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Pitfalls may prevent permanent purging of pounds

‘Quick-fix’ diets no substitute for sustainable and healthy lifestyle changes
The road to a healthy lifestyle and body weight is filled with potholes and pitfalls. Health care professionals recommend avoiding ‘quick-fix’ diets in favour of a sustainable, healthy diet. — J.R. Rardon photo

This is the fourth and final article in our series on weight loss and related health issues, and addresses pitfalls and dangers of approaching weight loss the wrong way.

While dealing with weight issues for most of her life, Sandy could at least point to the good fortune of not suffering from diabetes.

On the other hand, one of the unsuccessful diets she attempted gave her an appreciation of what some insulin-dependent diabetics go through.

“One of my more extreme diets was a program using the hormone pregnant women have, and I would inject myself every day with this hormone,” said Sandy, a Qualicum Beach-area woman whose last name is withheld by request. “It was supposed to allow me to drop weight every day and not have hunger.

“The maximum you’re supposed to eat is 500 calories a day, and 500 calories a day doesn’t go very far. It’s pretty much a myth that you’re not going to be hungry on that.”

Sandy’s program, the HGC diet, was prescribed by a doctor, she said. It ran in six-week segments and, while it initially allowed her to lose more than 30 pounds, it proved unsustainable.

Instead of teaching Sandy a healthy lifestyle, her diet mostly seemed to teach her to cheat to ease the suffering.

“What ends up happening is, you’re so hungry all the time that the only way I could convince myself to keep going was to plan ahead, then go eat a bunch of stuff I wasn’t supposed to eat right after I weighed in,” she said. “I knew it was going to be the first time in a week I won’t be starved.”

As much as carrying excess weight can lead to health complications, including high blood pressure, heart disease and, yes, diabetes, health professionals warn that some dieting solutions can create their own hazards.

In their publication Best Weight: A practical guide to office-based obesity management, doctors Yoni Freedhoff and Arya M. Sharma of the Canadian Obesity Network provide a 10-point checklist for physicians. It is designed to help practitioners help their patients navigate through a largely unregulated “maze of commercial weight loss options.”

Among the red flags raised by the doctors are:

• One-size-fits-all programs without individualized nutritional, exercise and behavioural components;

• Nutritional advice dispensed by a non-accredited nutritionist, rather than a physician, nurse practitioner or dietician;

• Exercise recommendations at an injury-inducing rapid pace;

• Programs calling for the loss of more than three pounds a week or the promise of dramatic, rapid weight loss;

• Programs requiring the outlay of large sums of money up front or signed contracts for long-term programs without the option of at least partial refunds;

• Diets of less than 800 calories a day, or diets of less than 1,200 calories a day not supervised by a physician;

• Programs that require the use or purchase of any products, supplements, vitamins or injections;

• Programs that make claims that participants will lose only fat, or that claim to “target problem areas”;

• The lack of an established maintenance program; and

• Programs unable or unwilling to provide the user with statistics including the percentage of clients who drop out, the average percentage of weight clients lose and the average weight loss sustained following completion of clients’ maintenance program.

“In the history of medicine, one diet has never been proven to be better than another for weight loss, and especially for long term weight loss maintenance,” the doctors state in the publication.

Kirstin McKinnon of McKinnon Health Solutions in Qualicum Beach said the two most important factors in a sustainable weight-loss plan are choosing a healthy way of eating that the subject enjoys and can maintain for the long term; and reducing total daily caloric intake.

“Short-term diets give short-term results,” said McKinnon, a nurse practitoner as well as a certified personal trainer and a certified health coach. “Quick-fix weight-loss diets are often promoted, providing short-term weight loss followed by weight regain, resulting in people feeling defeated, embarrassed and having failed.

“If you choose a weight-loss strategy that you can only sustain for weeks or months, then it is likely the wrong strategy for you.”

One pitfall she flags for potential crash dieters is the fact that the resting metabolism rate — the rate at which the body burns calories while in a resting state — drops when we lose weight. She said research is beginning to show those who lose a lot of weight at a fast pace will have a larger drop in their metabolism.

And this drop is more likely to remain permanent because of the drastic rate of weight loss.

“Even if all the weight is put back on, the metabolism won’t recover,” she said. “It will remain slow.”

Also, she said, since weight loss will come from both fat and from muscle, individuals should exercise while losing weight at a sensible pace, in order to preserve lean muscle mass. While protein is a key dietary component in maintaining muscle growth, an extra-high protein diet by itself will not save muscles, McKinnon adds.

McKinnon encourages those seeking to lose weight and become healthier to approach their plan as a daily, long-term prescription for health — one that continues even when the individual’s weight-loss goal is achieved.

Sandy said she has embraced McKinnon’s prescription, after learning the hard way.

“I did the hormone program three different times,” she said. “If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result, that would be me.”