Weight management programs that go against conventional wisdom (Part 1)

Everyone knows that a healthy diet is the key to looking good, feeling good and being skinny. We have all been taught that we must eat lots of vegetables and fruit, healthy grains, and that red meat is bad and fat is even worse. And if you have a few kilos to lose, then exercise a lot and practice something known as ‘moderation’.

For many people, this works just fine. But for others, no amount of balanced dieting and treadmill running seems to do the trick. And for them, there exists a whole host of alternative plans to choose from. I will talk about some of the popular weight loss plans out there today, starting with the big daddy of them all:

1. The Atkins Diet

Dr Atkins was an overweight cardiologist who managed to normalize his weight by limiting carbohydrates and increasing his consumption of meat and fat. He published a book in 1972 and another in 2002 that became very popular but also very controversial.

This is because he basically said carbs make you fat, but saturated fats don’t, so you can eat them as much as you want with no negative effects on your health. Dietitians and doctors were outraged that a fellow colleague could promote such an irresponsible approach to weight loss, and he was ostracized by the medical community.

Science sort of agrees with him now: a diet high in protein not only makes you full, it also increases satiety, making it more natural and easy to control how much you eat. (Light read from Women’s Health and deeper stuff as to why exactly.)

The diet is pretty simple, and requires people to cut down ‘carbs’ to the bare minimum, that is, lots of vegetables and some fruit, while eating as much meat, fish, eggs and healthy fats as desired.

It is executed in 4 stages, gradually allowing the dieter to increase the amount of ‘carbs’ they eat until they find a level that lets them maintain their body weight at the desired level. You can read all about them on their official website

From the picture above, it honestly doesn’t look so bad. But humans have the capacity to turn good things into not so good: initially people took this diet as licence to gorge on processed meat. The market soon followed, with an increase in low carb ‘products’ such as bread, cookies, and everything else in between, causing even more controversy and complaints that Atkins is not a good weight loss program.

The downside

People struggle with this approach because:

  • It is very difficult to believe that you cannot eat all the things you were told were healthy- bread, pasta, rice, potatoes and anything that contains wheat
  • Your diet choices are pretty limited, and there is a lot of pressure from society to eat high carb foods.
  • Your alcohol tolearnce may suffer and the intensity of your hangovers may surprise you
  • Interpreting this as licence to eat grade A steaks at every meal rapidly becomes unsustainable
  • Obviously, some people get bored because the food choices seem limited. How many eggs can you honestly eat in one day?
  • It takes some time to forget the ‘stuffed’ feeling you associate with having eaten enough
  • If you are vegetarian, then, well you need to get super creative
  • Some people also report feeling unwell, especially in the beginning. Low-carb enthusiasts call this the ‘low carb flu’ and it usually goes away after 2 weeks or so.
  • Going back to a diet of 60% or more carbs will result in serious weight gain, so if you are in, then you are in for the long haul

The upside

  • You will lose weight and you will lose it fast, especially during the first two weeks
  • You lose water and fat and get to keep your muscle. This is a good thing
  • You don’t need to exercise (but it’s recommended)
  • You don’t need to count calories
  • It is a nutrient dense program that doesn’t require the buying of protein powders, pills and other gimmicks
  • You won’t experience the hunger swings that come with calorie counting
  • Your cravings for sugar, sweet drinks, chocolate and junk will slowly but surely all go away
  • You could get used to not eating bread and eventually realize that starches are devoid of taste anyways

 Verdict

Is it sustainable? 

This depends on individual preferences and tastes. Atkins is pretty flexible after the initial phase and is not a zero-carb diet. Also, you don’t need to buy any special stuff. You could start right away and keep on keeping on.

Is it healthy?

The jury is still out on whether or not humans need starches as an integral part of their diet, but many people think that, actually we don’t.  The emphasis on lots of vegetables, fruit and high quality protein is a solid win, but many people are suspicious of eating meat. Does it rot in our systems? Does being vegetarian save the planet? Neither here nor there.

There is also a debate about whether or not saturated fat causes heart disease. The debate is swinging in favour of the fat heads, and more specifically, understanding that you only need to avoid manufactured fats and not be scared of the good stuff.

I should say that I’m not a health expert. But I do find the controversies surrounding weight loss, health and diet very interesting, and I want to share this information in case anyone out there is interested in a dose of self experimentation…