If you’ve ever tried to lose weight, you know how overwhelming it is to get started. Should you go low-carb? Low-fat? Count calories? Track grams of carbohydrates, fat, and/or protein? Cut out food groups? Use protein shakes? The weight loss industry in the United States is worth $72 billion so no matter what you decide, there will be products or services available for purchase.
Weight loss is also a hot topic for research and the media. Nearly every day, there are headlines declaring that certain foods, eating patterns, or behaviors are linked to weight loss or gain. Eggs are good! Eggs are bad! Butter is better! Never eat butter! It can’t get much more confusing…
So what is the best diet for weight loss? The truth is that any diet* can work as long as you:
- can stick with it,
- burn more energy than you consume, and
*The word diet can be associated with fads or extreme nutrition plans. In this case, we’re using ‘diet’ to mean your food choices and eating patterns.
Sticking with it
A sustainable diet is one that you can commit to for the long-term. The nutrition habits that you’ll need to lose weight are the same ones that you’ll need to keep the weight off. If you can’t imagine living the rest of your life without eating a piece of bread, never dining at restaurants, or fasting 14 hours per day, then a diet plan that includes those factors is not going to be sustainable. It can lead to short-term weight loss and that might be an initial step in your journey. But for lasting success, you need a sustainable plan.
Burning more energy than you consume
This is sometimes called being in an energy deficit or having a negative energy balance. Every day, your body needs a certain amount of energy just to stay alive. You need additional energy to move your body, whether for daily activities or exercise. If you consume more energy through foods and beverages than your body burns, the extra energy is stored in your body. To lose weight, you need to burn more energy than you consume, or be in an energy deficit.
However, this is more complex than a one-size-fits-all equation. Your energy input and output is affected by many factors including genetics, medical conditions, medications, and the types of foods you eat. Also, your body has biological pathways that can make it difficult to lose weight. Achieving an energy deficit will look different for each person based on these factors.
Many studies have shown that self-monitoring plays an important role in losing weight and keeping it off. Self-monitoring is tracking your behaviors or outcomes so you can make changes as needed to achieve your goals. Some traditional forms of self-monitoring are keeping a food or activity journal or tracking your body weight or measurements. You can also try with other self-monitoring strategies, such as taking pictures of meals or journaling your emotions or feelings. Self-monitoring can provide accountability to stay on track with the behaviors that make you feel good and move you towards your health goals.
Knowing these three keys doesn’t make weight loss easy. Just like diabetes, obesity is a chronic condition that requires lifelong management. Working with a comprehensive health care team that includes an obesity medicine provider, a registered dietitian, a behavioral therapist, and an exercise professional can help you create a realistic and effective plan. There are also many ways to improve your health and quality of life beyond weight loss. The best health care teams understand that bodies don’t fit a cookie cutter mold so your health journey will be unique to you.