Which Weight Loss Strategies Really Work?

Expert weighs in on popular weight loss techniques

A healthy bowl of veggies, an apple and a measuring tape are featured in article about weight loss strategies.

Expert weighs in on popular weight loss techniques

Paleo, Keto, Atkins or the Zone. Low-carb versus low-fat. With dozens of diets to pick from, how do you find the one that’s best for you?

Scripps Clinic endocrinologist Ken Fujioka, MD, says that for most, simply cutting calories will work. That sounds easy, but your genetics, metabolism and any number of medical problems can affect the results, and your body will adapt to fight weight loss, so you’ll have to work harder to sustain it over time.

There are also a few commonly held beliefs about weight loss that can derail your efforts. Here, Dr. Fujioka debunks seven common diet misconceptions that may be keeping you from slimming down.

1. It’s not just calories in versus calories out

Cutting calories down to 1,200 to 1,300 for women and 1,500 to 1,800 for men will help you shed 5 to 10 percent of your body weight. However, beyond that, the body lowers your metabolism by 30 calories for every two pounds you lose. That means you’ll have to keep cutting calories.

Contrary to popular belief, it’s OK to drop below 1,000 calories, although your body won’t like it. “When you get down to those lower calories, the body starts adjusting hormones to make you think about food constantly,” says Dr. Fujioka.

2. Weight loss takes more than cardio

Exercise is crucial for long-term weight loss, but “the best exercise is actually not just cardio or weights, it’s both,” Dr. Fujioka says.

He recommends setting aside three to five hours a week for exercise and upping the intensity for better results. Experts have traditionally said that exercising at around 65 percent of your maximum heart rate is best, but actually about 85 percent is most effective.

3. Your metabolism works fine when you fast

When you fast, you use up all your glycogen — aka sugar storage — which then forces your body to start burning fat. Fasting for as little as one to three days a week (every other day) can get the body into fat-burning mode during that fasting period. “It turns out fasting is a reasonable way to lose weight,” Dr. Fujioka says.

4. It takes more than cutting carbs to lose weight

Dr. Fujioka says 50 to 55 grams of carbs a day is fine for getting into ketosis. “That means you can have some vegetables; you might even be able to have a piece of fruit.”

But calories matter, too. If you eat a lot, this won’t work quite as well. The ketones produced during this type of fat-burning are also a diuretic, so you’re going to lose electrolytes. Take a multivitamin, and talk to your doctor, as you may need supplemental potassium or magnesium.

5. Nutritional supplements don't work for weight loss

Caffeine and caffeine derivatives may aid in burning fatty acids, though. “The easiest thing is to drink coffee or tea,” Dr. Fujioka says.

Upping your water intake to increase weight loss is also a myth — kind of. Just drinking more water throughout the day may not help weight loss, but drinking 2 cups of water 30 minutes before a meal may increase weight loss by 1 to 2 percent. Drinking that extra water ahead of time will also help you feel full sooner.

6. Not everything is OK in moderation

Avoid high-fructose corn syrup. It causes your blood sugar to spike more than other sugars, and appears to trigger a signal that the body needs to store fat. Fruit juice is also a no-go. It has too many calories, and juice causes the body to release more insulin than the same amount of whole fruit.

Although its safety has been debated in recent years, artificial sweetener seems to be OK. “We used to say that if you eat artificial sweeteners your brain will figure it out and later on you’ll overeat,” Dr. Fujioka says. “It turns out that does not happen.”

7. A genetics-based diet won’t be a miracle cure

“It’s clearly the future,” Dr. Fujioka says, but the science isn’t quite there yet. Out of about 30 to 60 candidate genes, researchers have only been able to figure out two.

“It’s not ready for prime time yet. There are just too many genes that we need to look at,” says Dr. Fujioka. “Once we get them all categorized and know which diet works with which, this is going to be great.”

With so many diets out there, it can be overwhelming. But the most important thing is finding something.

San Diego city leader Kris Michell is featured on the cover of the June 2018 issue of San Diego Health Magazine.

This content appeared in San Diego Health, a publication in partnership between Scripps and San Diego Magazine that celebrates the healthy spirit of San Diego.

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