Managing Diabetes Magazine - diabetes
Why Fad Diets Fail
Better choices for long-term weight loss
You’ve just picked up a new bestseller that promises a new diet will melt away excess weight in days. Perhaps an Internet ad boasts the latest meal replacement, juice or tonic will shed unwanted pounds. The allure of quick weight loss may seem irresistible. However, if you want long term, healthy weight loss, there are no quick fixes. A healthy diet based on balance, variety, moderation and common sense will serve you better.
Benefits of weight loss
Losing weight can be a good thing, but not at the expense of a complete, healthy diet. Maintaining a healthy weight is especially important if you have diabetes. It can help improve blood glucose, blood pressure, and blood cholesterol, and reduce the risk of complications like heart disease and stroke. However, drastic, fast weight loss tactics can destabilize blood glucose levels, leading to low blood glucose (hypoglycemia).
With any weight loss routine, blood glucose must be monitored. Along with insulin, some blood glucose lowering pills, such as glyburide (DiaBeta®), gliclazide (Diamicron®), repaglinide (GlucoNorm®) and nateglinide (Starlix®) should be adjusted with the help of a doctor or diabetes educator.
Main reasons fad diets fail
First, severely cutting back calories turns on the body’s starvation process. In starvation mode, the body uses whatever fuel it can to make up for the shortfall of calories. It does not select fat over muscle. The amount of muscle we have dictates our calorie-burning potential, also known as metabolism. When we lose muscle as a result of severe calorie restriction, it is difficult to maintain a new healthy weight after the diet is over.
Weight loss diets also tend to leave us feeling deprived. We lose weight, but most of us cannot sustain the restriction for long. After dieting, we treat ourselves to all kinds of foods we feel we missed, and may gain back more than we lost.
In Canada, food portions have increased over the years. Super-sizing means more calories, more pounds, and increased blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol readings. We are surrounded by a surplus of food choices, so we look for food rules on what to eat. However, fad diets actually put our health at risk because they cut back on or eliminate major nutrients our bodies need. Most are about what not to eat and include restrictive meal plans or special food items like drinks or supplements.
Getting too much or too little of a specific nutrient may not cause problems right away. But in the long run, it may affect your health. For instance, high protein diets can stress the kidneys since they must work overtime to clear excess waste from the blood. A healthy diet should be moderate in carbohydrates, and high in fibre, whole fruits and vegetables, protein and low fat dairy products. Use the following criteria to evaluate your own program.
Spotting a fad diet
- Does the diet promise an unrealistically fast weight loss result? Magical claims are not needed if the weight loss program is reliable. Safe weight loss is at most two pounds or one kilogram per week. With quick weight loss, your body's survival instinct kicks in. The rate at which you use calories slows down and weight loss stops. Once you add more food, the pounds return.
- Does the diet plan include special products for purchase, or eliminate certain foods altogether? Does it ask you to follow a strict plan without taking your specific health concerns and lifestyle into account? You do not need special foods or supplements to lose weight. Permanently changing your eating habits and activity level will keep the lost weight off.
- Is the program based on Canada's Food Guide?
- Does it allow for personal eating styles as well as your own individual nutritional needs? A weight reduction program should be designed specifically for you. A menu perfect for your best friend may not be right for you, as it does not take into account specific health needs like diabetes, personal tastes and lifestyle. Ask your diabetes educator or a registered dietician for guidance.
- Does the method encourage regular physical activity? It makes sense that if you burn more energy than you consume, you will lose weight. Regular activity combined with a slow weight loss also helps you lose fat instead of muscle and help lower blood glucose. Check with your doctor about the type of exercise best for you.
Evaluating some popular ‘fads’
High protein, low carbohydrate (Atkins, South Beach, Protein Power)
These are the most popular of all fad diets, especially for people with diabetes. They encourage high amounts of protein-rich foods, and often allow high fat options as part of the plan, such as bacon and full-fat cheese. They discourage the consumption of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are starches and sugars, found mostly in grain products, vegetables and fruit. Carbohydrates break down into glucose, giving the body the energy it needs for the best brain and muscle functioning. By limiting carbohydrates, the body is deprived of this preferred source of energy. The diet also reduces the intake of necessary fibre, vitamins and minerals. Key foods are missed, like cereals, breads, pasta, rice, potatoes and fruit. Important nutrients in these foods include disease-fighting antioxidants, potassium for blood pressure control, and fibre to stabilize blood glucose, lower cholesterol and promote bowel regularity. Consuming a lot of protein also stresses the kidneys. People do experience quick weight loss, but research shows that it is temporary.
Single miracle foods (grapefruit, cabbage soup)
The truth is, no one food has fat burning power to make you lose weight. Diets that focus on a single food become impossible to follow after just a few days. As well, it is difficult to maintain healthy blood glucose levels living on nothing but grapefruit or cabbage. Your body is deprived of complex carbohydrates, protein, healthy fats, and most vitamins and minerals.
The glycemic index (GI) diet (Glucose Revolution, Zone, Sugar Busters)
The glycemic index has become a popular weight loss tool. This index measures carbohydrates, scoring foods based on how blood glucose levels rise after eating a small portion of a carbohydrate food. Originally, it was developed to help people with diabetes control blood glucose. However, the GI is not a perfect tool and or a guarantee of healthy food choices. Some scores are confusing. For instance, candy that includes nuts gets a better GI score than a potato. Food scores and body responses vary from person to person. Also, we don’t usually eat single foods in isolation. Eating foods rich in carbohydrate along with other foods affects how quickly and high blood glucose levels will rise. Using the GI to lose weight is complicated. It does not simplify the task of choosing healthier food to lose weight or manage blood glucose. For more information about GI and diabetes, go to "The Glycemic Index".
Tips for a weight loss plan you can maintain
- Follow Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide. It provides an action plan for healthy eating, with ideas about selecting a variety of nutritious foods from each of the four food groups. It also ensures you are consuming healthy portion sizes and meeting the required intake of vitamins and minerals. Go to www.healthcanada.gc.ca/foodguide to download or order a copy.
- Start your day off right. Eat breakfast. Try to include three out of the four foods groups from Canada’s Food Guide for a nutritious breakfast. Whip up a smoothie with fat-free yogurt and frozen berries, make an omelette with sautéed vegetables, low fat cheese and a slice of multigrain toast, or have oatmeal with blueberries and low-fat milk.
- Eat regularly. Skipping meals usually leads to overeating later in the day. Skipping supper, for example, makes you more prone to snacking late at night. By eating regularly, you can control your portion size and make sure your body has the energy it needs to maintain stable blood glucose levels throughout the day.
- Take time for your meals. Busy schedules often mean eating on the go. The less time you make for meals, the more likely you are to pick up high-fat food or snacks. Avoid eating in front of the TV or computer when you are distracted. Instead, chew slowly, and concentrate on eating. Allow at least 15 minutes for your meal. Your brain needs time to register that you are full. If you eat too quickly, your brain often misses the signal of satiety (or fullness).
- Reduce your intake of processed foods. Many processed foods have little nutritional value, and can be high in fat, sugar and sodium. This means excess calories. Instead, choose whole grains like whole grain pastas, brown rice, oatmeal, barley and quinoa. Enjoy fresh fruits as snacks.
- Control portion sizes. Choose a lunch-sized plate instead of a dinner-sized one. Think of your plate as divided into three sections—half of the plate and two quarter sections. Fill the half with veggies and fruit, leaving one quarter with carbohydrate and the other quarter for protein.
- Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water or other sugar-free beverages. Research shows that individuals who are well-hydrated tend to nibble less.
- Limit sugary snacks. Choose healthy snacks like fresh fruit, cut raw vegetables, green salads, a handful of nuts, or cottage cheese instead of sugary foods.
- Watch out for foods high in fat. Try the ‘rule of 5’ for label reading to help you select lower fat choices. Check the nutrition facts panel on packaged foods and choose foods that contain five grams of fat or less per serving.
- Use a ‘treat budget’. Limit the number of treats you allow yourself each week. Count your afternoon cookie, after-supper scoop of ice cream or evening potato chips as treats. Once you start keeping track, you will realize that these calories really add up.
- Include the rainbow of fruits and vegetables in your diet. Make your plate as colourful as possible by including a variety of fresh cut up or steamed vegetables and salads. Have whole fruit for dessert.
- Consume lean protein. Including lean sources of protein in your diet helps you to feel full and satisfied at meal times. Protein also helps promote blood glucose control and maintains lean body mass (muscle). Include lean choices like skinless chicken breast, lean beef, salmon, eggs, legumes, and nuts and seeds. A healthy portion size is the size of the palm of your hand.
- Cleanse your palate. When you’re finished eating, chew a piece of sugar-free gum to clear your mouth of the taste of food. Better yet, brush your teeth. You will be less tempted to start eating again when your mouth is clean.
- Include physical activity. Make physical activity part of your daily routine year round. Register for dance or swimming lessons, or some other type of regular activity that you would enjoy. The hardest part is getting started. Start slowly by being active for ten minutes a day. You will benefit even with this amount. Increase gradually to a minimum of 30 minutes each day.
- Create a food diary. Finally, try keeping a simple food diary for a week. Jot down everything you eat and drink, and note the time. This can help identify patterns in your eating habits that you might not otherwise notice. Do you eat late at night? Do you get enough from each of the four food groups? Answering these questions will help you identify how you need to change.
Summing up the healthy weight equation
Restrictive diets fail over the long haul. Excessive dieting risks your ability to stay in tune with your hunger and fullness cues. A 2012 study published in The American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that diets did not help more than 2000 participants to lose weight. A healthy lifestyle, including physical activity and a healthy balanced diet, did. Focus on healthy foods you like to eat, so you feel satisfied. Take time to cook at home, and avoid foods high in fat, sodium and sugar. Help manage your diabetes by achieving a desirable weight, the healthy ‘weigh’. Your good health is worth every ounce of effort.
While effort is made to reflect accepted medical knowledge and practice, articles in Family Health Online should not be relied upon for the treatment or management of any specified medical problem or concern and Family Health accepts no liability for reliance on the articles. For proper diagnosis and care, you should always consult your family physician promptly. © Copyright 2015, Family Health Magazine, a special publication of the Edmonton Journal, a division of Postmedia Network Inc., 10006 - 101 Street, Edmonton, AB T5J 2S6 [DI_MDc12]