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Dietitian gives ‘skinny’ on diets, diet books

Stop by Health 1st’s Wellness Wednesday table in the Children’s Hospital lobby between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. July 16 for information from registered dietitian Janet Carter. She will also be available to provide individual brief nutritional assessments.

by Janet Carter
Registered dietitian
Americans spend more than $40 billion on dieting and diet-related products each year. Does all that stuff really work? This article will explore diets and allow consumers to make their own judgment.
A very logical reason may explain why many people seem to always be dieting, but never lose any weight. Some may be losing weight only to gain it all back a year later. Others will try another diet and start the lose-gain cycle all over again. The reason why this happens is because diets don’t work.
First, one must understand what  is meant by dieting, which is a very broad term that means: food and drink regularly provided or consumed, according to Webster's Dictionary.
In popular culture, however, it usually means fad diet, or some method someone is using to try to lose weight. Some fad diets, like Atkins, South Beach, etc., are usually restrictive and not easily maintained, which is one of the reasons they don't work. Others may be just a guide for people to follow when trying to be healthier, which may be a better option. In general, many of these diet plans are not based on science, which would provide greater reliability. Registered dietitians (RD) are trained to keep up on current research about what works and what keeps people healthy.
An RD-review of some popular diet plans, or fad diets, made the following determinations:

The South Beach Diet (Arthur Agaston)
The first phase of The South Beach Diet cuts out all carbohydrates. While this may help people lose a lot of weight initially, it is usually due to the decrease in total calories, not necessarily the makeup of their intake. Cutting one or more entire food groups is not a healthy way to lose weight. Also, the rapid weight loss promised during phase 1 is not healthy, either. Still, if a kick-start is what is needed most, this might work considering that the rest of the book helps folks learn how to eat more healthily.

Atkins' Diet (Robert C. Atkins)
You could ask people on the street if they've heard of the Atkins' Diet, and you'll likely get a high percentage of affirmative answers. Ask those people again if they've tried it and were successful, and you may hear a lot of, “Yes, but I gained all the weight back, and then some.”   The Atkins' Diet restricts carbohydrates while focusing on protein and vitamin/mineral supplements. Last time I checked, fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat diary were healthy foods. Since they are healthy, there would be no reason to eliminate them, unless the dieter has specific medical conditions restricting intake of grains and sugars found in most fruits. But most Americans eat too much of these and other foods, which results in excess calorie intake. While the Atkins' Diet has been temporarily successful for folks because it lowers their total calorie intake, much of the weight lost is lost through protein breakdown and the release of water. This is not a desirable effect, since most people who want to lose weight are trying to lose fat.

French Women Don't Get Fat (Mirelle Guiliano)
Aside from the fact that the guidelines of this diet are solely based on the author's personal experiences in France, she makes dietary claims, but she has no professional background. (For example, she claims that leeks have magical weight loss qualities). The beginning of this plan is highly restrictive and nutritionally inadequate. The later part of the book is a bit more sensible, discussing eating soups and vegetables; but most of us have enough common sense to understand that vegetables are healthy and are very low in calories.

The Cheater's Diet (Paul Rivas)
Rivas gets one thing right in his book: people are unsuccessful with diets because of boredom and excessive restriction. Where he falls short, however, is in recommending that people “cheat” on the weekends.  
Overall, the plan is nutritionally adequate, but evidence does not support the weekend cheating theory. As a matter of fact, the National Weight Loss Control Registry has found that successful “losers” do not cheat on weekends, but indulge in treats in moderation consistently.

Eat Right 4 Your Type (Peter D'Adamo)
This diet plan bases diet recommendations on blood type. Many of the recommendations are quite restrictive. Current scientific research does not support the idea that your dietary needs are connected to your blood type at all.

So, what does work?
Calorie restriction is the only proven way to lose weight, and keep it off. Restricting calories must be done while maintaining a healthy balance of foods and nutrients, while allowing for favorites—in moderation, of course.
Also, decreasing your calorie intake should be a gradual process. If you're currently eating 3,000 calories per day, and you should be at 1,800 for weight loss, dropping down immediately will only cause you great hunger and despair. It would be unlikely for you to stick to such a plan. A good idea is to decrease calorie intake by 100 to 200 calories per week to allow your body to adjust.
Exercise is a crucial component of weight loss. Our bodies were designed to move, and they must move if we hope to keep them healthy. Creating a calorie deficit of about 500 calories through decreased intake (fewer calories) and increased output (more exercise) can theoretically yield one pound of weight loss per week.
If you are like many people and would like some structure and some help, here are some options that are nutritionally sound and healthy, see a registered dietitian. Go to Outpatient Nutrition Services, on the sixth floor of Rutledge Tower. Contact Greer Gowen, RD, at 876-0671; or page 12461. Gowen is available for appointments from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 1 to 4 p.m. Friday.

Weight Watchers
Thousands of folks have been successful with this program, because it allows for calorie restriction, but not food restriction. It also teaches nutritionally sound information to its members.

The Supermarket Diet (Janis Jibrin, RD)
Written by a dietitian, it's almost as good as seeing an RD, which would provide personalized attention.

The Way to Eat (David L. Katz, M.D.)
Katz is extremely knowledgeable in nutrition, and his book is nutritionally sound.

Editor's note: The preceding column was brought to you on behalf of Health 1st. Striving to bring various topics and representing numerous employee wellness organizations and committees on campus, this weekly column seeks to provide MUSC, MUHA and UMA employees with current and helpful information concerning all aspects of health.

Friday, July 11, 2008
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