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Why do Some Diets Work Better Than Others?

Updated on July 7, 2009

More Out

The basic method of losing weight is to eat fewer calories than you use. If you do that then you WILL lose weight.

Some weight loss programs rely on the exercise (more out) aspect of losing weight e.g. Rosemary Conley's program through meetings, DVD's and exercise equipment.

Even at rest your body uses a lot of energy (calories), however, being active will use some more. One of the problems that people do not realise how efficient your body is when it comes to 'spending' energy on movement. Obviously, the number of calories used is dependant not only on weight, but also on speed - E=mc2 -Energy required = mass (or weight) times (speed squared). This means that if you walk a mile slowly, you will use less calories than if you walked the same mile at a quicker pace, even though it takes you longer.

This efficiency is quite apparent when using exercise equipment that shows how many calories have been burnt. If I remember correctly, a half hour run (complete with dripping sweat) used as many calories as eating a Twix bar. (I know which one I would prefer!!)

Running helps
Running helps

Less In

Whereas some diet programs rely heavily on exercise, many purely try to restrict calorie in-take. This can be done in many guises.

The F-plan works by restricting foods that have a high fat content. This is all well and good but it does mean that not enough essential fatty acids and fat soluble vitamins (for example omega-3 and vitamin E) are being consumed . In order to follow this diet to the letter, you have to know the exact levels of fats in any food. This would be fairly difficult to do if you have to eat out, be it at a restaurant or a friends house, as there are many foods where the fat is 'hidden'.

The Atkins diet restricts foods in the carbohydrate group. Again this means that some vitamins are missing from the diet. This diet often fails as there are only so many hamburgers, steaks, bacon and sausages you can eat in a day. Again this diet can be difficult to follow when trying to get food when out and about as they often come with bread, pastry, buns or chips. There are also some very nasty (smelly) side effects.

The Cambridge and slimfast programs rely on supplying you with your calorific intake via drinks and calorie counted ready made meals. As they are pre-packed their taste is not to everyone's liking, and the variety can be restrictive. Additionally, they do not actually take into account your real calorie requirements as someone who is 17 stone uses more energy than someone who is 11 stone. Their calculations are based on Mrs. Average. This diet works for someone who has only a little bit to lose, but does not want to bother with counting calories. However there is a health warning for those that need to lose a lot of weight, as the reduction of calories is quite significant and can put a lot of strain on the body.

Outside support can help
Outside support can help

Support Networks can Help

Several programs use the benefit of 'networking' using meetings and/or the internet, for example WeighWatchers and Slimming World. Networking helps as it tries to boost peoples self-esteem and keeps their focus on small achievable goals, as well as helping self-control. The meetings also help by passing on tips on how to deal with situations where there is great temptation.

These programs use both calorie reduction and promote more activity, although the activity side is not completely necessary. This means that those people who can not exercise because of health or disability issues can still participate and still lose weight.

However the meetings are not to everyones taste, as they may feel that they are made to feel guilty if they do put weight on. They can also be competative if atttending meeting with friends, but they do provide structure and framework which some people need to succeed. Additionally, attending meetings can be time consuming as they normally last for around an hour (including weighing in) and people may not be able to get to a meeting at a time that suits them.

It might not be just the fat you're losing
It might not be just the fat you're losing

Quick Fixes and Pills

There are many 'quick fixes' and pills advertised on the web. Some of them may work, but on the other hand, what are they doing to your body? Once your ideal weight has been achieved, will you revert back to your old habits?

The latest one that is available over the counter is Alli. This was originally only available with a doctors prescription as Orlistatat or Xenical. This tablet works by stopping your body absorbing fat, but has some yukky side effects as the fat has to go somewhere and it comes out of your bottom as orange (staining) oil. Because the oil does not have much 'body' it can seep out at any time, also as the oil 'greeses' the digestive tract, your poo will try to leave the body much faster than you're used to and cause wind and stomach ache. As the fat is not absorbed by your body fat soluble vitamins are also not absorbed and it is recommended to take other vitamin supplements. In some cases Alli has just provided a means to eat more without putting any fat on, and then when the pills stop, the weight goes back on very fast as consumption levels remain at the increased rate.

There are other pills that claim to speed up your metabolism, well they might do for a short while, but once the chemical has worn off, your body will go back to the old speed, and you havenot adjusted your eating habits. Others are purely diuretic and once any excess water has been gone, they can impact on key organs. Again, when the pills wear off excess water can quite easily accumulate again.

Additionally, a lot of these pills are sold as diet supplements' and are therefore not subject to rigorous checks and could contain just about anything.

A new day, a new beginning
A new day, a new beginning

Success, but does it stop there?

As you can see the DIY programs rely on self-control, and only provides minimal structure, and they have their limitations as to the foods you can eat. Those programs that provide structure and aid self discipline means that you have to spend time out attending meetings and all the stress that someone else is seeing your progress.

So in summary, there is no one program that fits all. I found that the disipline installed by having to attend meetings, and seeing my weight actually written down each week is of great benefit. So there is no 'one great fix' that suits everyone, it all takes time, and it is purely down to individual's taste and personality.

When embarking on any weight loss program, the general concensus amoung health experts sayes that slowly, slowly is the best way, as you educate your body gradually along the way and get used to eating fewer calories, and do not put a strain on the body which can lead to other long term health issues.

Losing weight is a little like trying to save money, easy to spend (i.e. put weight on) but harder to save (i.e. take weight off). You can't save all your money in one go as you need to spend on a day-to-day basis.

Warning: having got to the weight that you want to be, for any diet to succeed, careful mointoring after must be continued, after all, the weight went on in the first place, and unless eating/exercise habits have changed in the long run, the weight will go back on. Additionally, as one gets older your body required less energy, so again the balance between input and output needs to be reviewed on a regular basis.


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