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What works when dieting?

Listen in on any group of dieters or go online to forums on the subject and you will be offered lots of ‘evidence’ about what works. Unfortunately, anecdotes and one-off stories are not evidence. There are things you can do to improve your odds of success, and are backed up with real evidence. We look at some dieting hits and misses and offer up ideas that will actually work.

Popular misconceptions

Among the more popular ideas you might see thrown up with anecdotal ‘evidence’ are calorie cycling and refeeding days. Both of these are based on fooling your metabolism into working harder even when you consume fewer calories. Calorie cycling tries to keep metabolism high by alternating high, low and medium consumption days. Refeeding days is similar in that it tries to ‘jumpstart’ your metabolism by taking in high calories for a day or two, then when you drop back to lower caloric intake, your revved-up metabolism will help you shed more pounds. No such luck — that’s not how your metabolism works in any case. Both of these are gimmicks that fool you more than your metabolism; they don’t work.
Another example of missing evidence is blaming carbohydrates exclusively for weight gain. The ‘strategy’ of restricting one of the major food groups is not effective. This type of nutrient intake has little impact on weight loss. Instead of cutting out carbs, choose those with lower glycemic index and eat a balanced diet without too much of any one group.

Popular ideas that work

And now we turn to popular ideas that actually work.
Volumetrics reflects the idea that when we feel full, we stop eating. Most of us like to eat substantial portions so that we can feel full afterwards. This volumetric approach gets us consuming foods that are high in water or fibre content. These higher volume foods fill us up so that when we get to the high density foods, we don’t eat as much. Starting with low density foods such as fresh or cooked vegetables is a great way to get good nutrition, but don’t forget some proteins and fat to balance nutrients.
Missing out on breakfast is a strategy that will backfire. Eating breakfast not only gets your metabolic system fired up, but it also protects you from that late morning run to the deli or vending machine. For those who don’t feel hungry first thing in the morning, consider a protein shake in place of toast, eggs or cereal.
Sleep can help you lose weight. There’s a surprise! But it’s true. Because fatigue impairs judgement, it will sabotage weight loss. When you’re tired, you feel hungrier, and it affects decision-making so that you eat more. In other words, if you feel tired, you eat more. Not only that, but metabolism slows down when you sleep and shifts from fat burning to fat storage: finish eating three hours before bedtime.

Is it hunger or boredom?

Before giving in to a craving, ask yourself if you really are hungry. Unless a craving comes from hunger, eating won’t satisfy it. Alternately, if you’re not hungry enough to eat an apple, you’re not really hungry. Find something else to do.
As every new diet arrives, another fades away. Should eating habits really be as fleeting as fashion trends? Let's face it: The best weight-loss strategies are the ones that stand the test of time.
Dr. Paul Martiquet is the Medical Health Officer for Rural Vancouver Coastal Health including Powell River, the Sunshine Coast, Sea-to-Sky, Bella Bella and Bella Coola.
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