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So where does one begin? Which one is best? Experts say there is no single diet plan that works best for everyone. Many experts agree on one thing: that to lose weight, you must use or burn off more calories than you take in. When you eat more calories than your body needs, it stores that extra energy as fat.
Calories are a measure of energy in food. A pound of fat is equal to 453 grams or about 3,500 calories. To lose that fat in a week, you have to burn off at least that amount in calories or eat that much less. The best thing to do is to combine both ideas. Eat fewer calories and increase physical activity so that you burn off more.
Americaís National Institutes of Health says eating plans that contain 1,000 to 1,200 calories each day will help most women lose weight safely. It says eating plans that contain 1,200 to 1,600 calories each day are right for men seeking to lose weight. Those calorie levels may also be right for women who weigh 75 kilograms or more or who often exercise.
For years, eating a diet low in fat was said to be the best way to lose weight. A low-fat diet is one in which less than 30 percent of a personís daily calorie intake comes from fat. Dean Ornish developed one of the most popular low fat diets after years of research on ways to control heart disease. His dietary ideas were first published in the medical journal The Lancet in 1990.
The Ornish diet plan became more popular in 1993 with the release of his book "Eat More, Weigh Less." Dr. Ornish studied the effects of carbohydrates - one of the most important sources of energy for the body. He found that carbohydrates were not to blame for making people fat. Instead, he said, fat makes people fat. He noted that a baked potato is not high in fat, but it becomes fatty when people add sour cream and butter to it. His diet plan limits daily calories from fat to less than 10 percent, with little to no saturated fat or cholesterol. He also suggested that people get 70 to 75 percent of their calories from complex carbohydrates, and 15 to 20 percent from proteins.
Like other low-fat diets, the Ornish plan suggests that people eat diets high in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans and other legumes. The plan advises people to avoid all meat and meat products, and to stay away from oils, nuts and seeds. It does not limit the number of calories people eat. But, eating the foods suggested by the diet plan would reduce the number of calories. The Ornish diet has proved to be effective for many people.
However, critics say it lets dieters eat too many carbohydrates while setting restrictions on calories from fat. They also say the changes required in eating habits may be too extreme for many people to follow. Unlike the Ornish diet, low carbohydrate diets limit foods that are high in carbohydrates. These diets advise people to avoid things like white flour, pasta, rice, potatoes and foods high in sugar. Instead they suggest that people eat foods that are high in proteins and fats.
These include foods like meat, fish, chicken, eggs, cheese and nuts. The Atkins diet is one of the most popular of these diets. It suggests that people eat fewer than 20 grams of carbohydrates a day. This amount is slowly increased to between 40 and 100 grams of carbohydrates a day to keep the weight off.
Both weight loss plans have been carefully studied over the years. But, no one plan has come out as a clear winner. In 2008, a study in the New England Journal of Medicine found low-carb diets to be the best at providing the most weight loss. The study was led by researchers at the Brigham and Womenís Hospital in Boston and Ben Gurion University in Israel.
The researchers studied more than 300 obese patients who followed one of three diet plans. These included a low-fat diet, a low-carb diet and a Mediterranean diet, which is made up of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, olive oil and nuts. A similar study published a year later looked at more than 800 dieters.
The study found that low fat diets and high fat diets were equally successful at providing and maintaining weight loss over a two year period. The researchers concluded that the most important thing for any diet is that people stick with it. And you must burn more calories than you take in no matter what you eat.