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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
“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.