As fad diets continue to gain popularity, more people fall prey to solutions that promise big results, but in reality, don't amount to long-term weight loss, said Teresa Henson of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.
Henson is an Extension specialist and nutrition outreach coordinator for the UAPB 1890 Cooperative Extension Program.
Maintaining a healthy weight is better guaranteed through healthy eating practices and physical activity.
"Fad diets and magical supplements are marketing ploys," she said. "They promise great changes with little effort required by the person wanting to lose weight. In the end, however, they are not reliable or healthy ways to lose weight. A good rule of thumb is to remember that if a diet or weight-loss product sounds too good to be true, it probably is."
Rather than dieting, individuals can lose weight by making healthy lifestyle choices over an extended period of time, Henson said.
Henson recommends that individuals use the following tips to lose weight without dieting:
• Practice portion control. Serve meals on smaller plates to avoid eating too much. Use snack bags to store snack foods such as almonds, dried fruits or carrots.
• Choose variety. Regularly eat food from all food groups, including lean protein, whole grains, fruits and vegetables and low-fat dairy products.
• Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Though the amount of fruits and vegetables individuals need depends on factors including age, sex and level of physical activity, a good rule of thumb is that adults should eat 2 to 3 cups of vegetables and 1.5 to 2 servings of fruit per day.
• Avoid eating unhealthy fats. Limit saturated fats from animal sources and trans-fats from fried foods, snacks and fast-food products.
• Eat smaller meals more frequently. Individuals can aim to eat five or six mini meals per day, which can be spaced out every three to four hours. Low-fat cheese and whole grain crackers or a tablespoon of peanut butter on whole-wheat bread are examples of healthy, filling snacks.
• Exercise 150 minutes a week. To reach the recommended amount of time spent exercising, individuals can break their exercise routine down into shorter amounts of time. For example, an individual could walk 10 minutes, three times a day for 5 days to complete 150 minutes of exercise.
• Vary types of physical activity. In addition to cardio, use strength-training exercises to burn fat and stretching to increase flexibility.
• Clean out the kitchen. Throw away high-calorie, high-fat and sugary foods, including chips, cookies, sodas, ice cream and candy. Restock the refrigerator and cabinets with lean protein, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, good fats and low-fat dairy products.
• Join a support group. Ask friends, family and coworkers to start making healthy lifestyle changes at the same time. Sticking to a healthy lifestyle is easier with mutual support, encouragement and motivation.
Individuals in need of guidance on weight loss should contact their healthcare physician or a registered dietician, Henson said. They can provide information about a person's ideal weight and recommended caloric intake.
DIET PLANS, PRODUCTS TO AVOID
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, people should avoid diet plans, pills and products characterized by:
• Promises of rapid weight loss. Those who lose weight very fast tend to lose muscle, bone and water in the process and are more likely to gain the weight back quickly. Healthy plans aim for a loss of 1 to 2 pounds per week and are more likely to guarantee that lost weight stays off.
• Quantities and limitations. Avoid diets that allow unlimited amounts of any food, such as grapefruit, eggs or cabbage soup. Diets that recommend eating the same food for long periods of time can be boring and hard to stick to. Also avoid diets that eliminate or restrict entire food groups, for example, carbohydrates or protein.
• Specific food combinations. There is no research-based evidence that shows combining certain foods or eating only at a specific time each day will assist weight loss. Also, avoid diets that falsely claim eating certain 'wrong' combinations of food can cause the food to immediately turn to fat or produce toxins in the stomach.
• Rigid menus. Limiting food choices or following complicated meal plans can be hard to stick to for the long term. With any new diet, individuals can ask themselves, "Can I eat this way for the rest of my life?" If the answer is "no," the diet should be avoided.
• Lack of need for exercise. Regular physical activity is a vital part of healthy weight management. Individuals should find a physical activity they enjoy and aim for 30 minutes to an hour of activity on most days.
"Fad diets are a temporary fix that don't provide long-lasting health or weight benefits," Henson said.
Will Hehemann is a writer/editor at the UAPB School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences.