do diet plans work?
Weight Loss

Do Diet Plans Work?

Diets that promise quick weight-loss results are eye-catching, but often overlook the principles of long-term, sustainable, healthy eating. Understanding the different types of weight-loss programs and fad diets saturating the market is imperative to actually succeeding. 

Too often, we become desperate to lose weight and turn to fad diets. Unfortunately, finding reliable information about their health benefits is challenging. There are many weight loss programs that share unproven, specific diet regimens. Actual statistics about the results people experience from following those diets are pretty dismal.

According to one study, only about one in five people who begin a dieting program will succeed. The definition of “success” is generous- meaning losing at least 10% of your initial weight and maintaining that weight loss one year out from the start of the program. The long-term success rates (four or five years out) are, as you might imagine, even worse. Successful weight loss is so rare that there is actually a national registry of people who have successfully lost weight and maintained it.

You could write an entire book on the reasons why people don’t succeed at weight loss programs on their own. They range from the difficulty of overriding your brain’s set-point for energy balance, to social factors, to the pervasive presence of unhealthy food.

Good weight loss programs are a formalized way to combat all of these pressures that make weight loss an uphill battle. Could you go it alone? Sure, and many people do. But statistically, you stand a better chance of weight loss if you join a program. Across a wide range of randomized controlled trials, people who are randomly assigned to a commercial weight loss program fare better than those who are randomly assigned to control interventions, which generally consist of broad advice or individual counseling sessions on diet and exercise, without the rigor and formalism of planned weight loss programs.

Weight loss programs can help jump-start people to change their diet. Obesity rates are growing at a tremendous rate, and the health problems that are associated with it are increasing as well. The scientific literature makes one thing very clear: most people are unsuccessful when it comes to weight loss. 

If you have tried and failed at weight loss before, signing up for a weight loss program might be a great way to boost your chances at success a second time around.

A group of experts commissioned by the National Health Institutes in 2015 described the dismal state of self-directed weight loss. Most often, weight lost during a diet is regained within six to nine months after it’s completed. People tend to revert back to their initial habits, and regain all the weight they lost. Programs can teach sustainable, healthy alternatives.

Programs make weight loss easier than going it alone. A better solution than a haphazard self-directed diet and exercise program is a regimented program that provides guidelines on how to enforce a more systematic change in your lifestyle and break the old habits that led you to become overweight in the first place. This is where weight loss programs come in.

A systematic review of commercial weight loss programs published in 2016 in the Annals of Internal Medicine by researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine described the potential benefits of weight loss programs. According to the authors, a wide range of studies support the efficacy of commercial weight loss intervention programs, though the programs vary in their short and long-term success.

Two key variables to look at with a weight loss program are the initial weight lost and the long-term results one to two years after the program starts. 

Initial weight loss is primarily a function of the amount of caloric restriction that a program imposes, so an intensive program like Optifast involves fairly strong caloric intake restriction and can produce substantial weight losses in the short term.

The benefits of a commercial weight loss program can be up to 4% greater weight loss when compared to a standard nutritional counseling program. The question with these is whether you can sustain the results long-term. Unfortunately, many weight loss programs don’t have the necessary long-term follow-up studies yet to definitively prove their efficacy, but research is ongoing.

Regardless of how it happens, the direct benefits of weight loss are numerous. Even relatively modest amounts of weight loss can result in positive health benefits. According to a review study by D.J. Goldstein at Indiana University School of Medicine, even if you only lose less than 10% of your body weight, you can see a substantial improvement in markers associated with chronic disease. These include blood sugar control, lower cholesterol, and lower blood pressure- each responsible for a huge number of deaths every year.

Among studies that directly measured longevity (i.e. life expectancy), modest weight losses resulted in a significant increase in longevity when comparing people who lost a modest amount of weight to people who did not lose weight. This lends further support for the theory that even a little bit of lost weight can go a long ways towards improving your health.

One advantage of a commercial weight loss program is that you mitigate your risk of side effects when compared with a diet cobbled together yourself. There’s a lot that can go wrong in a diet; if you restrict your food intake too severely, you’ll be missing out on vital micronutrients or your macronutrient balance can get thrown off. In contrast, if you are too lax, you won’t end up losing much weight.

Fortunately, reputable weight loss programs have nutritionists on staff to ensure that the diets that they recommend contain the necessary micronutrients you need. But a daily multivitamin, or a targeted supplementation plan that includes these nutrients, should be sufficient to combat this problem.

If you want the best possible shot to lose weight and improve your health, choose a well-regarded weight loss program and stick to it. Make sure they take into account your individual needs and medical concerns. Following a regimented program will help you lose more weight, maintain your weight loss, and avoid any short-term or long-term adverse effects from suboptimal nutritional intake, like increased risks for chronic disease or nutritional deficiencies. They’ll also teach you sustainable habits and techniques to keep the pounds off. Make sure to keep your healthcare provider in the loop.

Different programs have different strengths. Regardless of what you choose, the most important point is to stick with it to the best of your ability. This is the best way to ensure your weight doesn’t creep back up.

Next week I’ll discuss popular diet programs.


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