People looking to lose weight either by dieting, exercising, or using miracle supplements end up disappointed, cheated, or hurting themselves. Dietitians often attract desperate people with claims to give individuals a diet chart that will cause quick weight loss. Indeed, there is an entire weight loss industry built around miracle solutions.

For us to understand obesity and weight loss, let me answer some common questions.

What causes obesity?

The Centers for Disease Control and World Obesity Federation mention three critical factors that play an essential part in the development of obesity. These are:

  1. Behavior- influences food choices. Behavior management is a useful tool for obesity control. Excess calories get converted into fats.
  2. The environment plays a crucial role in shaping our habits and lifestyle. Availability of motorized transport at home, convenience foods, and home entertainment solutions are some factors that determine low energy expenditure.
  3. Genetics, too, has a role in obesity. Genes can cause disorders resulting in obesity.

Obesity is sometimes associated with an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism). Medications help manage this condition. (Prevalence of Obesity | World Obesity Federation)

Losing weight is best achieved when we proceed systematically. Check with your physician before consulting a weight loss dietitian. Do not pick up one of the weight-loss diets from the ones reviewed earlier, or even hire a personal trainer before a medical consultation.

Once the physician’s assessment is completed, the physiological and genetic causes of obesity are ruled out. Suppose any corrective medical interventions are recommended to take care of lifestyle-triggered ailments. If there are no clinical recommendations, then in both cases, we move to the next stage of the weight loss process.

It entails consulting a physical therapist who will recommend an exercise schedule appropriate to your physical condition.  Remember, physical therapy is a science of its own. It is best to consult with a physical therapist to arrive at a customized training suited for you.

The next step is diet planning. Many people suffering from obesity make the nutritionist or dietitian the first port of call. To my mind, the dietitian’s role comes into play only after completing a thorough clinical examination. Remember, obesity is a disease that requires full attention and treatment. Before starting any exercise or diet regime, it is essential to address the causes of the condition first. Several popular diets promoting claims of dramatic weight loss exist in the market. Some of these are Paleo, Vegan, Low carb, Dukan, Ultra Low fat, Atkins, HCG, Zone, Weight Watchers, Intermittent Fasting, and Ornish. The dietitian could recommend one of the popular ones listed above or customize one for you.

The multiplicity of diets has the weight loss enthusiast confused. Proponents of each claim that their recommendation is the best for you. Let us try and demystify these diets. Let us now see the scientific support for these diets.

A review of four diets emphasizing different nutrients – protein, carbohydrate, and fat showed that none achieved more clinically significant weight loss than the other. Weight loss took place regardless of macronutrients. Weight loss was an outcome of calorie deficit created during dieting. (Sacks et al., 2009)

A comparison trial with obese individuals subjected to either a low-carbohydrate or a conventional weight loss diet showed that at the end of a year, outcomes are better in individuals on a low-carb one. Lipid and sugar levels in the blood were more favorable in such individuals. (Stern et al., 2004)

The effectiveness of four popular diets (Atkins, Zone, Weight Watchers, and Ornish) was studied for weight loss and cardiac risk factor reduction. No significant variations in weight loss and related parameters between diets exist, indicating that all were equally effective. (Dansinger et al., 2005)

Another study on overweight and obese premenopausal women who followed Atkins, Zone, Ornish, or LEARN diets showed that there were no adverse metabolic effects of the Atkins diet within the 12-month study period. Conclusive evidence for the cause of benefits is not available. These could be either due to low carbohydrate intake or other aspects of the diet like high protein intake. (Gardner et al., 2007)

A two-year trial with obese individuals on low-fat, restricted-calorie, Mediterranean restricted-calorie, and low-carbohydrate, non-restricted-calorie diets showed that the Mediterranean and low-carbohydrate diets are more effective alternatives to low-fat diets. The lipids and blood sugar profiles are better in individuals on a Mediterranean diet. (Shai et al., 2008)

Diet plans, in general, provide structure and discipline to eating. Reducing half a kilogram a week is possible by reducing daily calorie consumption by 500 calories. Low-carb and very low-carb diets may lead to faster weight loss, but studies have shown that over an extended period of 12 to 24 months, the benefits from such low-carb diets are not very large.

A diet rich in protein and low in carbohydrates may offer a slight advantage. Extra protein keeps you full longer, making you eat less and reducing your total food intake. Most diets improve blood cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Low-carb diets help enhance high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood compared to moderate-carb foods.

Rapid cutting down on carbs can have temporary health effects like headaches, bad breath, weakness, muscle cramps, fatigue, skin rash, constipation, or diarrhea. Low-carb diets may not necessarily be the right choice for weight loss for preteens and high schoolers. Their bodies need nutrients from whole grains, fruits, and vegetables cut in a low-carb diet.

While you will get a foundational understanding of the foods that work best for you, dietary planning is best done in consultation with an expert. The expert should not just be able to recommend a weekly diet chart for you.

The expert will help you fix short-term and long-term goals and help put a self-monitoring mechanism in place. Behavior and motivation are critical to achieving weight-loss goals and require integration into a weight-loss regime.

Additional reading:

A three-book series on natural solutions for obesity, diabetes, and cancer. The Amazon link is

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