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The word diet can have two meanings depending on the way it is used. The traditional definition traces back to the Greek work diaita, which means a way of life. It describes the meal pattern and lifestyle habits a person chooses to follow daily.
Many cultures and countries around the world have a diet that is unique to that area or people. Today, the word diet is most commonly used to describe a manner of eating where intake is adjusted, and calories are restricted with the end goal of achieving weight loss.
Side Effects of Being Overweight on Your Overall Health
Numerous chronic health conditions, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obstructive sleep apnea, and kidney disease, are associated with being overweight or obese.
While it is entirely possible to be metabolically healthy and overweight and remain so for a long time, excess body weight, especially when carried around the midsection in the abdominal area, is inherently inflammatory and greatly increases the likelihood of developing chronic diseases over time. (1)
Healthy Dieting Is Good for Weight Loss
To achieve lasting and sustained weight loss, you must decrease the total calories consumed each day. (2)
To reduce body weight, most individuals will need to change their habitual diet to include healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables, lean meats, whole grains, nuts, and oils, that are nutrient-dense and nourishing for the body.
These healthy foods still need to be limited in portion size, such that they contribute to a lower total daily calorie intake.
Diets for Losing Weight
Historically, many weight loss diet plans became popular and then faded with time.
Most of these diet plans focus on limiting or altering the intake of one of the three macronutrients that are the building blocks of all foods, namely, carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.
Currently, the most popular diet plans focus on limiting carbohydrates. Before these, low-fat diets were very popular.
Points to Remember When Planning a Weight Loss Diet
There are many unhealthy habits to watch out for when starting a weight loss plan.
- It is not recommended to skip an entire meal or fast for extended periods to create a calorie deficit.
- Do not restrict entire categories of foods or whole food groups.
- Extreme levels of exercise, especially if you have not previously been doing regular exercise, can also be harmful.
- Avoid taking any unproven or even potentially dangerous weight loss supplements. Supplements are not regulated by the FDA, (3) and no supplements have been shown by research to provide substantial weight loss benefits beyond that which would be expected from diet changes and exercise.
What Is the Best Diet Plan for Weight Loss?
To date, no “best” diet has been identified for weight loss. (4) Any successful weight loss strategy must include an eating pattern that creates a calorie deficit, is based on improving the quality of foods consumed, and, most importantly, is one you can and will stick with long term.
Dieting Coupled With Exercise for Weight Loss
Often, diet and exercise are linked together when a weight loss plan is discussed.
It is important to remember that eating and drinking account for 100% of calories taken in each day, while physical activity, including exercise, accounts for only a small number of the calories you burn each day, generally ranging from 10% to 30%.
There are two modes of exercise that have been shown to be beneficial for weight loss:
- Resistance training (that includes weight lifting)
- Aerobic exercise
One study compared the outcomes of individuals assigned to increase resistance training, aerobic training, or a combination of both for 8 months.
The researchers found that aerobic training was most effective at reducing fat mass and body mass, while resistance training was more effective at increasing lean muscle. (7)
Can a Person Lose Weight Without Dieting?
No. Without resorting to a surgical procedure such as a gastric sleeve or liposuction, you cannot lose weight without either reducing calorie intake or increasing the number of calories burned through exercise.
Liposuction has been shown to be ineffective at driving sustained long-term weight loss. (8)
Reducing calories, preferably by changing the composition of your habitual diet, has been shown to be most effective for weight loss. Generally, individuals who try exercise alone without diet modification find they lose much less weight than expected. (9)
Can Weight Loss Diets Damage Your Health in the Long Run?
Any diet that restricts specific foods or food groups for a long period may affect your health.
For example, a ketogenic diet almost completely eliminates carbohydrates and could lead to excessive saturated fat intake that can raise blood cholesterol levels in some individuals. (10) Instead of focusing on a weight loss diet, find a balance among all food groups, and focus on adequate food quality.
Do Weight Loss Diets Leave You Low on Energy?
No. If you begin to reduce caloric intake and notice that you have low energy levels, you may not be consuming enough food, or your diet may be low in certain nutrients needed for energy metabolism, including several of the B vitamins.
Instead of reaching for a multivitamin, follow the Dietary Guidelines for Americans to increase your intake of nutrient-dense foods from all food groups. (11) One study suggested that a high-nutrient-density diet can reduce feelings of hunger and promote long-term weight loss. (12)
What Is the Best Way to Monitor Calories When Not on a Diet Plan?
Hunger is an excellent guide that is always available to help you determine when to eat, especially when you are not on a diet plan. Many people have lost touch with hunger cues and resort to eating at routine times each day or due to other factors such as boredom and habit.
Set a small goal for yourself to not eat until you truly feel hungry, making a note of when that occurs and how different foods affect how long you feel full after a meal. Adjust your eating patterns, so you only have a meal or snack according to true hunger and not just eat strictly out of routine.
How Fast Can a Person Expect to Lose Weight by Dieting?
Historically, nutrition professionals have recommended creating a deficit of 500 calories per day to achieve a weight loss of 1.0 to 2.0 pounds per week. Research continues to demonstrate that this is a safe and achievable rate of weight loss for most people. (13)
However, it is also now understood that everybody is different, and not everyone will respond in the same way to creating this level of calorie deficit. Continuous adjustment and monitoring will be required.
While more rapid weight loss is certainly possible with a larger daily calorie deficit, it can be difficult to maintain as large decreases in food intake are often met with increasing levels of hunger and changes in the body’s metabolic rate.
Rapid weight loss is also a risk factor for the development of gallstones. (14) When diet is changed gradually over time, healthy lifestyle choices become habits and are easier to maintain.
Are Fad Diets Helpful in Weight Loss?
No. Many people mistakenly view dieting as a temporary departure from poor eating habits, and fad diets further feed into this belief.
Generally, once the specified time period of a fad diet has passed, individuals return to the same poor eating habits they had before starting a fad diet and regain all of their lost weight in the process.
Is It Okay for Teenagers to Follow Weight Loss Diets?
If a teenager is overweight, then yes, weight loss can be beneficial. However, the advice remains the same as that provided to adults: follow a nutritious and balanced diet and do not overly restrict any food item or group.
Often, parents can help set the example at home by offering healthy snacks, allowing the whole family to be involved in the meal planning process, and preparing meals together with children.
Encourage the development of healthy habits in teenagers that they will continue to follow as they grow up and become independent adults.
Can a Person Consume Alcohol When on a Diet Plan to Lose Weight?
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans stipulate that people should consume alcohol in moderation to avoid its deleterious effects, with ideal intake defined as one drink per day for women and two for men. (15)
Alcohol is considered a source of empty calories. It contributes to total daily calorie balance but adds no nutritional value to the body.
When on a weight loss plan, it is advisable to limit alcohol intake as much as possible. If consumed, ensure you account for the calories and stick to the recommended daily limit as described by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Preferable Diet for Healthy-Weight Individuals
A person at a healthy weight, defined as a BMI <25, does not need to go on a weight loss diet.
The goal for everyone, overweight or not, should be to transition to a colorful diet with a variety of fruits and vegetables, lean and/or plant-based proteins, nuts, oils, and whole grains, finding enjoyable foods within each category that can be consumed regularly.
Recall from earlier that the true definition of diet is the meal pattern and lifestyle habits a person chooses to follow daily.
When at a healthy weight, a person can still work toward adopting a healthy diet pattern, such as the Mediterranean diet, which has been linked to numerous positive health outcomes and includes many of the healthy foods listed above. (16)
There is no “perfect” diet for everyone. The best diet plan is the one that you can follow long term. It should include a variety of culturally appropriate, nutrient-dense foods that will improve your health and may reduce feelings of hunger.
Focus on developing long-term habits that support improvements in your health, such as consistent meal planning and frequent grocery shopping. Keep healthy foods at home, leave healthy snacks in easy-to-reach places, and aim to cook at home at least 5–6 days per week.
Do not just focus on a weight loss goal, but work to improve your overall lifestyle and live closer to the true meaning of a healthy diaita.