Updated: Mar 3, 2019
When choosing to diet you are often left with more questions than answers. How do I lose weight, how do I choose the right things to do, and what is the best thing to do? The problem is that hundreds of diets, books, supplements, drinks and other methods exist but relatively few have been carefully studied. They include very low-fat diets such as the Ornish and Pritikin diets; low-carbohydrate diets, such as Atkins, Paleo, South Beach; and the Mediterranean diet, which has the added bonus of conferring a number of potential health benefits. But what is the right one for you?
Most data points to the fact that you can lose 5-7 pounds on just about anything, but in the long run two thirds will gain more back than they had before they started. This leads many researchers to believe that not going on a diet is likely the better remedy! The remaining third will have mixed results, most either keeping some weight off and many remaining the same weight after 5 years. In reality, most traditional diets have over a 90% failure rate.
There are diets that have stood the test of time however. These particular weight loss approaches have been proven successful for loss of weight, cholesterol reduction and blood pressure regulation, to name but a few benefits. They are not necessarily one single diet, but a common bond between the most successful diets over the past several years.
Keep in mind that for this discussion, the actual process of losing weight does not necessitate the purchase of special supplements, magical shakes or smoothies or special detoxing kits. While it is recommended that we supplement with certain supplements for our health, no one supplement will cause the body, or assist the body in shedding fat. This is true even though supplement companies want you to think that they do.
One of the most recent and comprehensive weight loss supplement studies to date was titled “Acute Effects of a Thermogenic Nutritional Supplement on Energy Expenditure and Cardiovascular Function at Rest, During Low-Intensity Exercise, and Recovery from Exercise”. In this study, researchers examined the effect of a weight loss supplement containing some of the most popular ingredients you’ll find in most weight loss supplements today. Those ingredients included: caffeine, capsaicin (a component of hot peppers), bioperine (an extract of black pepper), and big doses of niacin (vitamin B12).
The researchers gave men and women of average fitness levels this weight loss supplement and then measured their metabolism, blood pressure, heart rate, and their carbohydrate and fat burning outputs for 50 minutes. Then, they measured all of these same variables during an hour of treadmill walking, and measured them again during the 50 minutes of post-exercise recovery. What they found was that the supplemental group increased their post-exercise energy expenditure by 4-8%. The question we need to ask is simple, did the supplement simply allow a person to feel more energy so their exercise was more effective, or did the supplement improve the fat burning? The answer: All of the effects of fat metabolism were actually exercise based, not supplement induced. It would appear that the magic bullet of weight loss is twofold. First you have to exercise and second, you need to have energy to exercise, and the more you put into the exercise the more you burn. Thus any pre exercise supplement which causes an increase in energy will cause better outcomes, not because it has magical fat burning properties, but because it boosts your energy levels so you feel better while exercising.
But taking the supplement alone will yield no results. Fact is there is no magic bullet, no matter what you take.
But what about garcinia cambogia or green tea extract? Yep, they don’t really work either but thanks to people like Dr. Oz you think it does. Garcinia contains the chemical hydroxycitric acid, which has been shown to reduce weight gain during periods of overfeeding… in rats! Rats are great for research, but a rat’s metabolism is not the same as a humans. In fact, a recent meta-analysis of dozens of trials using garcinia cambogia found very small improvements in weight loss for humans. The problem is that the researchers measured body weight, not body fat, so we have no idea whether the loss was from water or fat or something else. As for green coffee bean, again, a meta-analysis finds that the only results of any study on fat loss was funded by companies selling green coffee extract.
So we are left with one important take away point. Fat is burned as a source of energy so you can move, talk, laugh, go swimming, dancing or walk the lakes. It is used along with sugar and some protein. No matter what, it is all broken down (into energy) in muscle. As we age we gradually lose muscle and thus the ability to burn fat. So no matter what you do, what you take, or how much money you spend, it is all for nothing if you are not doing strength training to maintain or grow muscle.
It is also a universal truth that cutting calories and eating less than your body needs to maintain or build new muscle will accelerate your fail rate. You will initially lose weight but mostly from water and you will damage your metabolism in the process. This will almost guaranteed you gaining more weight back than before your diet.
The truth is, dieting alone will not work without exercise, and exercise will not work without an appropriate dietary approach. So the question we need to ask ourselves is this: Are there commonalities in successful fat losers? The answer, of course, is yes! There are 7 common truths that exist in all successful weight loss programs. All are as important as each other, so their numerical value on the list is not by importance, it is simply a list.
Before I start on my list. Let’s get a few terms out of the way. When we eat food, we break that food down into its various biochemical (nutritional) components for digestion. In turn these foods stimulate multiple hormones within the body which are required to control nutritive levels in our body, burn energy and stimulate the body for other functions. Different nutrients cause different hormonal reactions, but all reactions are in response to correct the natural chemical balance of the body. For simplicity, I am going to focus on five main hormones; insulin, leptin, ghrelin, glucagon and cortisol. These hormones act as a team when it comes to weight gain or loss and they are essential to controlling fat.
To be brief, insulin is produced by the pancreas and by the brain. It facilitates the absorption of nutrients into the cell for immediate or future use. Insulin literally unlocks a one-way portal for sugar to enter the cell. It is the way in which the body regulates its blood sugar levels. Continuously elevated blood sugar levels cause continually elevated insulin levels which eventually leads to two problems. First, your cells get blind to insulin and require more and more of it to do what less could do before you became insulin resistant. This leads to a host of issues, but from a weight loss perspective it forces the body to burn sugar over fat as its preference. Since there is an overabundance of sugar in your system, your body will need to burn it off to survive. Fat therefore takes a back seat. To complicate things more, the second issue is that excess sugar is now converted to triglycerides, which increases your fat storage.
These two processes lead to a release of another hormone, leptin. Leptin essentially tells the brain how much fat it should store in the body. It is typically called the satiety hormone because increases in leptin turns off your hunger. Two things cause leptin to be produced, high fat intake and nutrient dense foods, both increase leptin which turns off your hunger. But, as your triglycerides rise you produce more leptin, and this makes you leptin resistant. Essentially, sugar and processed carbs turn off your satiety brakes, flooding your blood with more glucose (sugar) and leading to a buildup of triglycerides in the liver and blood. The sugar and triglycerides impair your brain’s ability to “hear’ the leptin signal, thus you become leptin resistant. That means you have no brakes to eating since your hunger is never switched off! Now here’s the problematic part: leptin resistance leads to insulin resistance and chronic insulin resistance leads to disease.
Then there’s ghrelin. Ghrelin has been dubbed the “hunger hormone” because in previous studies people given the hormone became so ravenous that they ate markedly more than their usual food intake. Ghrelin, it appears, may also act on your brain’s “pleasure centers,” driving you to reach for another slice of cake simply because you remember how good the first one tasted and made you feel. Essentially, sugar suppresses ghrelin and stimulates leptin, which in the long run forces your hunger safety valve to lose its brakes.
Glucagon is another hormone that unlocks your cells storage of energy, allowing your body to access that stored energy. But glucagon’s function is inhibited by elevated insulin and triglycerides. Glucagon can tell your cell to release fat, but only if you don’t have elevated insulin. So again your high sugar diet (including processed carbs) lock your ability to burn fat, leaving only sugar to be burned. As your blood, sugar drops your hunger turns on and you eat more.
Finally there’s cortisol, this is your stress hormone and it is secreted by your adrenal glands. Cortisol stimulates many things, but one of them is the drive to eat. For some reason cortisol directs fat to be stored in the belly region (which has its own set of health issues) and chronically elevated cortisol affects your thyroid which controls your metabolism.
Remember, it all has to start with what you eat. Make the right choice and your body readily burns fat, make the wrong choices and your body stores fat and burns sugar.
This in mind, let’s look at the 7 principles of a successful diet.
1. All successful diets cut down on sugar.
Sugar is possibly one of the most destructive things you can eat. As we have already pointed out it causes insulin and leptin resistance which causes weight gain. Sugar (especially fructose) is believed to be a major driver of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. It has also been associated with many diseases, including some of the world’s biggest killers. This list includes obesity, type 2 diabetes and even heart disease.
Sugars are also “empty” calories, because it supplies a large amount of energy with literally no essential nutrients. Sugar cannot turn off the hunger, but rather releases the brakes so you are free to overeat. You only stop eating when your stomach is stretched full indicating that your secondary brake system has engaged. Sugar is also preferentially burned over fat, thereby thwarting your weight loss goals.
2. Successful diets eliminate refined carbohydrates
A universal truth of many successful diets is that unrefined processed carbohydrates are bad. Even a modest reduction in consumption of carbohydrate-rich foods may promote loss of deep belly fat. This could help reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, stroke and coronary artery disease.
Refined carbohydrates usually start as grains, yet are processed in a way which removes most all of its fiber and beneficial nutrients. This leaves nothing more than a starch which is a chain of glucose (simple sugar) molecules attached together; in other words, sugar. Researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham revealed that when 69 overweight people were given a diet with a modest reduction in refined carbohydrates for eight weeks they had 11% deep abdominal fat than those given a lower-fat diet.
Refined starch provides lots of energy (sugar over fat) with almost no essential nutrients (empty calories). Eating too much of this “food”, without the fiber found in the whole grain, can cause rapid spikes in blood sugar levels, leading to cravings and overeating a few hours later when blood sugar levels come crashing down.
All successful diets emphasize limiting refined grains and processed foods which are filled with preservatives, chemicals and other unknown ingredients. Food manufacturers typically claim that artificial food additives are safe, the FDA magically believes the manufacturers research and keep approving them. In other words the FDA relies on the manufacturers result, not their own independent tests. Research from other sources tells us that these products are bad. Preservatives, for example, have been linked to health problems such as cancer, allergic reactions, and more.