Even though weight loss confounds many of us, experts say it really does
come down to a simple formula of calories in vs. calories out. All diets
must do one or both of two things: Reduce calorie intake and/or increase
calorie expenditure through movement so you burn stored body fat for energy.
Many popular diet plans work by dramatically decreasing calorie intake, and
some increase weight loss further by prescribing a set amount of daily physical
Most current diets overlap each other considerably but focus on different
things to get you to eat the right foods. With Weight Watchers you can eat
what you want, but if you wish to stay within your daily point allowance,
you'll quickly learn that fruits, vegetables and whole grains contain the
fewest, if any, points. These low glycemic index foods also have the highest
fiber content and help you feel fuller longer. So, in effect, a balanced
Weight Watchers regimen becomes Volumetrics. Focus on fish and olive oil
as your protein sources, along with salad and complex carbs, and you've got
a version of the Mediterranean diet. Cut out the meat and reduce the fat
and you have Dean Ornish's "Eat More, Weigh Less" plan. Reduce
the Mediterranean diet's carbs and you're on the Atkins Diet, or in the first
stage of the South Beach diet.
Researchers find that most diet plans are similarly effective at getting
the weight off, and experts say that no matter what gimmicks come with a
plan, calorie reduction is what actually leads to weight loss. Since all
diets are designed to restrict your caloric intake, all you need to do is
choose a diet that includes foods that leave you feeling satisfied. If you
love carbs, you might not be able to stick to a low-carbohydrate diet, but
may have better luck with a plan that lets you eat your favorite carbs in
moderation. If you can't say no to cheese or other dairy products, a strict
vegan diet may not be your best choice.
Before undertaking any weight-loss program, consult your health-care provider.
Overall, here's what the experts say to look for in a diet plan:
Use the weight-loss
program you're most comfortable with. Some folks prefer group support,
while others would rather have individual attention. Many programs offer
a choice of formats, including group, home, work or Internet-based options.
Look for diets based on real food. A diet that uses proprietary manufactured
foods such as shakes, bars or packaged mini-meals is okay for the
short term, but it probably won't help you establish healthy, long-term
eating habits. Such foods are convenient and can be effective weight-loss
tools, but ultimately you need to learn to cook healthful meals for yourself.
Plans like Slim-Fast have high dropout rates.
Avoid plans that push diet
pills. If the plan you're considering requires you to buy pills, its
focus is on you losing money, not weight. Over-the-counter weight-loss
supplements, which don't need approval from the FDA, can interact with
other drugs you may be taking and pose a health hazard. Some merely act
as a diuretic, which can make you prone to dehydration. In many cases they
don't work at all. Diet pills may be used in conjunction with a physician-prescribed
weight-loss program, but only under your doctor's supervision. (See the
companion ConsumerSearch report on diet pills.)
Steer clear of fad diets. Watch out for diets
in which you subsist on just one type of food, such as cabbages
or grapefruits, or those that encourage you to avoid all carbohydrates
or all fats. A balanced diet with protein and complex carbohydrates, plenty
of fruits and vegetables, a decent amount of fiber and not too much
fat is what most people need in a good long-term eating plan.
Choose a program that's flexible and
fits your lifestyle. Is your plan adaptable for vacations, quick commuter
meals or socializing? Does it accommodate meals you can serve to your
family, or do you have to prepare one meal for yourself and one for everybody
Build a healthy lifestyle around your new diet. Good programs recognize
that exercise is essential to weight loss. Some also help with other
elements of a healthy lifestyle, such as stress management, recognizing
psychological or situational triggers for overeating, or developing an
appropriate body image.
Search out ongoing support. The best programs continue to offer
encouragement, even after you reach your goal weight.
Understand the pricing
structure. Is there a large up-front fee, or is the program pay-as-you-go?
Are there required purchases of food or supplements that add to the
price? Also be sure to ask about cancellation fees.
Watch the video
To learn more, watch this About.com video on how to calculate your body mass index (BMI).
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