The Goal of Dieting – Not What You Think
The American population continues to grow. And not just in number but in size too. Over 55% of the adults in this country are overweight or obese. Obesity has increased by nearly 60% in the last decade. With numbers like these, it is a safe assumption that many of our readers have tried some type of “special” diet to help them lose weight. Most people on diets will lose weight. However, for the majority of cases, the weight loss is not permanent. Research has shown – repeatedly – that “dieting” alone is not an effective way to permanently lose body fat. But that is a difficult message to get across to the general public.
To the typical dieter, the goal of any diet is to lose weight. So if someone tries a particular diet and they lose weight, the dieter deems the diet a success. But the truth of the matter is, in most situations, the lost weight was not body fat – it was water. As a result of the diet, the person is in an unhealthy and dehydrated state.
The goal of a diet should be to put you in a healthier state – not weight loss. A person’s body weight is not necessarily a good indicator of their health. Due to the fact that 60%+ of your body weight is made up of water, it is very easy to design a diet that will cause you to lose weight. Lose water – lose weight. And because most dieters let the bathroom scale determine if a diet is successful or not, people have a difficult time understanding why legitimate health experts speak out against fad diets.
The Atkin’s Diet, the Zone Diet, and the Carbohydrate Addict’s Diet are all popular diets today. These low-carbohydrate, high protein diets recommend increasing your protein intake while dramatically reducing your carbohydrate intake. One thing is for sure, many people will lose weight while on these diets. Equally as sure, is that the majority of the weight lost will be in the form of water.
How do we know this? The nutrient carbo hydrate is exactly what it sounds like. It is hydrated carbon. The body stores carbohydrates in the form of glycogen. For every gram of glycogen the body stores, the body must store 3 grams of water along with it. If you eat fewer carbohydrates, you will store less glycogen and ALL THE WATER that is normally stored with it.
Water is also lost when one eats more protein. When the body breaks down protein, blood levels of ammonia elevate which increases the pH of the blood. In an attempt to maintain a normal pH level, the body produces urea, which helps eliminate the ammonia through the urine. In short, if you eat more protein, your body produces more urine and the major component of urine is……yep, water!
When the dieter goes off the low-carbohydrate diet, they will most likely gain some weight. The dieter then blames carbohydrates for their “weight problem.” That is exactly what the promoters and producers of these diets want you to believe. They want you to think that there is some villainous attribute to carbohydrates and that carbohydrates are a major contributor to the obesity problem in this country. But as an intelligent and informed consumer, you need to understand that is not the case. You might lose weight on a low-carbohydrate diet, but the weight loss alone does not tell the story of what is going on inside your body.
Water loss is not the only health problem related to these diets. The diets in question promote higher protein intake – often from animal products such as eggs, meat, and cheese. Such a diet makes Ketosis a possibility. Ketosis is often brought on by a carbohydrate deficiency and can lead to dehydration, weakness, dizziness, and headaches. Short periods of Ketosis are not a problem for healthy people. But prolonged Ketosis can lead to kidney damage. Furthermore, a diet high in animal products can increase the risk of heart disease because of the cholesterol and saturated fat content of these animal source foods. And if you follow the recommendations of these diets and decrease your intake of grains, fruits, and vegetables (all sources of carbohydrates), how will you get your fiber and phytochemicals? Supplementation has not been found to be effective in supplying these health-protective substances. By decreasing your intake of common sources of carbohydrates, you increase your risk of cancer, osteoporosis, and cardiovascular disease.
A healthy diet is one that includes sufficient amounts of carbohydrates and moderate amounts of protein and fats. Your body’s preference for fuel – for both muscle and brain activity – is carbohydrates. Obesity is on the rise in America, but that is the result of the steady decline in our daily physical activity. Carbohydrates are not to blame. The majority of the world feeds itself on carbohydrates. And in the countries where 70% of their total caloric intake is in the form of carbohydrates, obesity is nearly nonexistent.
So it is simple. If you want to lose weight, pick up one of the latest self-help “health” books and try their new fangled diet. You will probably lose weight. But if you want to be healthier – burn the book, eat a varied diet, make smart choices when it comes to fat and calorie content in your foods, and exercise on a regular basis.
Are you healthier because of your diet?
Ricky Virk, Ph.D.