Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

The Myth of Painless Weight Loss

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Healthy eating pyramid similar to that of the ...

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Consumer Reports periodically rates weight loss diets for effectiveness and staying power.  In this latest survey, Jenny Craig was the winner over six other diets including Atkins, Ornish, and Weight Watchers.  They said what gave Jenny the “win” was the results of a two-year study of 332 people published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, October 27, 2010.  What impressed them was that 92% of people who participated in the Jenny Craig program stayed with the plan for two years.  They also lost an average of about 8-10 % of their original weight.

Based on a Consumer Report “Diet Taste-off” earlier this year, the food provided by Jenny Craig was rated decent, though not great.  It is amazing to me that 92% of the participants could eat pre-packaged food for two years especially with the food described as “decent, but not great”.  I sampled some Jenny Craig food last year and discarded most of it.  Not so great!!!  To its credit, Jenny Craig provides weekly counseling sessions via telephone or in-person.  Another advantage is that the prepackaged foods offer portion control.  By the way, Slim Fast came in second, Weight Watchers was third, and the Zone Diet was 4th.   Again, it’s hard to believe that drinking shakes and eating bars with the Slim Fast approach is enjoyable.  The first and second winners reflect our American obsession with convenience, no bother, no-cooking approach.  However, these diets are not painless due to boredom, hunger, and deprivation.

The ratings were also based on the 2010 edition of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans which still supports a 10% of calories as saturated fat and 35% of calories from total fat.  Since the Atkins diet is about 64% fat calories and about 18% saturated fat, the nutrition rating obviously was low.

The debate over low-carb, higher fat diets versus low-fat, higher carb diets continue.  The best diet is the one that suits you and ideally should be one that you devise yourself.  The focus should just not be weight loss, but how it affects your overall health, for example LDL/HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood glucose control.  One diet that has been shown to reverse heart disease effectively is the Ornish Program for Reversing Heart Disease and is often covered by Medicare for heart patients.

However, there are problems with this approach no matter how effective it is.  Very few people have been able to stick to the Ornish’s routine.  The diet is very rigid and almost vegan-like, i.e. extremely low fat and lacking in a lot of food choices.  The Ornish approach is also criticized for limiting fish and nuts consumption.  Frank Hu, MD, PhD, assistant professor at the Harvard School of Public Health says:

“The data from numerous studies show that it is the type of fat, rather that the total amount, which is related to cardiovascular health.”  The type of fats such as polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats in fish and nuts are often protective against heart disease.

Dr. Hu also says: “refined carbohydrates are likely to cause even greater metabolic damage than saturated fat in a predominantly sedentary and overweight population.”

Dietary torture found in many popularized approaches to weight loss (and some are pretty spectacular) can usually produce short-term weight loss.  Most of the approaches fail in the long term because they become too unpleasant.  In my opinion, eating frozen prepackaged foods for two years may fit this description.  Just try eating frozen calorie- controlled packaged foods from the supermarket for very long and they all begin to taste the same.  Feelings of hunger, deprivation, and depression eventually lead to relapses, eating binges, a return to previous habits and weight regain.  Humans are creatures of pleasure not pain.

Most successful dieters lost weight on their own. The National Weight Loss Registry began in 1993 to study the behaviors of people who successfully lost weight and kept it off.  Four behaviors stand out:

  • Exercise every day.
  • Eat breakfast every day.
  • Keep track of weight and eating (i.e. food records or diaries)
  • Give up the myth of painless dieting- it’s not easy, it’s hard work.
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One thought on “The Myth of Painless Weight Loss

  1. Pingback: The Key To Successful Weight Loss: Planning « From the Flight Deck

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