Americans are spending billions of dollars every year trying to lose weight. Somehow that figure just doesn’t seem right when you look at National Center for Health Statistics data showing that more than 66 percent of adults aged 20 and older in this country are obese or overweight—that’s right, two-thirds of our adult population is fat.
If we’re all trying to lose weight, then why aren’t we up there with Japan and Norway as one of the slimmest countries? The fact is, despite our most creative attempts, nothing beats a steady course of good diet and physical activity. With that in mind, we’ve taken a closer look at five of the most popular weight-loss techniques—and had the experts weigh in.
Dieting has become a way of life for many Americans. It can be a healthy way to lose weight, but it also can be a counterproductive stress on your body if not executed carefully. The Atkins diet and the South Beach Diet are two popular plans Americans follow to lose weight, but local dieticians generally recommend creating a personalized diet plan specific to your body type, lifestyle and personality instead. Many also agree that small, frequent, well-balanced meals are the way to go to increase your body’s metabolism, maintain energy levels and decrease hunger.
Nutritionist Jessica Johnson of Shape Medical Weight Loss Center emphasizes that a good diet is all about balance, moderation and variety. She does not generally condone trendy meal-plan diets for her patients because they often eliminate one or more basic components of a healthy meal. For example, the Atkins diet may be too carbohydrate restrictive, which can be dangerous, especially for people who exercise a lot and need more than the daily recommended amount for energy, says Francine Fields, M.D., of Medical Weight Loss Clinic.
Some diets that focus on calorie counting may neglect the necessary nutritious quality of the food. Trulie Ankerberg-Nobis, M.S., R.D., L.D., of Atlanta Nutrition, says that the most important goal of a diet should be to maximize the amount of nutrients in a diet, and recommends high-nutrient plant foods such as dark greens.
Meal plans and delivery
Prepackaged meal-delivery and pick-up programs, such as Atlanta-based Fresh ‘n Fit Cuisine and Good Measure Meals, are great for busy people who don’t have time to cook or aren’t good at preparing well-balanced, calorie-counted meals. Most meal programs come with the option of choosing a meal plan that’s targeted to losing or maintaining weight. “On average, the 1,400–1,700 calorie plans are appropriate for most women while the 2,000–2,200 calorie plans are best for most men,” says Amber O’Neal, owner of Cafe Physique Fitness & Nutrition. “I’ve found that 1,200 calories can leave a lot of women feeling deprived and hungry—a bad combination if you’re trying to lose weight. However, in some cases, adding healthy snacks like a couple of pieces of fruit or extra veggie servings may be a more economical option for those on a budget since the lesser-calorie plans typically cost less.”
Weight Watchers, one of the best known calorie-based programs, offers weekly meetings where members receive group support and learn about healthy eating patterns, behavior modification and physical activity. In addition, www.WeightWatchers.com provides weight-management products and tools users can access at home.
Be sure to look for a meal program that is nutritious. Does it follow the guidelines of national associations like The American Diabetes Association and The American Heart Association? Does it use fresh ingredients or are they highly processed with trans fats, artificial coloring and preservatives? Also, ask who created the meal plan—make sure it’s a registered dietician.
Dietary supplements for weight loss come in several forms, including pills, liquids and powders, and have produced positive results for some users. According to Greg Hynson, owner of Super Nutrition in Marietta, who sells these supplements, “If they follow my recommendations, customers have seen excellent results.”
Unfortunately, the majority of dietary supplements—you may recognize popular brand names like Hydroxycut, Slimquick and Dexatrim Max—remain a controversial choice as they are not regulated by the FDA. These supplements can contain an unknown milieu of ingredients, including caffeine, vitamins, herbs, botanicals, enzymes, tissues from organs or glands, concentrates and metabolites, among other things. The claims often substantiated by manufacturers of dietary supplements centered on weight loss cause many dieticians and doctors to be skeptical. “If it is too good to be true, it probably is,” says Rachel Brandeis, R.D., an Atlanta dietician. “In my experience, there is no magic pill—no magic bullet for weight loss.”
However, some dietary supplements focus on specific medical problems that cause weight gain and can be an addition to a balanced weight-loss plan. For this reason, several doctors like Susan Kolb, M.D., F.A.C.S., with Millenium Health Care, sell over-the-counter dietary supplements such as VFM-100, WellBetX PGX and Coenzyme Q10. “Our products are targeted, unlike a lot of those combination products, which are mixtures of many ingredients rather than ingredients that are more specific in their mechanism of action,” Kolb says. “You have to determine why the person is overweight and treat the cause of that instead of treating indiscriminately with a weight-loss supplement that works mainly with appetite suppression.” If you choose to purchase dietary supplements, Brandeis and Kolb both agree that it is important to discuss this decision with your doctor, especially if you have other health complications that could be adversely affected. The FDA provides “Tips For the Savvy Supplement User: Making Informed Decisions and Evaluating Information” on its Web site, www.fda.gov.
Seeking a professional to help with your weight loss depends on what your goals are. If you want to lose weight naturally (without surgery), go to a clinic supervised by a physician, says Jeffrey Semel, D.C., with Atlanta Medical Institute. “We do a lot of testing to get to the root of the weight issue first—for example, perhaps it’s a thyroid problem, allergens in the body or too much estrogen.” Dr. Semel adds, “Most weight loss clinics also will have a registered dietician on staff to help you, depending on what your needs are.”
The best part about signing on with a registered dietician or nutritionist to help you lose weight is that they can help tailor a meal plan to best fit your health needs. The difference between a registered dietician (R.D.) and a nutritionist is that an R.D. has had a more extensive education, including 900 internship hours in a clinical setting, Ankerberg-Nobis says. A registered dietician can look at what foods you are eating and advise you on the best diet plans with clinical knowledge. For most people, this means a one-time session is not going to be enough. Ankerberg-Nobis says her first visit with a new client usually consists of assessing what his or her needs are, reviewing his or her food diary and medical history and setting goals. Subsequent meetings (at least three to four visits), often include a nutrition-education session, a food demonstration and a plan for setting food goals for future weeks.
Weight loss surgery, the most common of which is gastric bypass, is an option for people with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or higher or a BMI of 35 to 39.9 with a documented serious weight-related health problem, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. It is certainly the most drastic measure of the ones we’ve covered here—a last-resort, if you will. The risks of gastric bypass surgery include blood clots, incision hernia, leaking at the staple lines and even death. Despite massive weight loss, life after surgery is no piece of cake. Post-surgery, it’s often painful to eat and your doctor will have you on a strict diet of liquids and pureed and soft foods for a few months before reintroducing regular foods. “Carbohydrates are reduced from an average of 85 percent of [daily] calories to 50 percent, and more protein, fruit and vegetables are recommended,” says James K. Champion, M.D., F.A.C.S., with Videoscopic Institute of Atlanta PC.
Your insurance may cover this surgical procedure, especially if it’s deemed medically necessary. However, there may be some costs that the plan does not include, or your coverage may only pay a percentage of the cost, not the entire bill. Speak with your bariatric surgeon and insurance provider about coverage before you pursue treatment.
—Sara Dever, Anna LoPresti, Margaret Sale and Karina Timmel contributed to this article.