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.
Diets such as the Paleo approach correctly restricts processed carbohydrates and instead recommend that you get your carbohydrates from vegetables, which are about 25% carbs, but the good, non-starchy kind. This approach has resulted in significant health improvements and weight loss for those who follow the recommendations.
3. Successful diets eliminate industrial vegetable oils
Industrial vegetable oils entered the human diet only recently. But when it comes to knowing which vegetable oil is best and safest to cook with, many restaurants and so-called health experts don't seem to understand basic biochemistry. That's because even the "safe" vegetable oils used by restaurants and recommended by experts convert to seriously damaged breakdown products that have been linked to heart disease and neurological disorders.
These include the fatty acid-derived toxin 4-hydroxy-trans-2-nonenal (HNE). According to researchers, HNE collects in high amounts in polyunsaturated oils that have linoleic acid. These include corn oil, canola oil, soybean oil and sunflower oil.
Of course it is true that anytime you cook food, you run the risk of creating heat-induced by-product damage. The oils you choose to cook with must be stable enough to resist chemical changes when heated to high temperatures or you run the risk of damaging your health. One of the ways vegetable oils can inflict damage is by converting your good cholesterol into bad cholesterol—by oxidizing it.
There are many other problems with these oils too. One of the main ones is their high content of polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acids. It appears that getting too much omega-6 upsets your omega 3 to 6 ratio, leading to a higher incidence of chronic disease. Research also indicates that linoleic acid, the main omega-6 fatty acid in vegetable oils, gets incorporated into the body’s fat cells, leading to a higher fat gain. Omega-6 fatty acids also find their way into LDL cholesterol, making them much more likely to become oxidized. This is a key step in the heart disease process. They may also contribute to endothelial dysfunction, one of the earliest steps in the pathway towards heart disease.
Of all the diets and dietary programs shown to be compatible with long-term health, none of them actually include industrial vegetable oils as a healthy alternative. The best sources for consumption still remain coconut oil or olive oil. (Coconut oil if high heat is involved)
4. Successful weight losers eliminate artificial trans fats.
Just about everyone agrees that artificial trans fats are unhealthy. Patented in the early 1900’s, Trans fats became the staple of the American diet by the 1960’s along with margarine and cooking oils. Trans fats are usually made by “hydrogenating” vegetable oils, which makes them solid at room temperature and increases shelf life. They were not linked to heart disease until the early 1990’s and after years of use the damage had been done. There are numerous studies that link trans fats to increased inflammation, and strong associations have been found between trans fat consumption and heart disease.
Simply stated, trans fats are toxic, unnatural and cause heart disease and cancer. There is nothing beneficial about their use.
5. Successful diets are high in vegetables and fiber
When you think about it, the most successful diets advocate a whole food approach. That means that you need to eat anything that does not have a label, is boxed or canned. Of course there are many successful diets that are more plant based, some that are more specific such as eliminating legumes or minimizing animal meat. One thing they all include however is the increased consumption of vegetables.
This notion of consuming more vegetables over carbohydrates is a universal agreement that vegetables are healthy and the evidence supports it. Numerous studies show that vegetable consumption is linked to reduced risk of disease. Fact is, when you eat more vegetables and you eliminate more processed carbs you cannot stop fat loss and health improvement.
Most diets also include some fruit, but fruit does contain fructose, which contributes to the high fructose foods many already eat. If you cut your fructose based foods and eat small amounts of high anti-oxidant berries, your health will be far greater and your immune system stronger. Keep in mind that berries and vegetables contain carbohydrates. That means that a very low carbohydrate diet with lots of vegetables and some fruit will help you get the necessary carbs for energy.
6. Successful diets focus on food not calories
The idea that the body works on a simple calories in versus calories out model is one of the most pervasive myths that I hear every day. The idea is that you just eat less, exercise more and you create a caloric deficit that causes you to lose weight (so in essence you give your body less fuel in and burn more out). Sounds logical right? But what if you fail to lose weight on this model? Does that mean that you lacked the will power to create that deficit over a long enough period of time?
Not so fast! While it sounds really, really rational it is not. But I will concede this, at face value it sounds rational. Let’s just say that the use of a caloric deficit to lose weight has a success rate of 5% over 5 years –is that success rate ok for you? I mean let’s flip that number and call it a 95% failure rate. Weight Watchers in 1993 was slightly better, it was 6%. In 2001 Weight Watchers amended those numbers to a higher number but took their date from non-obese populations who only needed to lose 10 pounds, so I am not including those rates of success because those numbers are too small to compare and obviously skewed for a better outcome to favor the weight loss industry.
The interesting thing is that all successful diets have not emphasized calorie restriction as a staple of their success. That’s right, to be successful in losing weight you cannot follow an unsuccessful formula, even if you think it sounds logical. (You can read about why the calories in calories out style of dieting doesn't work in a previous blog)
Instead, put your emphasis on eating natural and healthy whole foods.
I realize this sounds crazy, but consider this. Your body has certain mechanisms in place that stop you from overeating but those mechanisms don't work if you eat foods that are nutritionally poor. So, instead of trying to drop your fat by restricting calories, make it your goal to nourish your body! That means eating nutritionally dense foods with a slightly higher fat content. That’s correct, I did say eat a little more fat. And yes, I realize that it flies in the face of the low-fat diet currently in place. But the facts are clear, fat causes leptin to turn off your hunger.
Ultimately you will eat less if you eat more fat and more nutritiously dense food. Don’t be afraid to add an avocado to your salad, or use an olive oil dressing. Don’t be afraid to eat some wild caught salmon, or a grass fed antibiotic free steak. Ultimately, you eat less overall but get more nutrition from your food. You lose weight without being hungry!
7. Successful fat loss includes exercise.
Most people complain that they don’t have time to exercise. This excuse is overall a poor one because no one has time to be sick and unhealthy either. This is why donating some time to the prevention of sickness and the improvement of health is a good strategy. But sadly, time is something most people have a difficulty finding. That's why we recommend short duration but high intensity fitness exercises that will give you the greatest all-around benefits.
This form of exercise differs from others in that it benefits your entire body. Sometimes we call this approach a functional fitness approach but whatever your preferred name it involves using your whole body at the same time, just like life! Fact is, any exercise plan you choose should be maximally transferrable to real life! What does that the best? Functional HIIT or high intensity interval training!
There are two types of HIIT: the first is cardio based. To do it you will need an elliptical machine, AMT or stationary bike. A growing body of research tells us the benefits from exercising this way are FAR greater than slow, long-distance forms of exercise. Interval training can dramatically improve your cardiovascular fitness and fat-burning capabilities in a fraction of the time--because you're utilizing your body as it was designed to be used.
A high intensity interval session (HIIT) only requires about 20 minutes or less, two or three times a week, opposed to an hour or more on the treadmill, several times a week. Most people can carve out 20 minutes without losing sleep over it.
HIIT is effective because high intensity exercises sequentially recruits all the different types of muscle fibers in your body. But the benefits don’t just end there! Life movements are considered multi-planar. In other words, you twist, you bend, you squat, and you balance all day long and you do it simultaneously. Your exercise plan should allow you to do the same. If you don’t, you are likely producing muscular imbalances which ultimately lead to more injuries, not less.
The final consideration is to make sure you are stimulating your fast twitch fibers in your exercise plan. Why is that important? Because as we age we lose strength, about 5-7 pounds of lean mass per decade actually. The biggest loss is in the fast twitch fibers. This is why they that should be the primary focus to avoid that loss. The key to activating your fast-twitch muscle fibers is either intensity (strength wise) or speed (cardio wise).
Your fast-twitch fibers are largely glycolytic or sugar burners and thus store a lot of glucose for that task. When these muscles are recruited (used), it creates the stimulus needed to grow muscle. At the same time, it enlarges the glucose storage reservoir in the muscle, which in turn curbs your insulin sensitivity and gives you more energy for the day. Basically, if you workout it will help curb the negative impacts of your high sugar diet! (Though that doesn't mean you can keep eating sugar) Normalizing your insulin is one of the primary health benefits of exercise, and this is particularly true in the case of high-intensity exercise. Conventional aerobics does not do this as efficiently and sometimes not at all.
As a side note, activating your fast-twitch fibers also prompts your body to create human growth hormone (HGH), also known as "the fitness hormone," which plays an massive role role in slowing down the aging process and recovery after exercise. In fact, when we hit our 30's our human growth hormone production is greatly diminished and this drives the aging process.
So, how do we increase human growth hormone? The first activity is called Peak 8. This program is accomplished by a 3 minute warm up, a 30 second sprint (all out) then a 1 minute 30 second recovery (minimal effort like walking). You repeat the sprint and recovery step eight times, then finish with a 3 minute cool down. This method has been shown to increase growth hormone by over 700%, reduce triglycerides, reduce bad cholesterol, increase good cholesterol and cut fat from your body very effectively.
The other way to do it is our custom ReVibe HIST system (high intensity strength training). This form of training involves several functional strength training exercises performed for 60 seconds at a time, tabata style. We generally set up a 30 minute strength training plan which mimics the HIIT system and guide you through it so you know you are getting maximum benefit.
At ReVibe Fitness and Wellness in Burnsville, Minnesota we help make diet and exercise easy. We want to create a gym that feels like family and gets you excited each day to acheive your fitness goals. Come find out what our personal training studio is all about!
In conclusion, the fact is successful diets emphasize a lifestyle change that includes whole foods, and exercise. This approach will allow you to maximize weight loss as a natural side effect. This sounds hard at first because it can be a daunting lifestyle change. That's why we are here to help! We want you to feel healthy. Nothing tastes as good or is as enjoyable as the feeling of being alive, happy, and well.