I have, for the last 20 years, been conducting a scientific study in weight loss. Now granted my study didn’t exactly have a lot of participants (N=1), but I am now ready to share my results. Okay maybe not all that scientific and I’m not a nutritionist nor a dietician, but here is my experience….
This is what I have learned in my own weight loss journey. I have tried low fat (I gained weight). I have tried The Carbohydrate Addicts Diet (you only eat carbs once a day, protein and fat at other times). The second one worked at first, but then I started cheating more and more often. I finally gave up on that diet when it got too frustrating trying to eat out and I stopped losing weight. I have tried giving up diet sodas (and then later learned that the research does not support that drinking diet sodas results in weight gain) and that didn’t make any difference. I tried drinking water with lemon first thing in the morning. Made no difference in my weight loss whatsoever.
Oh, and let me point out that correlation is not causation. Overweight people drink diet drinks because they are overweight and trying to lose. They are not overweight because they drink diet drinks.
However, I have found what works — I have lost 45 pounds and am still losing (15 more to go). This is not a crash diet and I can eat anything I want…. The only time I plateau or put on weight is when I go off my diet (e.g. vacations).
Okay, folks, sorry to break this to you, but there’s only one way to lose weight — and that’s to have a calorie deficit over-all. Yes, you either have to eat fewer calories or exercise more (without eating more). Programs like Weight Watchers work on this principle — they count “points” but it amounts to the same thing. Those other diets like Paleo, etc., work because when you don’t eat certain foods you naturally eat less… at least at first. (Now granted there are times when a weight problem is hormonal, etc., but I’m talking about the rest of us.)
All those approaches to eating that result in weight loss only work because you eat less calories (when you do lose weight that is).
So, ugh, counting calories sounds pretty tedious, right? Not if you have a good app to help you! I really like MyFitnessPal. This app is awesome! You can look up restaurant foods (for chains anyway), you can enter your own recipes into it and play with the portions to get to the number of calories you want and so on. And you will be very surprised at the calorie content of some foods you thought were helping you diet, especially certain salads in restaurants! Investing in a good kitchen scale is very helpful for measuring the calories in your homemade meals.
There’s another important piece to dieting I’ve learned — and that’s tracking macros. You see after dieting a while I found that I was having trouble with feeling pretty tired. Macros are simply balancing between protein, carbs and fat over the course of the day. Once I balanced my macros, I felt a lot better. If you want to know more about this, I recommend one of these two books by Michael Matthews.
Body builders have been intentionally gaining and losing weight for decades with good success and Michael Matthews has well-researched material to help you out with diet and exercise. I especially liked his chapter on motivation — sound psychology there.
I have been using MyFitnessPal for a couple of years now, and it is my best friend for losing weight. I do take a break from the diet for one meal weekly (sometimes a whole day) and eat whatever and as much as I like. Matthews recommends a “reward meal” once a week as a way to reset your metabolism (within reason).
So here’s my recent daily weigh-ins courtesy my “Withings” scale.
You can see that my “reward meal” results in a 1-2 day spike in weight upwards followed by a deeper dip in my weight. And these weekly breaks from the diet are very important to my diet compliance and my morale! 😉
But I won’t pretend this is easy. It takes commitment, self-discipline and good, old-fashioned will power. If you have issues with emotional eating, you might want to seek out the help of a therapist.
Now with this program, eating healthy and low glycemic is a good idea only because simple carbs will spike your hunger and make it harder to stick with the program. But if you have massive amounts will power hypothetically you could eat whatever you want (but NOT as much as you want!) and lose weight as long as you stay within your calories.
A word about alcohol — Matthews recommends against drinking alcohol with fatty food as that will tend to put on weight faster than their respective calories separately. Another downside that I have observed (and have had a friend confirm I’m not alone on this), is that for some people alcohol can spike hunger pretty high. And I’m not a heavy drinker by any means. Caffeine following seems to help a little bit, but I need to test that hypothesis more. But expect results on this experiment to take a while — I only drink once a week and usually in the evening when I don’t want to be drinking coffee.
And finally, a word about fiber. Too little fiber and you’ll get constipated. Too much fiber and, well, there are other annoying problems that go along with that. And pay attention to the difference between soluble and insoluble fiber. Trust me on that one… this is something else I’ve had to learn the hard way.
More on fiber at these sites, or the “poop” on “poop” if you will….
As always, get guidance from your doctor before making any major changes in your eating habits if you have any kind of health problems. And for heaven’s sake, don’t go on a “crash diet” — trying to lose weight too quickly is not good for you. MyFitnessPal will warn you if you try to do this! 🙂