When you work in weight loss, everybody wants to know what’s the best diet out there. Which, of all those infomercials and best sellers, really works? And the answer is… almost none of them. At least not long term.
The problem with most “diets” is that they’re a short-term solution to a long-term problem. No matter whether you’re trying to lose 5 pounds or 100, good health isn’t something we can check off a list and be done with in 90 days – it’s a lifelong commitment to taking care of yourself. Anything that claims to get rid of those extra pounds quickly and easily will probably work… just long enough for someone to cash your check.
So how to tell apart the good, the bad and the scary in the diet aisle?
First off, if it seems extreme, it probably is. Some of these can actually be dangerous – dehydration, malnutrition, or even more concerning things like changing the rhythm of the heart or liver and kidney problems. Any diet that advocates excluding entire food groups or limiting yourself to a very small amount of calories should be avoided unless you’re doing it under the supervision of a qualified health care professional.
Second, if the diet is unsustainable, your results will be too. If you start the diet counting the days until your next “cheat” day or until you can “go back to normal,” you’re already setting yourself up to regain weight. The most difficult part for many people isn’t the initial loss; it’s the maintenance. Successfully losing, and keeping off, weight involves building long-term healthy habits. Things like the Mayo Clinic Diet or Mediterranean Diet, or our own Health eRecipes Meal Plan for a Healthy Weight here at Billings Clinic, are designed to build habits you can maintain for life. Because, really, how long do you want to stay healthy?
Finally, fad diets do little or nothing to address the underlying issues that led to the weight gain in the first place. Is food part of how you deal with stress or depression? Are there changes that need to happen in your exercise habits or lifestyle? Unless these issues are addressed, it doesn’t take long to fall back into bad old habits.
I have a feeling some of you reading this are a little depressed at this point. We all want to live the movie montage version of improving our health – going from “before” to “after” in the time it takes to play a catchy, upbeat song. But the truth is, the sooner we free ourselves from that quick fix mentality, the more successful we are. Rather that going to extremes, making a small change that you can maintain for good, then building on that, then building on the next, and so forth… This is how health happens.