The Skinny on Diets

A few of us will never need to reduce weight for health or cosmetic reasons.  Usually excess weight or obesity can be traced to insufficient information or failed discipline, but for a few, a disease process is the cause.  Better information and heightened motivation have allowed millions to remedy their poor eating and exercise habits.

Some obesity discussions are burdened by claims that it results from; genetically modified organisms, high fructose corn syrup, crop subsidies, food stamps, or income stratum.  While there are some correlations, there are no proven causalities.  The physiological cause is simple.

A human’s weight is stable when there is a balance of calorie intake and calorie burn.  Weight changes result from changes in the balance.  An exercise program can increase calorie burn above the calories expended in normal daily activities.  As well, we can restrict calories intake, i.e. “diet.”  Exercising (calorie burn) and dieting (calorie restriction) done together can more quickly reduce weight.

Choosing to lose weight through a calorie-restricted diet is less dangerous than choosing desperate measures like bariatric surgery, liposuction, bulimia, and diuretics or laxatives.

Moderately active adults need 2000 calories (women) or 2400 calories (men) each day to maintain a steady weight – that decreases by a few hundred calories with age.

The main dietary components (page 79 of USDA’s Dietary Guidelines) that would supply 2200 calories per day are: fruit, 2 cups; vegetables, 3 cups; grains, 7 oz.; protein, 6 oz.; dairy, 3 cups; oil, 1 oz.; and less than 267 solid fat and added-sugar calories.

If you put yourself on a calorie restriction diet, it will work: “Scaling back calorie intake for an appropriate period followed by resumption of a balanced calorie intake and expenditure will shed weight that does not return.

Some popular variants of USDA’s guidelines emphasize high protein intake (e.g. Atkins Diet), or high carbohydrate intake (e.g. Mediterranean Diet), or strict avoidance of sugars and refined grains (Biggest Loser-style diets).  All work well, yet regardless of their claims of superiority, “[The]…advantage for weight loss of a diet that emphasizes protein, fat, or carbohydrates has not been established.”  So, ignore claimed dominance by any particular diet.  You could embark on an effective DIY weight-loss program by scaling back the dietary components you consume and by a hike in activity, e.g.  walking more.  It may lack in style but it will work.

Alan Daley is a retired businessman living in Florida who follows public policy from a consumer’s perspective.

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