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Articles by Dr. Walt Larimore

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Dr. Walt Larimore

Walt Larimore, M.D. has been called “one of America’s best known family physicians.” He is a nationally-known and nationally sought after speaker and health expert. read bio

Dieting: Don't Be Fooled By Fads

Dieting has become an obsession and basically a national pastime in the United States.  With so many diets making unrealistic claims such as, "Lose weight while you sleep," it is hard not to let your curiosity get the best of you.

The dieting industry has grown to $35 billion in the U.S, which may explain why almost one in three women of normal weight is trying to lose weight.  With only 20% of people trying to shed the pounds the recommended way, eating fewer calories and exercising at least two and a half hours per week, many others are turning to weight-loss pills out of frustration, desperation and false hope.  Some diet pills have been proven to be unsafe, and some have been taken off the market.  Even herbs and dietary supplements cannot be recommended for weight loss due to a lack of evidence and research.  Of those who avoided diet pills and other quickly-fading fad diets, many fell into alternative therapies because they often contain an ounce of truth and even success for some people.

But do any of these approaches to weight loss actually work?  Are they safe?  Here is a brief overview of the most popular diets and approaches to losing weight, along with the true benefits they not contain.

Diet

Information

Atkins Diet Description: The best known low-carbohydrate diet, Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution, is an updated version of his 1972 book.
Claims: Cutting down on carbohydrates is said to reduce blood sugar levels and decrease insulin production. Less insulin forces our bodies to burn rather than store fat.
Evidence: In controlled trials published after 2003, greater weight loss was found compared to low-calorie diets up to six months. After twelve months, weight loss was similar.
Benefits: Eliminating carbs will reduce overall calorie intake. Proteins and fats are digested more slowly, meaning people feel full longer.
Cautions: Adherence to this diet is low. Large amounts of protein contain much fat and this may lead to unhealthy blood lipid levels, though studies have not found this yet.
Blood Type Diet Description: People of different blood types should choose different diets.
Claims: Blood types reflect different evolutionary ancestry. Ex.) Type 0 means your ancestors were Stone Age hunters, so you need lots of meat and intense exercise but few grains and dairy products. 
Evidence: No convincing or reputable evidence supports blood types being related to evolutionary ancestry or diet.
Benefits: Some recommendations may be healthy. Type 0 people may start excercising more.
Cautions: Some recommendations may be unhealthy. Type 0 elimination of grains and dairy products will reduce vitamin and nutrient intake.
Cabbage Soup Diet Description: A soup made from cabbage, onions, peppers, tomatoes, and celery is eaten exculsively for one week. A short break is taken, and then you restart with soup alone.
Claims: The diet drastically reduces your calorie intake and you lose weight.
Evidence: It works to reduce weight rapidly, although much of this may be water loss. However, there is no evidence that people keep this weight off.
Benefits: This diet can produce short-term nonsustained weight loss.
Cautions: Many essential nutrients and vitamins are lacking. This diet can cause serious problems if maintained for long periods and can lead to rebound weight gain.
Candida Diet Description: The goal is to eliminate all sources of yeast (such as bread or beer) and sugar (sweets and fruit) from the diet.
Claims: Tiredness, allergies, and recurrent yeast infections are evidence of a yeast infecton throughout the body. The claim is that yeast needs to be starved of all sugar and other yeasts need to be eliminated from the diet.
Evidence: There is no convincing medical evidence that eliminating certain foods cures these infections.
Benefits: Because so many foods are eliminated, people should lose weight.
Cautions: Following this diet strictly will lead to deficiencies in many vitamins and nutrients.
Fasting Description: The goal is to completely abstain from any food, usually for a specific length of time. Water is usually consumed.
Claims: Fasting can be done to lose weight, to "detoxify" the body, or for religious reasons. The biblical rationale for fasting is to allow focused attention for prayer (Matthew 6:16-18) and to empathize with the poor (Isaiah 58), not to earn God's favor.
Evidence: Obviously, eliminating all calories will lead to weight loss.
Benefits: Weight can be lost, but for the first few days this is usually water loss.
Cautions: Most Americans can easily afford to fast from time to time without any negative effects. However, extended use will lead to weakness (Psalm 109:24) and nutritional deficiencies.
Food-Combining Diet Description: This diet claims we need to eat food by category. Fruit should be eaten alone in the morning. Carbs should be eaten with vegetables but never with fat or protein, etc.
Claims: Health problems are caused by eating foods in the wrong combination. If mixed wrongly, our digestive enzymes are confused and the wrong enzymes produced. The food sits in the intestines, rots, and poisons us.
Evidence: Few foods contain only one food group. Our digestive enzymes select the correct foods and don't get"confused".
Benefits: The diet can lead to more fruit and vegetable intake and move towards smaller quantities.
Cautions: This diet is highly structured and may lead some to an "all or nothing" approach. It may have some benefits, but don't neglect all mixed food (especially diary products).
GI Diet Description: Based on eating foods with a low glycemic index (GI) and avoiding those with a high GI.
Claims: Foods that cause rapid increases in blood sugar lead to rapid rises in insulin and storage of energy as fat, followed by a sharp drop in blood sugar and hungar. These foods have a high GI value.
Evidence: GI has been studied in diabetes much longer than for weight loss. Mechanism seems reasonable. Few controlled studies as yet for weight loss.
Benefits: Low GI foods may address the blood sugar peaks and valleys. Foods approved include many fruits and vegetables. The GI Diet allows foods from each food group.
Cautions: Eating lots of low GI foods can still provide calories. Some high GI foods (potatoes, carrots, and watermelon) are still healthy. Diets based on GI are new and have not received long-term study.
Jenny Craig Description: The diet is a complete commercial food program based on 28-day preset menus that come in vacuum-sealed packages. It includes a weekly consultation with a former participant on diet and exercise.
Claims: Meals have been prepared according to USDA dietary guidelines to give 1,200 - 1,500 calories/day.
Evidence: This is a balanced approach with all food groups included.
Benefits: The diet is balanced (though possibly low in fiber), and calorie reduction should bring weight loss.
Cautions: The prepackaged approach to meals does not teach how to shop and prepare one's own meals. The program may be restrictive, and costs may be prohibitive, especially if a several-month contract is required.
Macrobiotics Description: Meals are composed of whole grains (50 to 60 percent) , vegetables (25 to 30 percent), beans or soybean products (5 to 10 percent), with some nuts, seeds, miso soup, and herbal teas. Meat or seafood is allowed once a week.
Claims: Macrobiotics literally means "way of long life" and is a quasi-religious approach to diet. Foods are chosen based on yin and yang, pulse diagnosis, and life energy beliefs.
Evidence: There is no evidence that a macrobiotic diet cures cancer and other diseases as claimed. Weight loss occurs from calorie reduction.
Benefits: Adherents will benefit from increased plant products in the diet and reducing calories.
Cautions: Nutrient deficiencies occur. Using macrobiotics to cure cancer may lead to neglect of effective treatments.
"Grapefruit" Diet Description: Eat half a grapefruit at every meal, other specific foods at every meal, and eight glasses of water and one glass of skim milk or tomatoe juice a day. Do this for twelve days then eat freely for two days.
Claims: Grapefruit is said to act as a fat burner. The combination of foods is said to promote fat burning.
Evidence: There is no evidence to support the diet, and no evidence that grapefruit has any special dieting properites.
Benefits: The plan is low on calories and high on vegetables and salads. The water is beneficial.
Cautions: The diet contains quite a large amount of meat, which can contain significant amounts of fat and can be hard on the kidneys. It is low in calcium and quickly gets boring.
Slim Fast Description: In this diet, breakfast and lunch are replaced with prepackaged drinks and bars. It leaves one meal to prepare using balanced nutrition guidelines.
Claims: This diet works on the principle of using a highly structured approach to dieting. Slim-fast products are nutritious.
Evidence: Several controlled studies have shown short-term effectiveness. The drop-out rate is high when continued beyond a year.
Benefits: A balanced diet is consumed. Short-term weight loss occurs through calorie reduction.
Cautions: The drinks and bars can get monotonous and can also be costly compared to other foods.
South Beach Description: Phase one eliminates carbs and encourages high-protein foods that are high in good fats; phase two stays high-protein but reduces fat and encourages high-fiber vegetables.
Claims: This diet claims to work by eliminating foods that cause an insulin surge that promotes hunger.
Evidence: Reduced carbs will reduce calories. High protein will leave people feeling full.
Benefits: This diet has the short-term advantages of the Atkins Diet and the long-term advantages of the Zone Diet.
Cautions: High protein intake may be tough on the kidneys.
Sugar Busters! Description: The goal is to elimnate white flour and all refined sugar from the diet. Lean meats high in protein are encouraged. Some carbs are allowed, especially high-fiber vegetables.
Claims: This diet is based on eliminating refined carbs to prevent the insulin surge that occurs after eating sugars.
Evidence: There are no controlled studies available for this diet.
Benefits: Eliminating these sugars will reduce calorie intake. Fat intake is controlled and usually reduced.
Cautions: This diet eliminates some grains and fruits,so fiber level and vitamins need to be monitored. Adherence rates can be quite low.
Volumetrics

Description: This approach is based on research by Barbara Rolls, Ph.D., into low-density foods. It emphasizes low-calorie, high-bulk foods with high water content: fruits, veggies, whole grains, soups, and lean meats.
Claims: Low-energy-density foods give people the sense they are filled after consuming fewer calories. Weight is lost through calorie reduction and increased physical activity.
Evidence: This diet is based on the principles that have been studied. The diet itself has not been researched in controlled studies, which is its only shortcoming.
Benefits: This diet reduces calorie intake while allowing much variety. It follows balanced diet guidelines.
Cautions
: Initial high-fiber intake may cause some intestinal discomfort. The diet may be low in vitamin E.

Weight Watchers Description: All foods are assigned "points", with 1 point being roughly 50 calories. Individual targets are set based on current weight.
Claims: This approach is based on reducing calories and eating a balanced diet. Encourages exercise and weekly support groups.
Evidence: This was rated the best diet by Consumer Reports in 2006 for the most supportive evidence and best adherence rates.
Benefits: The balanced approach should lead to calorie reduction and long-term success.
Cautions: Weekly fee for support group ($13) may be costly for some people.
Zone Diet Description: The goal is to lower daily intake of carbs and replace them with protein and fat
Claims: The diet claims that the perfect balance is 40-30-30, carbohydrate-protein-fat. Very detailed planning is required.
Evidence: Some studies have been done, but not all show the diet is effective. Long-term adherence is better than with other, less balanced diets.
Benefits: The balanced approach should lead to calorie reduction.
Cautions: This diet requires incredible attention to detail in order to follow exactly and can be boring.

Although almost every diet brings initial success, the ability to maintain that success is not common.  Sometimes all it takes is a special occasion or a bad day to bring back old habits, especially when on an unrealistic diet.  The relapse rate for almost all diets, weight-loss programs, and diet pills is very high being that only a select few diets are successful over long periods.  Here is a table from a study trying to figure out what works best for people who had previously lost weight.   

 Weight Loss Method

Percent of Successful Maintainers Using It

Percent of Unsuccessful Relapsers Using It

At least 30 minutes exercise, 3 times per week

90

34

Devised personal eating plan

73

39

Attended Weight Watchers

76

36

Attended other program/group

10

43

Followed doctor's orders

20

34

Took pills or shots

3

47

Fasted

3

11

Underwent hypnosis

0

9

Followed book or magazine diet

10

25

Total number of different methods used by those in each group

28

121

This table shows that the most successful weight maintainers stuck to a small number of well-established and highly recommended approaches: exercise, a personal eating plan, and a support group. Lifestyle changes and moderation are key.

The following proven approaches and strategies to losing weight can be combined to make a plan that works for you.

  • Reduce the number of calories and eat a balanced diet.
  • Increase physical activity.
  • Have social support.
  • Fill up on low-energy-density foods.
  • Control blood sugar.
  • Measure your portions.

So what happens when these fad diets and diet pills are thrown out the window?  The answer is simple – revert to the best approach, the old-fashioned approach. Here are some reminders to keep in mind:

  • You are embarking on a challenging activity.
  • Focus on changes.
  • Make changes that you can envision becoming part of your new lifestyle.
  • Move your body more.
  • Set reasonable goals.
  • Enjoy the food you can eat.
  • If you slip, don't give up.
  • Find a way to keep yourself accountable.
  • Enlist the help, support, and prayers of others.
  • Change your thinking.
  • Eat breakfast every day.
  • Increase the amount of water you drink.

Used with permission from Walt Larimore's book, Alternative Medicine.

Medical information within this site is not intended for use in the diagnosis or treatment of any health condition. Please consult a licensed health care professional for the treatment or diagnosis of any medical condition.

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