People who want to lose weight are a very vulnerable group because they’re very frustrated. Weight loss is hard, and everybody is looking for a silver bullet. They need to understand that the “silver bullet” does not exist.
But how can you discern which weight loss claims are true or false? Here’s some advice from the Federal Trade Commission:
Does the diet promote rapid weight loss?
That’s a clear signal it’s unrealistic. When you start a diet, water weight is the first to go. If you lose much more than two pounds a week, you are drawing from both fat and muscle mass. That is not good, because muscle is a big factor that controls your metabolism. If you lose muscle mass, your metabolism will slow down. That is how the “roller coaster diet cycle” begins, and that is one reason why some diets just don’t work.
The FDA recommends losing weight slowly and gradually, so you are losing one to two pounds per week. You need to tap into stored fat more efficiently, instead of burning water and muscle.
Does the weight loss program involve eating just one food, or eliminating whole food groups?
If so then you are setting yourself up to fail. No one can stick to a diet that is constrictive. Most people who are overweight got that way from overeating. Constricting someone who has overeaten for years will rarely work.
Now, most people can do something short term, but there will be a time when the mind can’t do it anymore and your body’s cravings will overtake your will-power. That is when binge eating occurs and often all the progress that was made is erased.
Does the program help you change long-term eating habits?
If not, you will just get caught up in a never-ending lose-gain cycle, also known as “roller coaster” or “yo-yo” dieting.
Most diets are short-term fixes for a long-term problem. People who get slim and stay that way have changed their eating habits and attitudes toward food.
Does it involve exercise?
If it doesn’t, you will gain the weight back. Research shows that individuals who exercise on a regular basis have much greater success at losing weight and keeping it off. Exercise is critical to weight loss success.
You need an hour of aerobic exercise, at least five times per week, if you seriously want to lose weight. Also, you need strength training two times a week to build muscle. Lifting weights or working with rubber tubes helps maintain and can also increase the level of lean body mass, which helps your metabolism burn calories.
Two-thirds of the calories a person burns over the course of a day are from resting metabolism. If you are on a restricted diet by decreasing calories and nutrients, and you are not doing resistance training to build muscle, it is not uncommon to see resting metabolism decrease, which results in NO WEIGHT LOSS.
Is there sound research behind the weight-loss program?
Not all studies are created equal, and there are plenty sponsored by companies to get the answers they want. So a fair amount of skepticism is in order,” says Zelman.
If the study involves small numbers of people the the results are less meaningful. Use caution when making any decisions based on the finding. Also, if claims only involve anecdotes and testimonials, beware.
Is the weight-loss program compatible with your lifestyle?
“If it’s asking you to eat every three hours, to buy special foods and prepare them specially, it might be more trouble than it’s worth and you won’t do it,” says Zelman.
Does it sound easy?
Diets or supplements that tout “no dieting or exercise needed” or “permanent weight loss, even if you stop using the product,” are bogus, says the FTC. If you rely on supplements or too-strict diets you’re wasting your time, Zelman explains.
Likewise, don’t put much weight in the negative-calorie food diet. The theory there is that when you eat lettuce, celery, and other near-zero calorie foods, your body burns more calories simply digesting them. Give me a break, says Zelman. “You may burn a few calories, but so what?”
Sure, some diets work and they’re healthy, Zelman says. “The Atkins and South Beach diets both have merit,” she says.
Also, “protein and calcium are showing great promise as weight loss enhancers, but they’re not miracle foods; you still have to eat a low-calorie diet, and you still have to exercise.”