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Ask an Expert - Fad Diets

Every year, I seem to put on more weight. I am 5 feet 8 inches tall and today's weight was 204 pounds. I feel miserable. Every Monday morning, I start a new diet. I try so hard, but by Tuesday at noon, I am so hungry that I eat everything in sight. I have tried the Acai Berry Diet, Atkins, South Beach, Fit for Life, Cabbage Soup Diet and probably several more that I can't remember right now. I even looked at the Tapeworm Diet but am nervous about trying it. I feel awful about myself; my clothes are too tight. My husband doesn't say anything, but her sure raises his eyebrows a lot! Am I destined to be obese the rest of my life? What can I do?

Lynette Winters, M.S., L.R.D., Assistant Professor of Practice, Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences, NDSU

First, you made a good choice by not trying the tapeworm diet. Many people try almost anything in a desperate attempt to lose extra pounds. Ingesting tapeworms is not only a radical method but also an extremely dangerous one. Fad diets are popular and alluring because of their quick promises with little effort and huge results. Of course, we know that these are not long-term cures and that most of the weight lost quickly returns just as fast.

The best way to lose and maintain a weight loss is by decreasing calories and increasing exercise. Think of a balance scale where the amount of calories we eat must equal the amount we burn to maintain a healthy body weight. Today, food is everywhere. I recently heard the term “toxic food environment.” Wherever we turn, we seem to have high-calorie, high-fat foods from which to choose. When did we start requiring ranch dressing with our fresh vegetables or fruit dip? And we sure haven’t seen a decrease in obesity rates with all the low-fat and no-fat food products on the market.

About 10 years ago, I started noticing portion sizes were increasing. Our portion sizes have gotten huge. My husband and

I share most restaurant meals, but many of them could feed a family of three or four with one menu choice. And we are all getting used to the bigger portions. “Portion distortion” is a new term defining not only our increased food portion sizes but indicating our serving dishes (plates, cups, glasses) are much larger than they were 20 years ago. Even our furniture has gotten bigger. I still use my aunts’ kitchen table from 1935. The table measures 36 by 48 inches and has four chairs with it.

For a more permanent weight loss, try the following tips from the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR). The NWCR was established in 1994 to identify the characteristics of individuals who have succeeded at long-term weight loss. The NWCR is
tracking more than 5,000 individuals who have lost significant amounts of weight. The people being studied are successful dieters who have lost a minimum of 30 pounds and maintained that weight loss for more than one year. Recommendations from their success include:

  • 78 percent eat breakfast every day.
  • Most report maintaining a low-calorie, low-fat diet.
  • 75 percent weigh themselves at least once a week.
  • 62 percent watch less than 10 hours of TV per week.
  • 90 percent exercise, on average, about one hour per day, with the most frequently reported form of activity being walking.

So there is no magic potion or quick weight loss cures. The old saying that “if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is” should be followed. To be successful with your weight loss goals, you should:

  • Reduce your calorie intake by 500 to 1,000 calories per day to provide a weight loss of 1 to 2 pounds per week.
  • Reduce portion sizes, which is not only an important weight loss strategy but also critical for weight loss maintenance.
  • Increase your exercise to include 60 to 90 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity activity on most days of the week.
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