Friday, February 27, 2009

Take your pick: All diets work

When my mother was in her 80s, she lost over 30 lbs following the "Fit for Life" eating regime, which was a fairly rigourous food-combining fad. When I visited her and saw her eating a modest serving of fruit for breakfast, instead of a stack of toast or several pastries, I realized they were simply breaking her habitual mindless loading on of calories.

I was sure I had a glimpse behind the curtain of any diet. But for years I had to endure friends touting their "wonder diets", each weirder than the next. Now, every newspaper on the planet is running the results of the Harvard School of Public Health study on four different diets. The study validates what I always asserted: it's the calories, bunky!

The key finding: "No one diet was better for reducing calories or increasing weight loss at six months or two years."

The four diets:
1. Low fat, average protein

2. Low fat,
high protein
3. High fat, average protein

4. High fat, high-protein

All were low in saturated fat and cholesterol and high in fibre.

Each plan
cut about 750 calories a day from a participant's normal diet, but no one ate fewer than 1, 200 calories a day. They also exercised moderately for 90 minutes a week.

At the six-month mark participants assigned to each diet lost an average of 13 lbs (6kg); at two years the 80% who hung in had an average loss of 9 lbs and a 2-inch reduction of the waistline.
All diets improved cardiovascular risk factors.

The best strategy is
finding a diet you like and can stick with, and to focus on calories, not the particular type of content of diet.

Rather than the ratio of fats to proteins, it was other factors, most notably the counseling sessions participants attended, that most affected dieting success.
Some people did do far better than others.

The study's main author, Dr. Frank M. Sacks, says "We had some people losing 50 lbs and some people gaining 5 lbs. That's what we don't have a clue about. I think in the future researchers should focus less on the actual diet but on finding what is really the biggest governor of success for these individuals."


Mom eventually tired of the food-combining tyranny. But she maintained a healthy weight by avoiding calorie-dense, low-nutrition foods (except nachos, which she could never resist) for the rest of her days.
Cutting 750 calories may be too restrictive for some people; they could try 500.

That's the equivalent of a big meal each day, or one piece of Le Duc's birthday cake, which I made from scratch yesterday. But it's gotta go from somewhere.

9 comments:

materfamilias said...

Calories in vs. calories out -- this has always seemed like obvious common sense to me, and I have always marvelled at how bright, educated friends could not only believe, but also parrot to others without embarrassment, the ridiculous claims about metabolizing and complementary and cellular this, that and the other. . .
Happy Birthday to le Duc; I'm sure he had a delicious cake.

Duchesse said...

materfamilias: Homemade orange cake with chocolate ganache, his request! His gift from me was, naturally, an Eric Bompard sweater.

Nancy (nanflan) said...

I'm with Materfamilias and you: it's the calories!! If you're trying to lose weight, then you have to take in less food.

greying pixie said...

I won't bore you again with my raving on about the 'Fat Around the Middle' diet, but I don't agree you that the trick is to focus on calories. When I used to live like that I would try every way to maintain my sweet cravings, thereby eating far too much artificial food leading to bloating and headaches and a general feeling of dissatisfaction with my food. In other words I would be addressing the symptoms but never the cause.

No, I think the trick is to focus on fresh uncooked food, no wheat and exercise. I have been living like that since November and apart from a short blip over Christmas I have felt healthier, more energetic and younger than I have in years. I'm so delighted to be free of calorie counting and food obsession and above all I'm free forever of the sweet cravings because I have learned to control my blood sugar at a low level. Result - food obsession gone forever!

Deja Pseu said...

But let's not forget that there's some solid science out there indicating that not everyone's body processes calories the same way...what might cause one person to lose would cause another to gain. Personally, I don't lose unless I cut way back on simple carbs, regardless of how low I go calorie-wise.

Imogen Lamport said...

I'm like Deja - need to cut out all the white stuff, sugar, white flour, white rice - does nothing for me except make me crave more.

lagatta à montréal said...

I'm like greying and déjà; have to cut out sugar and other simple carbs (sort of the Montignac diet, but not so much meat). Not all bodies process calories, sugar and fat the same way, and some people - and some entire populations - are blessed and cursed with a thrifty gene (or set of genes).

But greying, why no wheat? I agree with no overprocessed wheat, but why no dark bulghour for example? Perhaps you don't tolerate wheat well.

And I'd have to literally starve (deathcamp style) to lose weight without at least moderate exercise. Have a real problem in the wintertime when I can't ride my bicycle everywhere. At least the snow has melted so I can get it out again. After a short work trip to Amsterdam, it is a need!

greying pixie said...

Lagatta, I originally gave up wheat when my mother was forced to due to her intolerance. She slimmed down as a result and looked and felt much healthier, so I thought I would give it a go and it did the same for me.

I then read a bit about it and learned that in fact the human gut does not digest it well which leads to lethagy, bloating and other unpleasant side effects. Also flour in the UK comes from wheat that is not left to ripen long enough which results in very poor quality flour that is very hard on the gut.

I would make an exception for really good bulgar wheat and/or really good quality pasta made from it, but it is SO expensive in the UK that I only use it for special occasions. For every day I now use wheat free pasta made from rice flour. As long as the 'sugo' is good I hardly notice the difference!

Lagatta, you are an Italophile. I have heard that in restaurants in Italy now it is possible to order wheat free pasta as more and more Italians are converting to a wheat free diet either by choice or on medical advice.

Wheat and cow's milk are accepted as part of our diet because they are cheap to produce in large quantities, but are both in actual fact very difficult to digest. The fact that you cannot give either to babies until they are at least six months old should be warning enough.

cybill said...

Dieting is just plain weird, the more I do it, the fatter I get.