Most Canadians, approximately 61%, are considered overweight or obese. Weight loss is a billion-dollar industry consisting of how-to books, fat-burning supplements and surgical procedures designed to curb appetite and shed pounds.
While there are many diets and programs that claim to help you lose weight, very few of them have stood up to scientific scrutiny and have withstood the test of time.
Early weight-loss diets focused mainly on caloric intake. Researchers thought that weight gain was exclusively due to eating too many calories.
Simply put: We were consuming too much energy from food and not expending the same amount of energy through daily activity. Consequently, the leftover calories were then stored as fat.
While this model appeared to be correct at the extreme ends of the spectrum, restricting calories without paying attention to food quality proved to not be the healthiest approach.
By the 1970s, researchers believed that over-consumption of saturated fat was the reason people became overweight. Partially based on the work of Dr. Ansel Keys, saturated fat became Public Enemy No. 1 for the next 40 years.
Canadians were encouraged to do away with traditional cooking oils, such as lard and butter, and replace them with vegetable oils and margarine. Unfortunately, obesity and heart disease rates skyrocketed during this period of fat phobia, especially among children.
There has recently been renewed interest in low-carbohydrate diets. The first recorded use of a low-carbohydrate diet to treat obesity was in 1863 and was the standard of care up until the 1940s. Today, many people who have incorporated a low-carbohydrate diet have already experienced incredible results.
This is because the “Standard Canadian Diet” consists of a large refined carbohydrate intake from bread, rice, pasta, sugars, sodas and juices. The Canada Food Guide even recommends that the majority of our calories come from refined carbohydrates.
Unfortunately, excess carbohydrates (sugars) are quickly stored as fat. Also. many new studies have shown that excessive carbohydrate intake leads to obesity, heart disease, diabetes and even certain cancers.
It would seem that replacing refined carbohydrates with healthy proteins, vegetables, some fruits, nuts and good fats could dramatically improve overall health and keep the weight off.
However, this is only one piece of the obesity puzzle.
Newer studies point to certain packaged foods as a culprit in the obesity epidemic. They are cheap, readily available and these “foods” are now chemically engineered to stimulate pleasure sites in the brain.
Essentially, food companies are now creating addictions in adults and children and some people can’t help but eat foods that are unhealthy.
As time goes on, we find that obesity is a more complicated issue than simply what and how much we eat. Additional studies have shown individual differences in weight loss due to vitamin D levels, stress, quality of sleep may also play a role.
Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to weight loss. However, there are some basic principles that hold true for (almost) everyone.
In my next column, we will review simple lifestyle changes you can make to for healthy weight loss.