Finding an effective eating strategy is serious business if you are considerably overweight and are interested in improving your long-term health. Halting any further weight gain and gradually shedding pounds can have beneficial effects on blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, your risk of having a heart attack or stroke, joint pain, and the energy and ability to do everyday activities.
What you really need is a plan you can stick with for many, many moons. It should be as good for your heart, bones, colon, and psyche as it is for your waistline. It should offer plenty of tasty and healthy choices, banish few foods, and not require an extensive and expensive list of groceries or supplements.
Avoiding carbohydrates, so the thinking goes, forces the body to burn fat. Does this theory translate into actual weight loss? Yes and no — it depends on the individual and the time period. Some people lose a substantial amount of weight on a low-carb diet, while others lose little and some actually gain weight. And for those who lose, the effects typically aren’t permanent. After a few months, weight loss tends to slow and reverse, just as happens with most other diet types.
Bottom line: Low-carb diets work for some people and not others. There’s no evidence that their short-term effects produce long-term weight loss, while the added expense could lighten your wallet. Equally important, we know little about the long-term health effects of high-protein, high-fat, low-carb diets.
Once the main strategy for losing weight, low-fat diets have been elbowed aside by the low-carb frenzy. Scores of low-fat diets have been promoted over the years. One of the best known is Dr. Dean Ornish’s Eat More, Weigh Less plan. Since fat contains 9 calories per gram while carbohydrates contain 4, you can theoretically double your food intake without taking in more calories by cutting back on fatty foods and eating more that are full of carbohydrates, especially water-rich fruits and vegetables.
Keep in mind that the Ornish plan doesn’t stop at a whole-grain, vegetarian, very-low-fat (less than 10% of calories from fat) diet, but also includes exercise, stress management, and group support.
Bottom line: Low-fat diets have unquestionably helped some people lose weight and keep it off. They’ve been dismal failures for others, in part because they tend to be less filling, less flavorful, and all around less satisfying than other eating strategies. They also tend to be fairly restrictive about food choices, which can limit your options when dining out.
There are many other options for dieting, including eating correct portions and following the recommended food pyramid guidelines. Before choosing any plan for permanent weight loss, it is recommended that you seek advise from your physician.