Diets – they are always a hot topic when the new year rolls around. The Centers for Disease Control reports that about 70% of American adults over 20 are overweight or obese. And according to a 2016 Gallup poll, in research conducted for this decade, 60% of women and 46% of men say they would like to lose weight.
Kristen Clay, a registered clinical dietitian at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center, says the endless search for an elusive miracle diet rages on. The New Year’s resolution most often made – and most often broken – is weight loss.
Not surprisingly, many dieters fall for trendy diets, which Clay says are often prone to failure and may even be hazardous to your health.
For example, low-carb diets are immensely popular. They may have different goals, such as helping body builders or athletes build muscle or helping identify foods which may be purported to cause inflammation or damage to the digestive system. But they often share similar guidelines.
One low-carb approach focuses on meats, vegetables and fruits. “The idea behind it is that you’re getting rid of processed foods that are usually high in fats and sugars,” Clay says. “But you are eating a lot of the higher-fat meats. If you are looking at it from a weight loss perspective, you’re not going to be successful.
Other approaches may limit or eliminate foods such as refined grains, legumes, dairy, and alcohol, and processed foods such as condiments and artificial sweeteners.
“You’re restricting a lot of foods the [diet] creators think cause inflammation and gut damage. Some people say they feel better, while others don’t get any results.” Clay also notes that people often think of very restrictive diets as a way to “reset” or detox the body, “but your body doesn’t really need a detox phase – that’s why we have a liver and kidneys.”
Clay says that while there is evidence that a low-carb diet, sometimes categorized as a ketogenic diet, can be beneficial for weight loss and controlling blood sugar, the approach can be difficult and risky, especially if the diet places severe limits on the amount of carbs consumed.
“When you are trying to maintain weight, your diet needs to be about 50 percent carbs,” Clay says. “The idea with a ketogenic diet is that you put your body in ketosis, which means your body is using fat for energy. That’s why you have weight loss. But when you try to go ‘super low-carb,’ there are side effects: dizziness, acidosis, constipation, and headaches.”
“Gluten-free” has also become a buzzword in the world of diets, but Clay says gluten-free diets are primarily for people who have celiac disease or gluten allergies or intolerances. “Some people do have some symptomatic issues with gluten, so they may eliminate it and find they don’t have those issues anymore,” says Clay. “But from a weight-loss perspective, there is no evidence that going gluten-free will lead to weight loss.”
Clay says that for weight loss, she recommends two approaches regularly recommended by doctors – the Mediterranean diet and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet.
The Mediterranean diet focuses on eating and lifestyle habits common to people living in countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. Not only do they have fewer chronic diseases, but they also enjoy a higher life expectancy than most other regions in the world.
Numerous studies have shown that a traditional Mediterranean diet consisting of whole fruits and vegetables, fish, lean meats, nuts and olive oil, coupled with physical activity, can help people shed weight and improve overall health. The DASH diet, which includes many similar foods plus low-fat dairy and low levels of sodium, has been shown to be especially helpful for people with high blood pressure.
Clay says that overall, people should not become obsessed with a number on the scale. “It’s more about overall health and what your labs from the doctor are saying.” She adds, “There’s no such thing as the perfect diet – it’s not one size fits all. If it sounds too good to be true, it’s probably not true.”