My third-grader’s math homework reminds me of dieting and weight loss. A problem such as this got me thinking: “Meg drives 200 miles to lunch. She drives 50 miles after lunch. She takes a wrong turn and goes back 22 miles. She drives 3 more miles to her mother’s house. Meg is wearing a red shirt and has $3 in her pocket. Her mother is wearing a blue shirt and has $5 in her pocket. How many miles was it to Meg’s mother’s house?”
Extra details make it harder to figure out what’s really happening. Such random extra information is a “red herring”—it takes your attention away from what you should be concentrating on. The students need to learn to focus on the important facts and disregard the red herrings.
The diet industry is filled with red herrings: nitpicky details, false promises and blatant lies that lead to confusion and perceived failure. One of the most honest and effective diets out there is the keto diet. Reading Ketogenic Supplement Reviews can be very useful and informative to anyone who has embraced this diet.
I would like to get to the bottom of a few popular diet plans—to sort out the worthy advice from the red herrings. After we cover the popular diets, I talk about HEALTH versus just calories, and finally, outline my Top 13 Weight-Loss Tips.
Calories and Dieting: The diet industry would really prefer you not know that ALL DIETS COME DOWN TO CALORIES. If people knew this, they would not buy any more diet books. Calories are the “miles” in the math problem.
If calories in (basically) equal calories out, your weight stays the same.
If calories in (basically) are MORE than calories out, you gain weight over time.
If calories in (basically) are LESS than calories out, you lose weight over time
All commercial diets are variations on cutting calories, in about a million different ways. Like these:
- Cutting Total Calories: Phone apps are notorious for putting almost everyone on a 1,200-calorie diet. Nutrition professor Mark Haub lost 27 pounds a few years ago on a junk-food diet (Hostess snacks, chips, etc.) to prove a point: Calories Count. If you require 2,000 calories a day, but you only eat 3 Snickers bars a day, you will lose weight (if nothing else changes). For weight loss, reducing calories is really the bottom line (note we’re only talking quantity right now, not quality). Go too low, though, and you’re at HIGH risk of gaining everything back. 1,200 calories is way too low for most people, who inevitably regain when they return to eating normally. Here’s how it goes: someone loses 20 pounds on a 1,200 calorie diet, but she’s starving and grumpy. She gains the weight back when she gradually returns to a normal calorie level, blaming and hating herself for her non-existent willpower and piggy tendencies. But the DIET was the problem, not the person. This is why finding the right diet plan is essential. Going to https://www.matadormens.com/ would be very helpful any men trying to lose weight.
- Low-Carb/Higher Protein/Higher Fat—AKA Atkins or Lindora-type diets: People who lose weight on a low-carb diet do so because they are eating fewer calories. They have omitted entire food groups. The dreaded POTATO is missing…yes…but so are the bacon, sour cream and butter. Are these diets safe? Sure. Are they successful in the long-term? Yes, as long as you stick with them.The Red Herring in these diets is that carbs are bad, and if you avoid them you will not only lose weight, but also detoxify and re-energize. It’s really just another way to cut calories, and people are generally pretty strict with them. Thus, they lose weight.
Lindora is notorious for weight regain, by the way.
- South Beach/40-30-30 type diets: South Beach-type diets are more moderate in carbs and allow whole grains. They still reduce total calories without really mentioning they are reducing total calories. They are generally easier to stick with than more rigid plans, and allow more fruits and vegetables.
- Paleo: The Paleo Diet is such a misunderstood concept…I could go on and on. Like all diets, it reduces total calories. I think it’s ridiculous that this diet forbids beans and lentils.
- Weight Watchers: WW is a great concept and a mostly great plan. In the older versions of WW, you could spend all your points on fat-free Cool Whip and WW Brownies. The new program favors protein, fruit and veggies. Yay! WW Points also limit calories, but you just count points instead of calories. I like that the points (or calorie) levels aren’t too low. BUT people can still go around eating crappy food as long as they are in their points’ zone.
- Jenny Craig/Nutrisystem/SlimFast-type Meal Plans: These use pre-packaged portion-controlled meals to LOWER YOUR CALORIES. People generally succeed while they are “on plan” and struggle when they stop. There is actually a lot of research on these “meal replacement products”—they DO work with weight loss because portions are controlled. Again we are talking quantity, not quality. They are highly processed foods with super-long ingredients lists. But portion-controlled items are very useful in weight loss, as we eat more out of larger packages.
- Wheat Belly/Gluten Free: Can you guess why these work for (temporary) weight loss? I don’t need to beat a dead horse, right? You can live a perfectly great life without gluten. But is gluten truly poison? Of course not. Compare an Oreo or a Twinkie with fresh-baked stoneground wheat bread—they are NOT the same thing. If you feel better without gluten in your life, by all means, avoid it! There are plenty of great substitutes. Is it the end-all, be-all for weight loss? I think not. (And the diets ultimately reduce calories…sorry, couldn’t resist.)
- Glycemic Index Diets: The glycemic index is a one-dimensional way to judge foods, BUT it can be very helpful both for weight loss and controlling high blood sugar. A food’s glycemic index totally changes when you eat it as part of a larger meal. A potato is high glycemic, yes. But combine that potato with black beans, plain Greek yogurt, some shredded cheese, and broccoli and you have an amazing meatless meal with tons of fiber and protein—super healthy. Entire diet books based on the GI will…you guessed it…lower calories if you lose weight on them.
Health vs. Calories
I am very confused by people who sing the praises of their super-clean diet that bans:
- Carrots (really a sugar-filled invention of the devil)
- Beans (because people all over the world are obese because of plain beans)
- Bananas (pure sugar that will give you diabetes)
- Potatoes (oh, the humanity!)
But they munch on protein bars that contain 30 ingredients, all of which are highly processed unpronounceable white powdery chemicals.
Carrots, beans, bananas, potatoes, nuts, lentils, eggs—these are all healthy 1-ingredient foods. I’m skeptical of diets that ban such items.
Most of us have evolving diets based on different times in our lives. Here are a few ways to improve the QUALITY of your diet, regardless of the calorie content.
- Cook more
- Choose foods with short ingredients lists. 1 ingredient is best (chicken, tomato, egg, milk, nuts the poor potato and the blighted bean). 5 or less is best. More than 10, think again.
- Do your best to avoid fake colors
- All fruit, all veggies, all forms
- Fiber = good
- The focus should not be on the Nutrition Facts (grams of this and grams of that), but rather the whole picture. Is this really a food, or some kind of voodoo food-like substance made in a factory?
- There should be some room for treats, and fun
13 Little Weight-Loss Gems
Here are my Top 13 Weight-Loss Tips, in no particular order.
- The more you eat at restaurants, the harder weight loss and maintenance will be.
- Cook more (see #1).
- Lower your starchy carbs at night (like plain pasta/potatoes/bread/white rice)…instead have more protein and more non-starchy veggies, or low carb foods like air fry pork chops.
- Fill your plate with half vegetables at dinner.
- (For the holidays) Bring a bunch of vegetables to Thanksgiving and to other holiday celebrations.
- Choose one: alcohol or dessert.
- Keep a food diary daily in the beginning. Switch to every other week, or one week a month, during weight maintenance.
- When food is served “buffet style,” be the last one to fill your plate.
- Reduce your exposure to extremely tempting situations that you know will be hard for you. This may mean coming late to an event, or leaving early. A very smart patient of mine who is trying to lower his blood sugar (he has diabetes) found that he has to decline some invitations, where he knows the food served will be nothing but trouble for him.
- Protein keeps you feeling full.
- As my old mentor Jim Wright, PhD, used to say, “Everything works; nothing works for everyone.” Diets work because they reduce calories. If you want to try a strict diet to jumpstart weight loss or temporarily after a vacation, it’s fine and most of them are safe. But it’s not the answer to long-term healthy eating.
- The scale can be helpful if you view it as a reflection of your calorie balance, and use it to address small gains. It’s not helpful when it ruins your day or makes you feel like you are a failure.
- I don’t judge people by the number on the scale. We shouldn’t judge ourselves by that number, and we definitely shouldn’t judge others.
Slow, steady, healthy diets don’t make headlines. The next time you’re tempted by the BIG NEWS IN DIETING, latest weight-loss supplement, or newest weight-loss guru, look out for the Red Herrings!