There are a lot of specialized diets and methods advertised to help one lose weight. Unfortunately, as you might have guessed, there is no Silver Bullet to permanent weight loss. Let’s explore what we know about what works in weight loss and what doesn’t.
Exercise is not a weight loss solution
According to the American Heart Association and American College of Sports Medicine, there is not enough significant evidence to support the hypothesis that individuals with high daily energy expenditure (those who exercise more) would be less likely to gain weight over time that those who have low energy expenditures (exercise less) (1).
Similarly, a systematic review (2) on physical activity and weight gain demonstrated that exercise was ineffective for weight loss and all the participants involved had regained their lost weight.
Exercise should be used as a complement to a nutritional intervention, not a weight loss solution.
Most exercise for weight loss suggested is jogging on a treadmill or other similar low intensity steady-state cardio or LISS for short. Unfortunately LISS can result in muscle loss (3), which is why incorporating the proper resistance training prescription will prevent this from occurring. Also, more muscle mass requires greater calorie expenditure, meaning your metabolism is higher with greater muscle mass.
What diet should I follow to lose weight?
For a nutritional intervention to work, it has to be simple and easy to adopt. That’s it. Nothing fancy. Several studies have shown that the most important factor in a successful weight loss diet is for the person to follow it (4,5).
After all, eating and food selection is all about habits and a change in habits can help result in achieving and maintaining weight loss in the long run.
Instead of being overwhelmed by a new, trendy, weight loss “system”, follow this rule: choose what you eat based on the quality of food.
In other words, start by selecting only single-ingredient foods.
If the packaging lists more than one ingredient (a plethora of chemicals and non-whole, natural ingredients), try to avoid eating it/cooking with it. You’ll find that this is also an easy way to avoid consuming processed foods.
The magic about single ingredient foods is that they often naturally result in calorie reduction. They also make you feel more full, and result in fewer cravings (6,7).
It's important to remind yourself that you are human and you should expect to have the occasional unhealthy meal. Changes in your weight are a result of average eating habits and don’t hinge on a few days of unhealthy eating in the long run. Prioritize quality food most of the time, and you should see a change.
An important note to add: if you feel like you have made healthy changes but are still experiencing difficulty with weight loss, you may need to begin tracking your caloric intake to give yourself an idea of what and how much you are eating (MyFitness Pal app is great for this). It may also be beneficial to see someone who specializes in nutrition to help motivate and guide you on the right track. Finally, ruling out other potential causes of weight gain (such as thyroid disease or hormonal disturbances) with your naturopathic doctor or primary care physician is warranted if you have been struggling with weight despite making healthy changes.
Take Home Message:
Exercise is not a weight loss solution; rather it is a complement to a nutritional intervention.
Adopt a resistance training program to minimize muscle loss and maximize metabolism.
If and when choosing a diet, make sure it is easy to follow and is enjoyable.
Focus on food quality – choose single ingredient foods the majority of the time.
See a nutritional specialist, your naturopathic doctor, or primary care physician if you have ongoing difficulty losing weight despite implementing healthy eating habits.
1. Haskell W.L Physical activity and public health: updated recommendation for adults from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association. Circulation. Aug. 2007.
2. Fogelholm, M. Kukkonen. K.M. Dose physical activity prevent weight gain- a systematic review.” Obesity Reviews. 2000 Oct;1(2):95-111.
3. Edstrom, L and Ekblom, B. Differences in sizes of red and white muscle fibres in vastus lateralis of musculus quadriceps femoris of normal individuals and athletes. Relation to physical performance. Scand J Clin Lab Invest. 30: 175–181, 1972.
4. Gardner CD, Kiazand A, Alhassan S, et al. Comparison of the Atkins, Zone, Ornish, and LEARN Diets for change in weight and related risk factors among overweight premenopausal women. The A to Z Weight Loss Study: a randomized trial. JAMA, 2005.
5. Dansinger ML, Gleason JA, Griffith JL, Selker HP, Schaefer EJ. Comparison of the Atkins, Ornish, Weight Watchers, and Zone diets for weight loss and heart disease risk reduction: a randomized trial. JAMA, 2005.
6. Holt SH, Miller JC, Petocz P, Farmakalidis E. A Satiety index of common foods. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1995 Sep; 49 (9); 675-90
7. Hans-Rudolf Berthoud, Natalie R. Lenard, Andrew C Shin. Food Reward, hyperphagia, and obesity. American Journal of Physiology. June 2011. Vol. 300.