This is the first in a Health Slacker series where we provide a hard-hitting, no-nonsense review of the most popular diets. This is the information you want without all the usual fluff.
Let’s face facts, a big part of the population on this Earth is getting more and more overweight and even obese. Many people look for salvation in diets, but what exactly diets are and how do they work? The main idea of dieting for weight loss is simple – one has to intake less calories than one burns. This principle is easy to understand, but there are many diets, many weight loss programs, many ways people approach this issue. How can we navigate in the jungle of new and fashionable diets to find the best one, the one that will finally shed those extra pounds we just can’t seem to lose?
The first step to achieving anything is knowledge. Nutritional science is still in its dawn. In fact, caloric energy expenditure was discovered only in the early 20th century. During World War II deeper research was done on vitamins and other nutrition that human bodies require to function properly. In 1990s the famous USDA food pyramid was created, claiming that the main portion of proper diet should be grains and vegetables. Today the correctness of this pyramid is widely debated, the latest research on diet science shows that such food choice could lead to heart disease. So let’s examine some of today’s most popular diets.
The HCG Diet: Ready to Inject Urine?
We already know the basics of weight loss – burning more calories than consuming them. The HCG diet is an extreme diet where the allowed calorie intake is 500 per day, which is paired with daily injections of Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (HCG). This is a hormone that women naturally generate during pregnancy. Taking only 500 calories daily can result in impressive weight loss, sometimes even up to three pounds per day.
Dr Albert T. W. Simeons is the author of a book called “Pounds and Inches” that is the basis of HCG diet. He suggests that HCG injections reduce appetite which is the core reason why this diet is considered to be easy to follow. However, for an unknown reason he also has set some strange rules such as prohibiting use of oil and a wide array of hygiene products, it is allowed to eat only one vegetable per meal and so on. The whole dieting cycle lasts up to 40 days plus 3 weeks maintenance phase with 1500 calorie intake and no injections. The weight loss with this diet is obviously very impressive. However, the regime is hard to follow and it is virtually impossible to stick with it long term, so the pounds that you have lost while injecting the expensive and in many countries illegal HCG, may come back quite quickly again.
Note: this one sounds way too tough for the average Health Slacker out there!
The 8 Hour Diet: Pig Out But Only for 8 Hours
Imagine that you could eat anything you want and still lose weight. Doesn't that sound wonderful? That's exactly what the 8 hour diet is promising. So where's the catch? It's in the fact that if you follow this diet, you eat only 8 hours a day. In the other 16 hours you are not allowed to take a single calorie. This diet was developed by David Zinczenko and Peter Moore who both used to work for the Men's Health magazine. According to them, you'll lose weight even if you don't practice this eating routine daily, but only three days a week.
The premise of the 8 hour diet is great. It promises weight loss, reduced risk of diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease and even cancer. Following this diet is rather easy because the eating plan is very flexible. People usually sleep for 8 hours, so it would require you to only avoid eating few hours before sleeping and a couple of hours after. Zinczenko says that during the 8-hour period when you are allowed to eat, overeating is nearly impossible because then you'd be too full to eat more than you need. However, the feeling of hunger one experiences during the fasting period could be too powerful for some people to stick to the 8-hour diet for long.
Atkins Diet: The Original Low Carb Diet
Physician and cardiologist Robert Atkins used to be overweight himself so he was looking for ways to lose weight easily since he didn't want to fast. That makes sense, fasting and starving oneself will lead to feeling hunger that is rarely bearable long term. Finally, he found a solution – strictly limiting consumption of carbohydrates, forcing body to burn fat for energy. This process is called ketosis. Atkins connected the state of ketosis with weight loss. The diet plan is simple and very easy to follow for lifetime. Eat as much you wish, as long as you don't eat food rich in carbohydrates such as grains, starchy food, sugars and alcohol.
There is no independent scientific proof connecting the state of ketosis with weight loss. Also some of Atkins dieters report bad breath. However, the Atkins diet plan seems to work. Many people have reported successful initial weight loss and improved health while maintaining the diet even if it is not because of ketosis.
The Paleo Diet: Eat Like A Caveman (But, Please, Don't Act Like One)
Eating foods that our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate during the Paleolithic era is the main basis for the Paleo diet. The nutritional scientist Dr Loren Cordain says that this diet can help eliminate many chronic illnesses that are typical for modern society like obesity, cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and many more. Paleo dieters connect these illnesses with the discovery of agriculture that changed human diet from mostly carnivore to grain and root vegetable based diet.
The paleo diet is very similar to Atkins diet, since most of carbohydrates come from grains, sugars and alcohol which weren't in the menu of our ancestors. However, paleo diet takes this principle even further by restricting dairy products and processed foods. The same as Atkins diet there are many successful paleo dieters who have lost weight and felt more energized than before switching to the paleo diet.
The latest research shows that a possible reason why these two diets stand out among others is their focus on protein which helps with satisfying hunger, thus people on their own will reduce their calorie intake. Both of these diets can also be a good source of vitamins and minerals, which help our bodies to function better.