Today weight loss programs can be separated into two categories. Those that promise fast results through supplementation and calorie restriction and those that focus on improving overall health resulting in slower but more permanent results. Now I understand that the majority of weight loss programs promote fast results with their sexy and appealing advertising with reports of people losing 20-30 pounds in a month, however, do you never hear about that same person who eventually quit the program and ended up gaining all of the weight back? Ha! Why would a company want to do that? Well the fact of the matter is the majority of these fast results programs fail for long term results, but because of their appeal and numerous options available we find ourselves jumping from one program to the next.
This brings me to the next question, what is healthy weight loss? I would describe healthy weight loss as a “side effect” of making lifestyle choices that promotes health. As someone becomes healthier, they will lose weight! It may not be as rapid, but there is a better chance that it will be permanent. As a general rule, losing 1-3 pounds per week is considered healthy. In the first couple of weeks this amount may be elevated due to loss of excess water. Another simple way to determine if weight loss is healthy is by measuring your waist to hip ratio. Using a measuring tape, take two measurements: one around your belt line and another around your naval. Next divide the measurement taken at your waist (naval) and your hip (belt line). This ratio should decrease as you begin to lose weight! Seeing a decrease in this ratio show that you are losing inches of belly fat, which is a better indication of healthy weight loss than weight alone.
The best way to determine if your weight loss is healthy is to use a body composition analysis. This analysis will take into consideration measurements such as fat mass, lean mass, and body water. An effective and healthy weight loss program should show a decrease in fat mass while lean (muscle mass) should increase or stay the same. I often times talk to people who are on a different program who have lost substantial weight, but when they show me their body composition they have lost significant muscle mass. This is by no means healthy. Muscle weighs significantly more than fat and calorie restricted weight loss programs promote muscle loss. Since numerous studies have shown that one of the most reliable factors of longevity and quality of life is the preservation of muscle mass, this strategy is clearly unhealthy.
How can you tell if your weight loss program promotes healthy weight loss? I recommend looking at the following aspects.
1. Any dietary recommendations should not promote restriction of calories. Restriction of calories results in starvation causing the body to attack its muscle stores. When this occurs your body will react by giving you irresistible cravings and you will end up gaining the weight right back.
2. Eat real food! Many programs contain premade meals, bars, or supplements. Often times these contain preservatives, artificial ingredients, or processed foods. These typically act as hormone disruptors in the body and can actually promote weight gain as well as other ailments including cancer and diabetes.
3. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. The amount of propaganda for weight loss programs is absurd. The truth is lifestyle is the number one factor that determines your overall health and your ability to lose weight.
4. Find a program that takes the previous points into consideration and is supervised by a doctor, chiropractor, or nutritionist. Another issue I see with weight loss programs is that many programs certify “coaches” through a variety of short educational courses. I went to school for more than 7 years. Decide who you really want to be helping you become healthier.
If you are currently participating in a weight loss program or considering one in the near future I encourage you to take this advice into consideration. Choosing the right program can be stressful, but it can also be very enjoyable when you know that you are making a change to become a healthier person.