Many of us try to lose weight at various points in our lives. Perhaps over indulgence on a vacation or during the holidays has added a few pounds to your waistline. Maybe you’ve just had a baby. Or it could be that you’ve been fighting a weight problem for a long time. Whatever your situation, shedding excess body fat is a difficult task. What’s more, the road to a more slender you can be fraught with nutritional dangers.
No More Diets
Ten years ago a New Jersey research team surveyed several weight reducing diets. They measured the vitamin and mineral content of each and compared these against the U.S. Recommended Daily Allowances. None of the diets passed. Those that suggested a balanced menu were close, however, restricted calories brought them below the RDA. Any diet that recommends 1200 calories or less per day is hard pressed to provide adequate nutrients.
Diet plans that emphasized one or two foods or food groups were the most skewed. In fact, some were also very high in fat, cholesterol and/or sodium. Eliminating or drastically restricting a particular nutrient, as in a low carbohydrate diet, creates nutritional jeopardy (1).
A couple of years ago the well known Framingham Heart Study showed us another dieting hazard. Aside from possible nutrient deficiencies, losing and regaining body weight over and over again can be hard on your health. Investigators found that both men and women died sooner (usually from heart problems) and suffered from coronary heart disease more often than their non-dieting cohorts (2).
We also know that habitual dieting merely sets you up for weight gain in the future. While you’re eating less to lose unwanted fat, your body thinks it’s in the middle of a famine. Survival mechanisms switch on. Your metabolic rate declines and your system hangs onto every calorie for dear life — great for surviving, terrible for losing weight. Next time you try to diet, you may find that you need to eat even less in order to get the same results. Again, your body tries to save you. It’s a no win situation and nutritionally dangerous.
Karklin and associates discovered that the hypometabolic state caused by dieting profoundly affected sleep. Not only did dieters take longer to fall asleep, but once there they didn’t sleep as deeply. This poor sleep didn’t allow subjects’ bodies to properly recover from daily wear and tear (3). This situation coupled with insufficient nutriture sets up the body for illness.
When most people embark on a restrictive diet they feel the effects of poor nutrition: hunger, weakness and fatigue. This cluster of symptoms is your body’s survival siren sounding, calling you to eat and rescue yourself. Typically, dieters will resist this urge as long as possible (called will power). When they do cave in, it’s often with high fat, high sugar feel-good-food; those very foods that pile on unwanted pounds.
The bottom line to losing extra body fat is eating less calories than you use up each day. Before discussing how that can be done successfully, I want to remind you of how our culture and society shape our bodies. Throughout history and around the world the ideal body size changes according to fashion and food supply. When food is plentiful, as in this country right now, thin is in because it’s more difficult to attain. Other times and places where food is scarce, plump is desirable. So before you decide you need to lose weight, consider these questions. Are your goals realistic? Are you healthy and fit, but not model thin? Are you striving for the impossible?
Long-term, successful dieters keep fats, not food, to a minimum. Twenty percent or less of calories as fat allow most people to lose weight slowly and safely. Most importantly, this approach is healthier and long lasting. Moderate, regular exercise enhances the loss of excessive body fat.
The most difficult task is traveling from your current eating and activity habits to those that encourage health. Ideally you want to eliminate as many empty calories as possible, such as candy bars and potato chips, and give your diet a boost with nutrient rich foods like vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Besides being chock full of vitamins and minerals, most of these foods are also low in fat. While making these changes, you might want to add a comprehensive multiple vitamin/mineral supplement to your diet.
The Exercise Habit
For most of us physical activity is not part of our daily routine. Most people have labor-saving machines to lessen the workload and sedentary jobs. It’s no wonder that Americans are heavier than they used to be. A lean, healthy body requires a certain amount of exercise almost everyday.
Discover what activities are enjoyable for you, whether it’s walking, playing tennis, gardening or working out at a gym. Those who exercise on a regular basis burn up more calories not only during their activity, but also on sedentary days (4). Exercise, even when light, also suppresses appetite (5).
If you decide to exercise more intensely, your nutrient need will increase. Here is one more argument for taking a balanced vitamin/mineral supplement while losing weight.
Losing weight is not always a matter of health or looks, or even intentional. Sickness, particularly when you’ve lost your appetite, can cause weight loss and nutritional deficiencies. Not only does diminished intake rob you of nutrients, but illness increases your body’s need for extra nutrition. Infections (6), burns (7) and broken bones (8) all expand protein requirements. The immune system needs a variety of nutrients like vitamins A, B12 and C and magnesium, especially during sickness.
Pregnancy is another special weight loss case. It’s natural and desirable to gain a certain amount of extra body fat when expecting. Even nursing mothers tend to hang on to an additional 10 to 15 pounds, beneficial for breastfeeding. Taking a vitamin and mineral supplement is smart while dropping your baby fat. Pregnancy places tremendous nutritional needs on the body. Weight loss while breastfeeding can be tricky. For many women, the mere act of nursing causes weight loss because of the calories released in your milk. However, you need to be careful that you’re still eating enough so you and your baby get enough nutrients. For this reason, a multiple supplement and sound eating habits are advisable.
Some people use a vegetarian diet to gain health and slimness. The term vegetarianism describes a variety of eating plans, for example, all foods are eaten except red meat; all plant foods allowed plus eggs and dairy products; only vegetables and milk are consumed; a purely plant diet without any animal foods. Someone who eats only plant-based foods is called a vegan. Like anyone, vegetarians need to include a variety of whole, unprocessed foods to be healthy. However, a diet void of all animal foods can be more difficult to balance.
A group of Finnish vegans were found to be low in vitamin D, especially during the winter months (9). The same is true for some parts of Canada and other northern regions. Sunshine is an important source of vitamin D. But those who eat animal products also get this nutrient from eggs, meat and fortified milk.
We are faced with many nutritionally challenging situations everyday: pollution, emotional and physical stress, cigarette smoke. Weight loss, especially when rigorous, is one more. Fortunately, we now know that your ideal weight can be achieved through healthful eating and exercise. Don’t hesitate using a balanced nutritional supplement while making lifestyle changes. While losing pounds, just don’t lose sight of your ultimate goal: wholesome foods, a physically active life and realistic body image.
- Fisher MC, Lachance PA. Nutrition evaluation of published weight-reducing diets. Journal of the American Dietetic Association 1985;85(4):450-54.
- Lissner L, Odell PM, D’Agostino RB et al. Variability of body weight and health outcomes in the Framingham population. New England Journal of Medicine 1991;324:1839-44.
- Karklin A, Driver HS, Buffenstein R. Restricted energy intake affects nocturnal body temperature and sleep patterns. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1994;59:346-49.
- Horton TJ, Geissler CA. Effect of habitual exercise on daily energy expenditure and metabolic rate during standardized activity. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1994;59:13,19.
- Bulbian R, Grunewal KK, Haack RR. Effect of exercise duration on feed intake and body composition of Swiss albino mice. Journal of Applied Physiology 1985;58(2):500-505.
- Pena-Cruz V,Bronson RT, Reiss CS, McIntosh K. Altered histopathology in protein-deprived mice during Sendai virus pneumonia: evidence for delayed inflammatory response and recovery. The Journal of Infectious Diseases 1992;165:846-51.
- Wofe RR, Goodenough RD, Wofe MH. Isotopic approaches to the estimation of protein requirements in burn patients. Advanced Shock Research 1983;9:81-98.
- Pollak D et al. The effect of protein malnutrition and nutritional support on the mechanical properties of fracture healing in the injured rat. Journal of Parenteral Enteral Nutrition 1986;10(6):564-67.
- Lamberg-Allardt C, Karkkainen M, Seppanen R, Bistrom H. Low serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentrations and secondary hyperparathyroidism in middle-aged white strict vegetarians. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1993;58:684-89.