There are nearly as many diets for weight loss in the media and at the country club, let alone at the gym, as there are people needing to lose weight. Likewise, there are nearly as many diets everywhere you see people who otherwise look or are lean. But science keeps trying to find that one magic diet that will enable nearly everyone – other than those with metabolic diseases – to lose weight.
One answer long held as a truism, almost as if it was a natural if not God-given law, is that the more variety in your diet, the better off you will be, in weight and in health.
But in my 30 years as a practicing exercise physiologist doing personal fitness training, I have noticed that many of my lean clients tend to have somewhat restrictive diets. By restrictive I do not mean calorically, although that is part of the game. I mean, they do not eat a wide variety of foods; enough variety but not necessarily wide.
“”Americans with the healthiest diets actually eat a relatively small range of healthy foods,” says Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, DrPH, senior author of the study and dean of Tufts’ Friedman School, as well as editor-in-chief of the Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter.” This is one of the most profound statements in the Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter article that featured Dr Mozaffarian’s earth-shattering research into diet diversity.
I won’t go into details on the article; you should read it yourself. But I will reference one more quote from it: “”It seems eating a basic healthy diet, rather than a necessarily diverse diet, remains most important,” says Ott [co-author of the above-mentioned article.]” Let me explain this from a different angle, the one I often use when counseling clients on weight management.
First, many folks request guidance from a personal fitness trainer on how to lose weight. Since they are coming to see a fitness person, they assume they have to simply add more activity to their lives and are therefore open to paying for our services possibly more than they really need. I have also written about weight management and how the brain responds. Take a look at my previous blogs here, here, and here.
This sounds like an anathema but if we’re here to tell the truth, then here it is: less calories need to be consumed even if you don’t add more exercise to your life in order to lose weight!
“Yes”, you will scream, “but don’t I have to eat less of the wrong kinds of calories? And don’t I have to exercise off those calories I’ve already stored away all these years?”
My answer is two-fold, in response to your two-fold question.
Let me just reiterate that most personal trainers are not qualified to provide dietary advice, at least not in great detail. In some states, it would be illegal for them to do so. That is the role of a registered dietician, not a trainer.
But legally, we can provide education and guidance on how to eat so long as we don’t disseminate a detailed diet plan.
What I offer is the following:
Based on a phenomenal demonstration of the basic physics principle that matter can neither be created nor destroyed, eating fewer calories will contribute to weight loss. In fact, simple weight loss, regardless of exercise gain, is sufficient to reduce metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, lower body fat and weight, reduce blood pressure, etc.
This is well-proven in the scientific literature but professor of nutrition, Dr Mark Haub, showed his class that even eating crappy food will help you get all these benefits of weight loss. You can read about the ‘Twinkie diet’ and groan, but it is one man’s demonstration of how simply reducing caloric intake produces substantial weight loss and health gains.
The crux of the article and his success is 1800 – that’s calories in. He only ate junk food, though he supplemented with a smoothie of nutritional foods and took vitamins, for sure. But he kept his caloric intake below what his clearly-overweight body demanded. And after 2 months, got results he probably could not have gotten from just exercising more.
The lesson here is you can eat almost any and everything you want, so long as you eat fewer calories than you need if you want to lose weight and be healthy.
Now, as for my second point, about the futility of exercise for weight loss:
When it comes to exercising weight off, I refer you to this video. It speaks for itself in a humorous but valid way. As the trainer, Craig, said, “You can’t outrun a bad diet.” Using simple math, to burn off 100 calories of food you would have to run or walk quickly for about a mile. A small (20 oz.) protein smoothie with fruit – the Raspberry Mocha High Protein – at someplace like Smoothie King has 31 grams of protein but even the ‘skinny’ version has 380 calories. For perspective, an hour of walking will burn it off, but it would likely take 90 minutes of weight lifting to do so. Would it not just be simpler to not have it at all?
So going back to the Tufts article. More variety in your foods can include some very unhealthy, very high fat or high sugar or both high fat and high sugar foods which might make your diversity high but your caloric intake even higher.
As a trainer who tries to be honest with my clients, I usually put exercise in its proper, and scientifically-proven, place when it comes to weight management: exercise is critical for health and vigor but does not really help you lose weight; it helps you keep it off.
That’s a tough message to convey, but I hope you, the reader, will appreciate that physics and exercise science don’t lie. Eat less, move more – for health and maybe even for weight loss!