Creating an energy deficit is the key
Over the past few decades there has been controversy regarding the optimal diet to achieve successful weight loss. This is despite the important physiological principle of creating an energy deficit required to reduce fat mass. The energy intake from all foods and fluids consumed daily should be less than the energy used for involuntary activity. These include breathing, walking and voluntary activity (e.g. regular exercise regime).
People are impatient to lose weight and popular fad diets promise fast results, achieved in an “easy” way. To lower the energy intake, a food group (e.g. fat or carbohydrate) is limited or avoided. Surprisingly, research studies have demonstrated that individuals lose weight when the energy is restricted – independent of whether the energy is provided by protein, fat or carbohydrates. The key factor is adherence to the diet plan, more than the nutrient you choose to limit or avoid the consumption of.
On the other hand, several factors come to play when evaluating a weight loss diet for effectiveness and overall quality:
- The sustainability of the dietary pattern, whether it results in weight maintenance in the long term
- The genes we inherit
- Optimal gut health
- The nutrient density/quality of the diet
Sustainability of the diet
Fad diets often prescribe a very low energy intake and promise rapid weight loss over a short time. Individuals following these diets generally lose weight rapidly. This weight is quickly regained when they resume the way they ate before starting the diet. This is because these diets do not offer individuals the opportunity to change or practice healthy eating habits vital to sustain the weight loss achieved.
What also needs to be considered is the sustainability of the environment. Consuming too much food from animal origin, leads to larger greenhouse gas emissions. These are not recommended for the health of our environment in the long term.
The genes we inherit
Our genes, their variations and expressions may increase our susceptibility to obesity when consuming a slightly higher carbohydrate diet or a higher fat diet. Therefore, if this gene information is known, adaptations to dietary needs can be made.
Optimal gut health
Evidence demonstrates that the diversity and number of bacterial strains existing in the gut can influence the ability of an individual to absorb energy from food, and consequently losing weight. It is important to note that scientists are only beginning to understand the role the gut bacteria might play. One must therefore individualise weight loss programmes that ensure optimal gut health.
Nutrient density? Are we excluding the good stuff?
Fad diets often lack variety due to the exclusion of an entire food group. This results in a lack of certain nutrients that one’s body requires daily. In addition, research has shown that obese individuals may have low iron and vitamin D levels compared to their healthy weight counterparts.
It is obvious that one diet does not fit all, and a personalized dietary approach is recommended. A balanced combination of unprocessed foods (from all the food groups) and increased physical activity should be used for healthy weight loss. It should be adopted as a life-long approach due to the necessity to keep the weight off. Apart from the diet, skills such good planning, shopping cooking and a mind approach of determination, discipline, perseverance and persistence need to be applied. The ideal approach is to consult with a dietitian. He/she will be able to individualise the necessary energy restriction, consider your food preferences, nutrient balance, cultural requirements, budget and lifestyle constraints of you and your family – all important to facilitate adherence.