There is the Atkins Diet, the Cabbage Soup Diet, the Scarsdale Diet, the Slim Fast Diet and others, all claiming to be the “ultimate” in weight loss techniques. These diets tend to have contradictory theories behind their approach. Some preach high protein/high fat, some preach high carbs/low fat, some preach two shakes and a sensible meal— no wonder so many people are confused as how to properly manage weight control. The truth is: these diets do not work in the long-term! While most of these diets will induce short-term weight loss, they simply do not provide the ability to sustain weight management over the long-term, primarily for two reasons: First, during dieting, the body increases the activity of fat storage enzyme— lipoprotein lipase. Second, dieting decreases metabolic rate thereby reducing the body’s ability to burn fat. This dual combination of increased fat storage capacity and decreased metabolic activity promotes rapid weight gain. Ultimately, those who follow these diets will usually gain back most or all of the weight they lost.

The key to promoting long-term, sustainable weight management is to develop a comprehensive nutritional regimen. “Diets” do not work because they are short-term solutions to a long-term problem. Food is fuel for the body, and a person must learn to eat in a fashion that increases metabolism while stabilizing insulin levels. Nutrition should be a way of life and the only way to have long-term nutritional success is to understand proper nutritional concepts and apply them on an everyday basis to one’s own body requirements. There is no single “best” nutritional scheme. Each person is unique and has complex differences in metabolism, insulin sensitivity, activity level and other factors that make them respond differently to the way foods are processed in the body. Therefore, each person must adjust their caloric intake and breakdown of macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins and fats) depending on how their body responds to these factors. There are, however, general nutritional principles that should be applied in creating a nutritional scheme, and once these principles are mastered, the rest is simply fine tuning.

If weight loss is desired, a maximum of one to two pounds can be lost per week. People who lose more than this are catabolizing their muscle tissue which will eventually lead to a “rebound effect” where weight is regained as rapidly as it was lost, often at a greater degree than before. In many diets, up to 45 percent of the energy deficit from reduced calories is provided by the burning of muscle tissue for fuel, which can account for as much as one pound a week of muscle loss. Muscle tissue increases the body’s ability to burn fat. Thus, when muscle tissue is lost, the body slows down its metabolic process to conserve energy and tends to store fat, which is the body’s long-term fuel source. Since each pound of muscle can increase the body’s resting metabolic rate by about 50 calories per day, it becomes imperative that every effort should be made to maintain muscle mass. This supports the notion that a nutritional regimen should always be supplemented with a proper weight training and exercise program.

The first step in designing a nutritional scheme is to estimate required daily caloric intake. In order to promote weight loss, one must expend more calories than they consume. A person can eat all the “correct” foods, but if they consume too many calories from these foods, they are bound to gain weight. To approximate the amount of calories that a person will need, one should multiply their ideal bodyweight by 11. This is a starting point to use, but, depending on a person’s body chemistry, the exact number of calories might have to be slightly increased or decreased to achieve a desired result.

The second step in creating a nutritional scheme is to plan meals at regimented times throughout the day. By spacing meals into five or six small portions every two to three hours, the body has a constant, steady stream of fuel to utilize, thus stabilizing insulin levels and increasing the body’s metabolism and fat burning process. When a person goes many hours without eating, the body goes into a “starvation” mode. Sensing that it might not have adequate energy supplies to carry out daily activities, the body begins to store fat as a fuel source. Also, in response to food deprivation, the body will secrete a stress hormone called cortisol which is directly involved in the breakdown of muscle tissue as an energy source. This further serves to inhibit the body’s ability to burn fat and increases the capacity for weight gain.

The third step is to decide on what percentage of calories will come from carbohydrates, protein and fat. While some nutritionists advocate a diet high in saturated fat, for optimal weight management and health it is generally best to keep the percentage of saturated fat as low as possible.

Fat has nine calories per gram (as compared to carbohydrates and protein, which have only four), so it is very calorically dense. Thus, small portions of fat laden foods have a much higher amount of calories than a comparable portion of a low fat food. Saturated fat is biologically inert and therefore can be directly deposited into fat cells (carbohydrates and protein must first undergo a conversion process), making it more likely that foods high in saturated fat will be stored as body fat. Fat calories should be kept to no more than 20 percent of total calories, with the great majority coming from essential fatty acids (EFAs), such as those found in fish and flax seed soil.

For most people, a moderately high protein diet (especially when used in combination with an exercise program), will help to increase weight loss and weight maintenance.

Carbohydrates cause the body to secrete insulin, which has many functional uses in the body. But one negative aspect is that it aids in the storage of fat into fat receptors. If too much insulin is secreted due to increased carbohydrate intake, there is a greater probability that fat will be stored. Alternatively, protein has a negligible effect on insulin secretion, further decreasing the probability of calories being converted into fat. Therefore, it is recommended that up to 40 percent of total calories should come from lean protein sources such as skinless poultry, lean fish and red meat, egg whites or a variety of high-quality protein powders that are available through nutritional outlets. It is advisable to eat the majority of complex carbohydrates earlier in the day and eliminate them several hours before sleep. It has been theorized that since metabolism slows during sleep, carbohydrates are more readily converted to fat rather than utilized as fuel.

Finally, it is acceptable to have one “cheat” day per week where a person can eat whatever they desire.

By adhering to these principles, a person can enjoy a lifetime of weight management. Remember, there are no short-term solutions to nutrition, and those who stay the course ultimately reap the rewards of fitness and health.