Nutrition - Weight management and dieting

As stated earlier, people's body weight is mostly controlled by their bodies' set point. Weight is also somewhat affected by how often people exercise. Many people try to change their body weight through dieting, which usually involves eating less or a combination of eating less and exercising. Some people, in an effort to lose weight quickly, may take diet pills or engage in unhealthy weight management practices. Dieting is not a healthy way to control body weight. The best way to stay healthy is to eat properly and exercise regularly. With regular exercise and good nutrition, most people will naturally fall to the weight appropriate to them, that is, their set point. In fact, experts say that when people are exercising, they need more food in order to function.


Just as fads in fashion come and go, so food fads come and go. A food fad is a food or nutrition style, practice, or craze that many people adopt for a period of time. The most common food fads are related to weight loss. Usually they are the same exact diet plans that get recycled each year under a new name. Each time a promise of unbelievable weight loss is what makes the diet appealing. It may be based on special foods a person has to buy, a magical powder or drink, or a fat dissolving capsule developed to "melt away" the pounds. Fad diets usually restrict people to eating primarily one type of food and promise unbelievable weight loss in a short period of time. Fad diets are unsuccessful because they violate almost all of the principles of healthy eating.

Most food fads are short lived, but they are always replaced by a new fad. It's important to be aware of them. For example, the cabbage soup diet promises a 10- to 17-pound weight loss in just the first week of eating cabbage soup, a fat burning food. The truth is that you probably would lose weight on such a diet, but it would largely be due to loss of extra fluid (water) and because of the extreme restriction of calories. In reality, it's very difficult to eat just one food for a whole week, and it certainly isn't healthy. Sadly, with most fad diets people can spend a considerable amount of money only to be disappointed that the weight they lost (if any) reappeared as soon as they returned to their typical eating habits.

Although it may be frustrating at times when one is anxious to lose weight, it is best to lose weight slowly over a longer period of time by eating normal foods and exercising. The longer it takes to lose the weight, the more likely a person is to keep the weight off.

Dieting can be dangerous because it often deprives the body of the nutrients it needs to function properly. In addition, dieting can also cause people to gain weight. This happens because the body's metabolism (the rate at which the body uses energy) lowers in response to not getting enough food. Any food the body does receive is then stored as fat. This is a survival method used by the body to get the food it needs. When people go off diets, their metabolism is still lower, which means when they start eating more, they will store even more food as fat. The result is more weight gain. Experts recommend that dieting be avoided at all times. Being healthy and fit is a lifestyle choice. It doesn't happen on a temporary diet, and it doesn't happen by denying the body food. It happens when a person eats nutritious food and exercises.

In addition, dieting can turn dangerous when a person engages in unhealthy behaviors, such as taking diet pills, fasting (not eating over a period of time), or purging (vomiting) the food. Many times, a diet can lead to a serious eating disorder. [ See Chapter 13: Eating Disorders for more information.]

Weight Loss Programs and Products

Nearly 8 million Americans enroll in structured weight loss programs each year. While some programs do succeed for some individuals, unfortunately most people fail to lose the weight permanently. The problem is that most programs don't teach people how to change their eating habits and exercise regularly to promote good health. Frequently new diet books and plans appear, usually with some gimmick offering quick, painless weight loss. Many of these diets do nothing to change food behaviors permanently or create a weight maintenance program. Most are inappropriate for lifetime eating patterns, may be nutritionally inadequate, and possibly dangerous, especially for young people. For example:

Weight Management and Dieting

Product/Program How supposed to work Concerns
Diet pills Chemically decrease appetite or stimulate central nervous system Increase blood pressure, can dehydrate, possible dependency
Special food or combinations Grapefruit burns fat, special combinations fool your body into digesting differently and decreasing absorption of calories Not based on scientific fact, limits choices, compromises nutrition, impossible and unhealthy to maintain
Liquid drinks or package foods Control total calories eaten by replacing meals or snacks Products alone do not help you lose weight, no flexibility

Any claims by weight loss programs or products that people can lose weight effortlessly are false and unhealthy. Fad diets or diet gimmicks rarely have any lasting effects since radical changes in eating habits and patterns are difficult to maintain over time. Crash diets often send a person into a cycle of quick weight loss followed by rebound weight gain.

Beware of pills and powders claiming to burn, block, or flush fat out of the body. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Some diet pills may be able to control appetite but can have serious side effects. For example, amphetamines—a common appetite suppressant found in many diet pills—are highly addictive and can have damaging effects on the heart and nervous system. There are numerous weight loss programs available today. Some are schemes that come and go and others have stood the test of time. The main thing to remember is that these programs are a business like any other and aim to make money. If one plans to join a program, it pays to do some homework first. There are a few things to know before making any financial commitments to a program:

  • Understand the program's format. Is it individual or group? Is it necessary to buy their food?
  • Does the program offer one-on-one counseling? Does it reward or punish members based on the amount of weight lost?
  • Does the program include all food groups every day? A well-balanced diet is important for good health. Beware of programs that have definitive "good" foods and "bad" foods or exclude any particular kinds of food.
  • If a program utilizes its own prepackaged foods, taste them first. It would be a terrible shame to invest time and money and find the food inedible. More important, is the packaged food healthy? Check sugar and salt levels on the packages.
  • Does the program fit into one's lifestyle? Is it affordable? Is it risky? Does the program help make positive behavior changes and encourage a safe personalized exercise program? These are the tools to help keep the weight off. If a program cannot provide these, then one should reconsider.
  • Do the counselors in the program have an education in nutrition, psychology, and exercise?

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