I’ve had a lot of questions from folks who are keen to lose weight.
Should they diet? Eat only veggies and fruit for a week? Avoid carbs? Eat no carbs at night? Eat lots more carbs? Stop eating dessert? Work out on an empty stomach? Take creatine supplements?
You can go paleo (caveman), Atkins (no carbs), Ornish (no fat), zone (rotating macronutrients that to be honest I simply find far too hard to remember, let alone follow).
The answer is No. Don’t do any of those things.
Not unless you are morbidly obese, recovering from a serious injury, coping with a chronic disease, have a food allergy, or a serious genetic affliction. And in those situations, you better be getting advice from a doctor (not a fitness blog!) about what you’re supposed to eat.
What you need to do is exercise, regularly, and preferably a lot. You should also eat natural, whole foods, as close to what came out of the ground or off the farm as possible.
The best evidence for this comes from a very interesting scientific study of contestants in the reality TV show The Biggest Loser.
Participants are morbidly obese, and attempting to lose huge amounts of weight. They spend three months at a ranch under heavy discipline, dieting and doing a boot camp, and then come back after around three months at home. The winner is the one who loses the highest percentage of their body mass over the six months.
The study, published in the journal Obesity, tracked what happened with 14 contestants in terms of how much weight they lost – and whether they kept it off. The scientists checked out the participants when they were picked, after six weeks, after 30 weeks – and after six years!
The participants weighed in at 329 lbs when they started, on average, truly an amazing weight unless you’re a linebacker in the NFL. By the end of the show, they weighed 200 lbs, an average loss of 129 lbs. Or almost 40% of their body mass. My son, who is studying fractions, will tell you that’s two-fifths.
Then they went away, back to “normal life.” The cameras turned their spotlights to the contestants in the next series. What happened to the previous participants they left behind?
They split neatly into two camps, as The New York Times explains. Six years later, “Regainers” weighed on average 5 lbs more than they had at the start. “Maintainers” had managed to sustain an average weight loss of 81 lbs six years after they starred in the show.
There were seven in each camp. Why did some keep the weight off, while others added it back, and more?
The scientists asked their subjects to drink “doubly labeled water,” which contained harmless but heavier atoms in place of some of the H2O. This allowed them to track the amount of carbon dioxide exhaled every day. The more calories burned, the more carbon dioxide they produced.
The participants all started their weight-loss project by shedding pounds due to their crash diet. This worked for the very short term.
But their bodies responded by slowing down, to cope with having less food. The contents were burning, on average, 500 fewer calories every day than the scientists figured they should. Their metabolisms stumbled, ticking along at a plodding pace.
The people who lost weight and kept weight off did so by exercising. And they exercised a lot. Still do, in fact.