Deena Adimoolam, MD
Assistant Professor of Medicine
Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Bone Disease
Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
"Lose weight" is one of the top New Year's resolutions for good reason. In the United States, more than one-third of adults are obese, a condition associated with leading causes of preventable death, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and certain types of cancers. The primary tool for obesity treatment and prevention is changing one's lifestyle through exercise and diet.
The Most Effective Diet
With hundreds of available weight loss diets -- Atkins, Paleo, and Jenny Craig are just a few -- it can be difficult to know where to start. Patients often ask me about the latest "miracle" diet they have discovered through the news, a blog, or their favorite magazine. Much of the public's knowledge of diets comes from mass media: television, the Internet, newspapers, advertisements, and celebrity endorsements. Offering little meaningful data, these sources overwhelm us with competing claims of promising results, leaving us confused as to which diet is most effective.
The truth is, there is no "one size fits all" diet. Evidence has consistently demonstrated that different categories of diets (low-fat, low-carbohydrate, etc.) are similarly effective, resulting in clinically significant weight loss regardless of type. That's not to say that every diet will be equally effective for you. Rather, studies show that the ideal diet is the one that you can best adhere to, because sticking to a diet long-term is crucial to maintaining weight loss.
Strategies for Successful Weight Loss
A study appearing in The Journal of the American Medical Association in September 2014 is just one of several to find that maximum weight loss through dieting is achieved in the first six months, with patients tending to gain some weight back over the next six months to years, due to difficulty adhering to their diet.
Staying true to a diet can be challenging for many reasons, from cost to cravings. If losing weight is one of your New Year's resolutions, try the following strategies to help you stick with a diet as long as possible and maintain a healthier weight.
1. Work with a doctor or nutritionist. Your primary care doctor can provide guidance on weight loss, and might recommend a referral to a weight loss/obesity specialist or nutritionist for assistance. This doctor or nutritionist will look at your dietary needs and preferences, underlying medical issues, and weight loss goals, and work with you to customize and implement an appropriate diet plan. Just a few sessions can arm you with information to use for a lifetime.
2. Set realistic goals. Starting a diet with realistic expectations will better equip you to reach your weight loss goals and maintain a healthier weight. Typically, a realistic goal is five percent to seven percent of your body weight. Your nutritionist or doctor can calculate your optimal calorie intake, depending on your age, height, basal metabolic rate (how many calories your body burns at rest), and how quickly you want to lose weight.
3. Consider yourself. Follow an individualized diet based on your food preferences, life situation, culture, religious beliefs, and underlying medical issues. For instance, if you are of Italian or Greek heritage and typically follow a Mediterranean dietary pattern (lots of vegetables and fruits, whole grains, nuts, olive oil, fish and poultry), a moderate-fat, restricted-calorie Mediterranean diet would be a natural fit. If you have coronary artery disease, a diet extremely limited in saturated fats would be more appropriate than a low-carb, high-fat diet. If your finances are limited, avoid choosing an expensive diet, such as a raw food diet that focuses on costly organic foods.
4. Keep a daily food journal. When dieting, people often do not realize they are still eating foods of limited nutritional value -- what we call "empty calories." Recording everything you eat and drink can help you become more aware of excess calories you may consume throughout the day, such as soda, juice, or snacks. A doctor or nutritionist can review your journal and suggest what to exclude from your diet, or offer healthier substitutions.
5. If you enjoy certain "bad" foods, keep them on the menu (but sparingly). Completely cutting out unhealthy foods that you really enjoy makes it harder to adhere to a diet. Instead, learn to eat them only in moderation. For instance, if you love cake and are used to eating it every other day, get your "fix" by allowing yourself a weekly slice, guilt-free.
6. Exercise. Like diet, exercise is vital for weight loss and prevention of obesity-related illnesses. Incorporating as much of it as possible into your lifestyle will reinforce your diet plan and encourage you to stick with it.
7. Don't get discouraged if you're merely maintaining (not losing) weight. Remember that even if you're not shedding pounds, maintaining your weight is, in itself, beneficial, because a stable weight is healthier than weight gain.
If you have questions about nutrition and weight loss or want to learn more about preventive medicine, visit Dr. Deena Adimoolam's blog, Dr. Deena's Daily Dose.