Starting a new weight-loss program can be intimidating. There are so many questions and so many different answers. With so much conflicting advice, it’s no wonder that people can be worried and discouraged before they even begin. This article highlights some factors to consider in deciding on a diet program.
Looking Past the Hype When Considering Different Diets
To optimize a diet’s effectiveness, many factors should be considered: your activity level, primary goals, metabolic abnormalities, past dieting experiences, responses to meal frequency, psychological issues, convenience issues, food availability, and support systems. Many weight management programs are too generic and do not take these factors into consideration (Hale, 2010).
For example, an ineffective program might assume that its specific recommendations would apply to everyone — even with strenuous activity, sickness, a low-carbohydrate diet, metabolic disorders, very low calorie consumption, or some other variable.
Investigate Whether Scientific Information Is Accurate
There are several things to remember when considering the science behind weight-loss programs. Reliable scientific information is derived from scientific research. When claiming that “science says,”proper referencing should be provided. Proper referencing does not refer to information written on the back of the package or pamphlets, testimonials (no matter who they are from) or product ads that contain scientific-sounding explanations. It means reference to peer-reviewed scientific journals or, in some cases, referencing sources that reliably report on scientific research. Non-peer-reviewed sources should have been reliable and valid in previous instances.
When reading scientific research data or reports on research, it’s important to consider research design, how the results were extrapolated, who conducted the research, and who—if anyone—has a vested interest in the design or outcome. You can learn how to understand research papers here. Once you understand the basics of research methodology and how to read research papers you will be better equipped to evaluate scientific information.
Weight Loss Is Not the Only Measurement of Success
Weight loss comes in various forms, including fat, body proteins, water, toxins, glucose, and mineral storage. Body composition can be important for health, performance, and physique. In addition to weight loss, measurements and a blood panel are important for some people when determining the success of a program and overall health. Don’t rely on the scale alone to give you an accurate reading of your success.
Beware of Programs Pushing Their Own Food
Supplements can play a positive role in weight management, but they’re not magic and their nutrition is not superior to the nutrition found in food. The word supplement means “to complement” the program, not “to replace” exercise or the nutrients found in food.
Sometimes supplements are beneficial because they are more convenient and cheaper than food. If you need supplements to get the job done, go for it. However, packaged foods and massive quantities of supplements are not necessities for weight loss. A company that requires you to buy their supplements or food is not necessarily interested in your losing weight or upgrading your nutritional status.
Requirements of a Quality Diet
Many roads lead to the same place. If you can’t stick to the diet, it won’t be successful. The psychological aspect of dieting is often overlooked, but is crucial in determining success. For many people, dietary compliance is determined by psychological issues — support systems, coping with emotions, quality & frequency of counseling (Freedman et al., 2001). Pick a diet that you can stick with. If you hate all of the foods included in the diet and you’re really dreading beginning the diet—choose a different one. A quality diet takes the following into account:
- Adequate calories. (This matters whether you’re consciously counting calories or not.) Calorie balance is the major determinant of weight loss.
- Essential nutrients.
- Individual likes and dislikes.
- Metabolic abnormalities.
- Occasional breaks. (You don’t have to stick to the program 100 percent of the time to see the benefits.)
Freedman, M., et al. (2001). Popular Diets: A Scientific Review. Obesity Research, Vol.9, Suppl 1, March.
Hale, J. (2010). Should I Eat the Yolk? Separating Facts From Myths to Get You Lean, Fit & Healthy. Berkeley, CA: Ulysses Press.
Kayman, S., et al. (1990). Maintenance and relapse after weight loss in women: behavioral aspects. AM J Clin Nutr, 52:800-7.