The Skinny on Diets

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What is the best diet?  I cannot tell you how many times I am asked this question.  The fact is that no one really knows.  Different people hawk different diets but I am unaware of the supremacy of any one diet over the others for a majority of people.

When I was growing up, fat was the main culprit.  After all it carried 9 calories per gram vs. 4 calories per gram of carbohydrates or protein.  Additionally, saturated fats were implicated in the development of high cholesterol.  This must be bad.

So nutritional experts came out with the food pyramid which relied on getting the bulk of your calories in carbohydrates.  The people making Wonder Bread were happy with this recommendation and most experts agreed.   And Americans became fatter and fatter.

Then came Dr. Atkins who gall to claim that if we cut out all carbs, we could eat unlimited amounts of protein and fat and still lose weight.  The established interests hated him; they wanted his license revoked. 

But you know what, he had a point.  Persons who maintained the diet did lose weight.  They lost more weight than persons consuming equivalent calories of a low fat diet.  If anything their, cholesterol improved.

Why is this?  It turns out that weight control is not just dependent on our calories, it is determined by our metabolism.  Our metabolism is in turn is dependent on our hormones.  We will not gain weight if our hormones tell us we are not in a fed state.  We will continue to break down fat even if there is food in our gut.

The question becomes how our hormones tell the body it is fed.  It turns out that sugar in our blood stimulates insulin and it stimulates other hormones such a glucagon-like peptide.  These hormones tell us we are fed.  It switches metabolism in the liver so it starts making fat and cholesterol.  It tells our fat cells to store this fat and cholesterol.

Dr Atkins realized that if we ate without taking in carbs, these hormones remain in low levels and our body continues to breakdown fat.  Unfortunately, anyone who ate more than a critical amount of carbs would suffer all the consequences of eating a high fat diet.  Therefore it is a more dangerous diet to cheat on.  But many people are very successful with it.

One problem is that many people, who have been on this diet have also realized they experience a lot of cravings for fruits and other carbs.  However, cravings can be contolled with medications.  Also, some people with certain health problems will need to watch their protein intake.

The Ocean Beach diet took a more measured approach allowing a modest amount of healthier carbs but it did away with the unlimited calories.  This remains a very popular diet today.

Of course, there are a number of widely used commercial diets such as Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig. They are not necessarily low-carb.  Weight Watchers will give you diet plans which tell you how much to eat, they also sell food.  It works on exchange system.  You are allowed so much protein, so much fat.  The American Diabetic association also recommends these exchange diets. (A list of the exchanges is elsewhere on this site).  Weight Watchers also has Internet Support services

Jenny Craig dispenses meals which makes it easier for some.  However, from my perspective, the most valuable aspect about both these programs is the emotional support one receives in the form of individual and group counseling.   Whatever bad habits ones tries to give up, it easier to do with counseling-either individual or group.  We feel better after a social (and emotional) connection and this has an anti-craving effect.

For those people who want a lot of support, I work with a complete nutritional support program called Weight Loss By Design.  This is a premium program in which daily progress is followed though internet connections.  Daily dietary adjustments and tips are also given.

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