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Ask the Doctor: Is There a Diet That Works?

Having trouble with your diet? Learn some of the pitfalls of dieting.

This question comes from Nick:

I'm having trouble getting to my ideal weight and want to keep my health risks (high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes) low. What is the best way to lose weight? Which diet plan do you recommend?

Well, you might be surprised by this response: I don't recommend any diet 'plan' at all. What I advocate, however, is eating with proper nutrition in mind.

There are all kinds of diets out there: Atkins, Ornish, Mediterranean, Weight Watchers, Zone, South Beach, the New South Beach, Junk Food Diet, Paleo, and the list goes on and on and on. What they all have in common is that none of them will work for everyone. Every body is different and will respond differently to the nutrients you take in. 

My advice is to eat in a way that makes sense. Does it make sense to eat Twinkies? Stop at McDonald's for a quick snack before dinner? Cut out all carbs and eat steak all the time? Eat a lot of refined carbs to reduce saturated fat intake? 

A book by Michael Pollan called In Defense of Food gave some really helpful advice on what to eat: if your grandmother doesn't recognize it, it isn't food. He gives the example of your typical loaf of bread found in most grocery stores.  Look at the ingredient list and you'll find all kinds of chemicals and unnecessary additives that someone who grew up in the early 1900s would have no idea what they are. So, the less refined and processed the food, the better it will be for you.

Low fat and low sugar 'foods'

Stay away from anything that says low fat, fat free, sugar free, low sugar on the packaging (ideally packaged food should not be the bulk of anyone's grocery list). When they reduce fat or sugar or take it away entirely, food manufacturers put all kinds of other things in to increase flavor. I tell my patients to especially avoid any sugar substitute, especially aspartame. I could go into a complete rant about aspartame, but I'll spare the readers! To read about the dangers of sugar substitutes, even for diabetics, check out this article- Sugar Free Blues.

Fat has also gotten a bad reputation in the last few decades. Fat is necessary to include in our daily nutrition. Fat serves as protection for our vital organs and nerves, as well as serving vital roles in our reproductive health. Women, in particular, need to maintain certain levels of fat for fertility reasons. A long time ago, various medical organizations recommended we cut our saturated fat intake to reduce our risk of heart disease. In may turn out, however, that this recommendation was ill-advised and not well researched. Studies have shown that diets including saturated fats and red meat may very well protect us from developing heart disease or at least not have much of an affect at all. The problem develops when people cut out saturated fats but replace it with highly processed carbohydrates. Again, here is an interesting article.

Good carbs and bad carbs

Fruits and vegetables are great for us and rich in so many nutrients that are vital to health. Whole grains can also be good for us because they are high in fiber and important to maintaining the digestive system. However, I do recommend staying away from bad carbs; we all know what they are. Highly processed carbohydrates are the culprits in diabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, etc.  No matter how much you exercise, twinkies are never good for us - for many, many reasons. 

Weight loss and dieting

I don't recommend weight loss as a singular goal for exercise and dieting.  If weight loss is the only thing keeping us on track, we'll soon lose motivation or return to old habits once our ideal weight is achieved. 

We also may do some very unhealthy things all in the name of losing weight such as significantly reducing caloric intake, skipping meals, over-exercising and taking weight loss pills. An ideal weight does not equal a picture of health.  Someone may be at a healthy weight but doesn't fuel their body with the right food and may be very unhealthy on the inside. 

When exercising, it is also important to make sure you're getting all the nutrients you need. You need carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. These are the building blocks for all the cells in our body - if you cut out one of these too much, you won't see the results you want. 

Essentially, it's about moderation and, again, eating in a way that makes sense.  We know what the healthy choices are, but it's just a matter of making them a part of our daily routine. It's okay to have a couple 'cheat' meals throughout the week - food is fuel for our body, but we also have a right to enjoy what we eat.  If I had a nice luxury, expensive sports car, I'd put the best gasoline in that car to keep the engine running as well as I could. By the same token, I'm going to put some of the healthiest foods in my body to keep it running so I can enjoy the ride.

Do you have questions for Dr. Ayesha? Please submit them to QureshiDC@gmail.com or leave in the comments section below.

Mark N Hopgood May 10, 2012 at 09:20 AM
Great article - balance is the key. Here's some useful info I picked up from a sports nutritionist I met once. The only way that your body burns fat is through having stable blood sugar (between 80 and 120). I've helped people do this using blood sugar stability, diet and exercise. If you go for run, do bun exercises when your blood sugar is not stable, then you will simply burn muscle. This is the secret that is taught in high school science, but everyone seems to ignore it. http://bloodsugarstability.blogspot.com has an interesting explaination. It's important to have a few cheat meals - love that. No one is perfect, that's what makes us human. I enjoy the odd sausage in batter and my body rewards me by burning it off while I sleep!

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