Whether or not “bikini season” is coming up in the hemisphere you live in, you are always surrounded by people seeking ways to shed excess pounds at the soonest possible time. Indeed, the quest for weight loss has been a preoccupation of people from various walks of life, whether in the pursuit of health, for aesthetic reasons, or most especially, in the interest of enhancing one’s sex appeal.
Of course, anyone who has ever experienced having insufficient resources to buy food could state right off that the best and simplest way of losing weight is to starve oneself.
Starvation diets are regarded as medically unsound because they can have serious ramifications on one’s health. Physicians, dieticians, and fitness trainers agree that starving oneself to lose weight could be much more harmful than suffering the health effects of obesity or overweight. So, that’s out of the question.
But the long and short of it is that a starvation diet usually fails because it is the most difficult to adhere to, and is surely not fun at all. For this reason, a good number of eater-friendly diets have been formulated over the past fifty years to help dieters achieve their intended weight gain without having to endure miserable existences characterized by food deprivation. Some of these diets claim to arise from esoteric schools of thought or nutritional paradigms, and are often labelled as “fad diets.” Let us run through the top five diets which do not involve purchasing nutritional supplements, wonder drugs and devices, surgical procedures, or even arcane rituals.
Balancing Food Choices
Most people may remember how their Mom and Dad used to tell them to eat a balanced diet to stay healthy. In the practice of their professions, nutritionists and dieticians have made the formulation of such diet plans their … well.. bread and butter. Loosely based on the USDA’s food pyramid at the time, a number of well-thought-out weight loss diets were published in the 1970s, the foremost of which was the Scarsdale Diet. Such diets gave strict specifications on what percent of daily food intake should consist of proteins, carbohydrates, and fat to achieve proper weight management and health. While this may initially sound like work for a rocket scientist, the books that instructed people on these diet plans were always accompanied with recipes to suit the prescribed levels of nutrients. Such diets were easy to comply with when all meals were prepared at home or by a dietitian, and rather difficult to stick to when dining out.
The Atkins Diet: Knocking off the carbs
Corpulent folks who seek to shed pounds for fear of cardiovascular disease have long adhered to the doctrine-like tenets of “The Lipid Hypothesis” which raised a red flag on saturated fats, berated as the cause of the murderous cholesterol that causes heart disease, and… well… death. This traditional school of thought was accompanied by the homespun logic that made people believe that “you are what you eat,” such that eating fat made one a fat person who would be packed with artery-clogging cholesterol. In more recent years, however, science has acquired a better understanding of cholesterol, and its role in cardiovascular health to the point that a “cholesterol controversy” soon developed, and with it, a number of new dietary recommendations.
Soon, a faction of the nutritionist community began to preach a new gospel calling for the reduction or elimination of the true culprits in obesity and heart disease which are carbohydrates, with a thumbs-up now being given to fatty, protein-rich foods. A dietary revolution was experienced with the promotion of weight loss through ketogenic utilization of energy sources in the body. To put this simply, ketosis is the process by which a carbohydrate-deprived body would utilize its own fat reserves to source energy for metabolism and muscular function. Thus, the Atkins Diet and its kin had dieters flocking back to steak houses where they could enjoy a good piece of steer, as long as they shunned the bread rolls and the sides of mash or fries.
While it surely did spark off a dietary revolution due to the many testimonies of dieters who experienced rapid weight loss through ketosis, the Atkins diet was eventually regarded as a “fad diet” as its positive results were not statistically conclusive in the long term. Traditionalists shunned it as counterintuitive, as its tenets were contrary to what most cardiologists advocated, which is eating more vegetables and less meat. Being carbohydrate sources, vegetables were generally excluded from the Atkins diet.
The South Beach Diet: Distinguishing the good cops from the bad cops
Further insight into food choices brought dieters to understand concepts like glycemic index and the different types of lipoproteins. This brought the ketogenic troupe of Atkins followers into the South Beach and the Dukan generations. The fashionable South Beach Diet classified carbohydrates as good carbs and bad carbs, calling for food preferences focused largely on high-fiber low glycemic carbohydrates, unsaturated fats, and lean protein. Unlike its low-carb predecessor, the Atkins diet, the South Beach approach does not shun carbohydrates altogether, scheduling instead the ingestion of such foods based on their glycemic index, or how rapidly they raise blood sugar levels. It also equipped its adherents with knowledge about good fats and bad fats.
While the South Beach Diet was largely based on published literature that enabled fastidious eaters to apply the recipes and meal plans indicated in the books and online information, it also sparked off a food service industry of its own. A number of restaurants and caterers helped determined South Beach Dieters religiously stick to the diet by actually delivering the prescribed food to these clients at appropriate times, and according to the specific phase of the diet that each client was in. This sort of enterprise inevitably flourished and turned into a large industry that provided these services to clients pursuing other strict dietary plans. While this was surely convenient and guaranteed a painless existence by providing gourmet-level cuisine, it is understandably costly, making it difficult to sustain perpetually, especially when the dieter needs to do some business travel.
The South Beach Diet, for all its stylish panache, was still categorized as a “fad” diet, and did not show sufficient hard medical evidence of long term success and health benefits to cardiovascular disease patients seeking to shave off excess weight.
The Dukan Diet: Bring on the meat
Founded on similar principles as the ketogenesis-based Atkins Diet, the Dukan Diet also raised a red flag on carbohydrates, and gave a thumbs-up to protein. This is the diet that had its many followers clearing supermarket shelves of oat bran which is the allowed fiber-rich carbohydrate food, and referring to their lists of 100 allowable foods.
As in the case of some other dietary plans, the Dukan Diet based its prescribed food choices on knowledge of the glycemic index and lipid profile of foods and ingredients. Unlike some other diets, however, this diet does not simply advocate a new way of life for its followers. The Dukan Diet needs to be followed according to a strict schedule of dietary stages, namely the Attack phase, the Cruise phase, the Consolidation phase, and the Stabilization phase. The last phase is the easiest to comply with as it seems to allow almost anything, with a few exceptions and requirements. Throughout the program, the dieter needs to keep eating that oat bran for the fiber, and religiously abide by a commitment to do daily exercise.
Scientifically innovative as it may seem, the Dukan Diet is not without its critics, especially in medical circles. The very thought of ladling on the fatty stuff and barring fruit and vegetables at the start of the program seems understandably heretical to most cardiologists and other medical specialists. It has even been branded by the British Dietetic Association some years back as the “number one diet to avoid.”
The Paleo Diet: Back to basics
What seems similar to the Dukan Diet, but based on principles that seem to border somewhat on pseudo science is the Paleolithic or Paleo diet. It is also known as the caveman diet, or the stone age diet since the Pleistocene geological period that is more commonly known as the Paleolithic or “old stone age” is the time in the Earth’s prehistory that humans were known to live in caves. Determining what Paleolithic people ate is no mean feat, considering that the entire era encompasses around 99 percent of the estimated time of hominid existence which included somewhat dissimilar humans such as Neanderthals, and possibly even Australopithecus.
The basic principle of the Paleo diet is for people to eat only what people are supposed to eat on the basis of their evolution and natural history. Much more than merely stressing that there were no jelly doughnuts nor mojitos in the Olduvai gorge at the time, the diet points out that early humans were hunter/gatherers, thereby munching only on what their environment had to offer. In the practical sense, this means shunning any “processed foods” which, surprisingly includes a ban on dairy products, grains and legumes, alcohol and coffee, sugar and salt, and processed oils because cavemen didn’t have access to any of these things.
The definition of “processed” is often vague, as preparing food by cooking is allowed, but drying out seawater to get salt or milking a goat for its milk are not allowed. Foods that were eaten by humans since the Neolithic Revolution or the transition for foraging into agriculture and animal husbandry are taboo in this dietary program.
Critics of the Paleo diet point out that the principles behind it are not scientifically sound because there is no reason to believe that the digestive abilities of present day humans are equal to those of their ancestors who lived before 15,000 B.C. Not surprisingly, the Paleo Diet is categorized along with the many other fad diets that nutritionists and dieticians frown upon.
Weight Watchers: Keeping tabs on healthy food choices
The Weight Watchers diet is a rather complicated approach to healthy eating and weight reduction as it requires considerably much more than just reading a book or downloading an instructional document. This program entails actually being part of a support community whether it is an actual group of people who meet up, a coaching setup, or an online group. Founded on many of the aforementioned principles on good and bad carbs and fats, as well as the avoidance of food additives, the overriding rule is having nutritionally dense meals with a correct ratio of fiber, fat, protein and carbohydrates. While this might seem like a throwback to the once popular Scarsdale Diet mentioned earlier, Weight Watchers applies its SmartPoints system to assign a point score to individual food items or ingredients, thereby allowing a dieter to make meal plans based on allowable points.
With this system, the weight watcher is allowed to eat anything, as long as the portion does not push the meal over the point limit. Bratwurst would receive a very high score, and should therefore be enjoyed only in limited quantities compare to something as innocuous as carrots which have a remarkably low score. To make this all less complicated, the community offers recipe books, and various forms of support for its dieters. The more the dieters availed of such support, whether through online tools and apps, meetings, or purchasing literature, the more they were found to attain their weight loss and healthy living goals.
If it works….
There is, indeed, no shortage of dietary approaches and products available to people who seek weight loss. While some work better than others, the bottom line is that every dietary plan will have some positive results if the person truly wishes to lose weight. As in the case of how health-seeking behaviour in a population truly makes people healthier, even if they are given nothing but placebos, the serious dieter will subconsciously pursue a healthier-eating lifestyle, reduce portions at every meal, snack and cheat less, and get some exercise. If there really was a magic pill that would be a foolproof guarantee for weight loss, things would be a lot simpler.
But there is, and shall never be such a dietary holy grail in the real world. The buck truly stops with the sincerity and discipline of the individual dieter, and the intensity by which he or she wants to lose weight.