Health knowledge made personal
Join this community!
› Share page:

Introduction to Weight loss

Are you ready to start on a path to a healthier you by shedding some of those extra pounds? It is easy to be tempted by promises of rapid weight loss that are held out by some weight loss programs, or offered as a result of diet pills, or other "miracle weight loss diets." There are a few things you should know before you decide on how you will proceed.

First, understand that there is no miracle weight loss treatment. It is possible that if you adhere to a highly restricted or other fad diet, you may lose significant weight. The problems are that crash dieting solutions are harmful to your body, because they deprive you of essential nutrients. These diets can leave you with weaker bones, and overall health that is worse. More imprtant, though, is the problem that if you make no changes to your normal life, as soon as you stop depriving yourself on the crash diet, you are very likely to return to your previous eating and exercise habits, which leads to an inevitable Yo-Yo phenomenon. Studies have demonstrated that people who are overweight and crash diet, then regain the weight are in much worse state of health than those who remain at their original overweight size.

The answer to weight loss is that there is no miracle, only common sense. If you want to lose weight and keep it off, the plain truth is you will need to make some changes to your lifestyle.

Change what you eat

You should reduce the total calories that you eat every day. Try to capitalize on the benefits of making your diet more healthful. The good news is that it is a "win – win" when you switch high calorie, unhealthful foods (such as sodas, high saturated fat-laden meat, and other fatty foods) with more healthful foods (such as fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains). Not only do you gain the health advantages of a more nutritious diet, you reduce the number of calories that you take in.

Take a look at the healthy eating section of this website for more tips and information on how to eat a healthy diet: Intro to healthy eating.

Increase your activity level

You should increase your activity level to increase the amount of calories that you expend. The increase in your activity level that you choose can vary. You can lose weight with a more severe calorie restriction and no or minimal increase in your activity level. However, if you can find activities that you enjoy doing, and incorporate them into your life, then you do not have to cut back so severely on what you eat, and you can get to a more healthful life with a wholesome diet and exercise. Not only does the exercise help you lose weight, it will make you feel better, improve your mental clarity, diminish or eliminate depression, and improve your sleep.

You do not have to become a gym addict for this to work (though that does have some advantages too!). Whatever your current level of activity, increasing it even a modest amount, but keeping it up over a long time, will lead to weight loss. So make an effort to do simple things, like

  • Park on the other side of the parking lot to take a short walk into the building at work
  • Take the stairs when you can
  • Take a stroll around the block in the evening
  • Rediscover your rollerblades, bicycle, tennis racket, or anything else that you once enjoyed doing
For more hints and tips on exercise, check out the Intro to Exercise

How fast can I lose weight?

There is no hard and fast rule, but experience tells us that most people who lose weight very quickly will also put it back on quickly. The best solution is to make gradual modifications to your lifestyle that are sustainable, so that you weight loss also is sustainable. Most experts recommend that a weight loss of 1 - 2 pounds per week is ideal.

What diet should I go on?

There are many options for low calorie diets. The important thing is to pick a diet or plan that is healthy, and rich in nutrients — this is particularly important when you are eating less. Avoid the fad diets, the liquid diets, and the "detoxification" diets. Also, be suspicious of celebrity-endorsed diets, unless you have reason to believe the celebrity is an expert in nutrition and health!

What about the low carb (Atkins) diet?

This is a more interesting story. The recommendations for a healthy diet include many sources of carbohydrate, and they suggest limiting many sources of protein that carry with them fat, especially saturated fat. The low carbohydrate diet is very high in protein, and quite high in fat, which is a very different approach. The problem is that most sources of protein bring with them quite large amounts of fat. Even lean cuts of red meat carry at least 15%, and usually more, of their calories from saturated fats. While early studies have shown no harm to people who follow the low carb approach — and it does seem to work — many do remain very concerned about the long term consequences. If people stay on this diet for longer periods of time, they may well be setting themselves up for much greater chance of developing heart attacks, strokes, and other vascular problems related to atherosclerosis. Research to find the answer to this question is ongoing.

Once again, the very best and safest course of action is to find a healthful, balanced diet that you enjoy and that you can stick with over time.

For more information, consider reading the book called The Spectrum, in which Dr. Ornish describes a sensible approach to figuring out how to enjoy yourself while you make yourself healthier, AND lose weight along the way.