Like debt, many factors influence the calories-in-calories-out equation. Our genetics are certainly a factor, but rarely can we isolate one gene that makes us gain weight. Instead, a combination of genes may impact our physiology and our response to obesity-promoting environments. Even the bacteria in our guts may influence appetite or how efficiently we use the calories we consume.
Although not likely, it’s possible to lose weight eating doughnuts for breakfast, white-bread bologna sandwiches for lunch, and ice cream for dinner. As long as the calories you absorb from these foods are less than the calories burned, you, and your not-so-happy digestive and circulatory systems, will lose weight. That’s one reason the discussion about which diet is best (Atkins, Paleo, South Beach, Zone, etc.) isn’t so important. Calories matter more than the source of those calories.
A multi-site study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that two-year weight loss did not differ among people who followed four different reduced-calorie diets. Over 800 subjects were randomly assigned to eat one of the following:
- a low-fat/average protein diet
- a low-fat/high protein diet
- a high-fat/average protein diet
- or a high-fat/high protein diet
Their carbohydrate intake was 35 to 65 percent of the calories they consumed, depending on the combination of fat and protein. Each participant’s diet was set 750 calories below what he or she needed to maintain weight at the beginning of the study. Not only was weight loss similar between groups, their hunger and levels of satisfaction were the same with each diet.
These results, along with other studies, suggest there is no single, optimal diet for weight loss. This is great news for people who want to lose weight, because you can choose from a variety of nutritional practices, based on your own preferences and lifestyle. Here’s the most important question to ask:
Is the reduced-calorie diet I want to follow both healthy and sustainable?
If your answer is, “yes,” then I encourage you not to call it a diet. Being on a diet sounds like a short-term project. Instead, I hope you’ll learn to eat in a way you can continue for the rest of your life. Think of it as your eating style.
Next week, we’ll get into some very practical advice on foods to eat.
Come back each week for more healthy weight loss advice from Dr. David Creel.