When I was thinking back on all my past efforts at weight loss, I had to smile. What I learned from years of foolish mistakes was that there are truly “no free radicals”. Don’t worry – even though (as you may know or have figured out) I was trained as a chemist, I WON’T be discussing the molecules known as free radicals. In this case, I am using this term to mean the radical, weight loss diet fads that most of us find so tempting – those “free radicals”. Sure, it sounds great to “Lose up to 14 pounds in 14 days!” And, in rare instances and with lots of water lost, that could be possible. But that weight lost isn’t real fat loss and will mostly (if not all) return.
Radical dieting can be dangerous as well. I’ll give you a example of such a diet several years ago. Several people asked me about the “the hCG diet”. This is the plan that has you take the “pregnancy hormone” while eating a very low calorie diet (500 calories/day) to supposedly shed at least half a pound a day. Out of curiosity, I decided to try it briefly. After only 4 days, I found that I was very moody and depressed, I was retaining water in my feet and ankles, and my blood pressure was way up. Wow. Guess it was really the pregnancy hormone after all! Needless to say, I stopped immediately. What was I thinking? There are so much better and safer ways to lose weight.
But the biggest issue with the rapid weight loss diets that use extreme measures such as very low calorie diets (VLCDs – typically 500 to 600 calories per day) is what they do your metabolism. Often your body will adapt to the small amount of food you are feeding it by slowing down it needs (lowering your basal metabolism) and/or developing insulin sensitivity (a pre-diabetic condition). The most common serious side effect seen with VLCDs is gallstone formation. Gallstones, which frequently develop in obese people (especially women), are even more common during rapid weight loss. The reason for this may be that rapid weight loss appears to decrease the gallbladder’s ability to contract bile. I know several radical dieters who ended up needed to have gall bladder surgery!
But worst of all, you’re likely to regain all the weight you lost AFTER stopping the VLCD the diet (and then some). A must better approach is to clean up your diet, control your portions, and rev up your metabolism.
The best total calorie intake per day for weight loss for most women is 1200 – 1500 calories and 1500 – 1800 calories or men (this might need to be increased a bit more if you are a large person). The good news is that you can be more satisfied and optimize your fat loss further by choosing foods that your system will react to better. Many people have subtle food sensitivities (very mild allergies) and this can impair digestion which retards weigh loss or even causes weight gain. Food sensitivities also cause problems with the proper absorption of nutrients from the GI tract (which further takes a toll on your health). Every body is different but the biggest culprits I have found in my clientele are:
- Wheat or gluten foods – choose whole grains such as quinoa, brown rice. You might really benefit from avoiding all pasta, white rice, and bread (ouch). I really love the Ezekiel Sprouted Grain Tortillas (available in the freezer section of many markets). Just avoiding wheat could be a huge piece for you.
- Dairy products – this is a hard on for most people. You might want to just experiment with this one. Contrary to what the milk producers want you to believe, dairy product are definitely not good for everyone. Some people do best without any dairy at all. Others tolerate yogurt but not milk or cheeses.
- Yeast – you’ll need to read labels. Yeast is often added to processed foods (called nutritional yeast) and of course to breads.
- You know about this one. There is literature available that equates sugar to a poison. This includes white sugar, high fructose corn syrup, maple syrup, and even honey, dates, and agave nectar (when you eat too much). Sugar can really assault your hormonal imbalances if you are sensitive here. It is work trying to cut back and see how you feel. Even eating too much fruit can be an issue. (You might need to limit this to 2 pieces per day and stick to lower sugar fruits such as berries, grapefruit, and apples.) Even simple carbs can be like sugar in the body. Many people do much better without any kind of flour-based products at all.
- Chemical sweeteners and MSG. There is lots of evidence suggesting that these are far worse for our bodies then we have been lead to believe. The “cleaner” you can eat, the more efficient your body will process food (and fat).
- Corn and corn products – this is another hard one but I must say that I’ve found that 40% of people are much better off avoiding corn.
- Processed soy products – these are NOT good for your health! Texture vegetable protein is in lots of foods – it is highly processed and is not good for our bodies. Even soymilk and tofu are not the health foods we’ve been lead to think they are.
I am not saying you need to give up all carbs. Our bodies truly need carbs. You just need to be more selective about the ones you eat. If you are serious about losing weight, give up 2 or more of these “potential culprits” for just 2 weeks. Start with wheat and see how that works. Yeast may not be too hard for most people either as you’ll give up bread with given up wheat. Give up sugars next (ouch), maybe followed by abstaining from dairy products. Depending on your current diet, you may really struggle with giving up or drastically cutting down on one of these more than others. Just tackle them as you can and shoot for at least 80% in your abstinence – it will really help your body let got of fat!
Above all, remember to be gentle on yourself as you work to improve your health and looks!