Forget Fad Diets, Just Follow the Basics

We're getting fatter worldwide and it's affecting our health and self-esteem. While tabloids churn out the latest fad diets, and even well meaning "experts" do the same, the facts point to a common sense approach. The simple calculation is all about input and output. Taking in more calories and burning less causes weight gain; the opposite means weight loss.

With 129 million overweight adults in the United States alone, according to the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), incidents of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke and asthma are exploding. On a personal level, it means a shorter life. Changes in the national diet, with high calorie, low nutrition foods, are the main culprit once combined with less physical activity. The Body Mass Index is the starting point for determining an ideal weight range. This widely accepted index has been set by the National Institutes of Health and can help you gauge your own fitness level, although it is by no means the last word in physical health.

The Mayo Clinic, a leader in public health information, says the "balancing act" of weight loss comes down to "burning more calories than you take in." Understanding that is the core of a successful diet plan. When you're ready for change talk to your doctor, then prepare for "situations that challenge your resolve," and remember dieting is a "commitment to making indefinite changes" in lifestyle. Considering a healthy diet plan means choosing one that fits your likes and dislikes, advises the Mayo Clinic. The diet should include grains, vegetables and fruits combined with low fat proteins. Availability and affordability is important as you embark on a new staple diet. Nutrition, calories, and exercise all need to be balanced for safe weight loss.

And what is a balanced diet? Opinions vary only on the specifics. Overall, diets high in vegetables and low unhealthy fats, with considerations for carbohydrates, stand out among the recommendations. Sugar and salt are out. The USDA Food Guide Pyramid was an attempt to define good nutrition; it has since been revised twice and today is called My Plate. While there's no last word and research continues, Harvard School of Public Health, critical of My Plate, has their own alternative – the Healthy Eating Pyramid. Their pyramid is similar in "shape only" and adds a "wealth of research" from the last 20 years. At the base of this pyramid is "daily exercise and weight control." The diet seeks an "energy balance" by the rule: "Weight change = calories in – calories out."

The Healthy Eating Pyramid promotes whole grains, vegetables and fruits, nuts, beans, healthy fats and oils, and a serving or two of dairy with the sparing use of red meat and butter. Dense carbohydrates like refined grains, pastas, and potatoes should be used sparingly, and salt and sugar only with great moderation.

Some diet using general rules-of-thumb, while others meticulously track every last calorie and nutrient. Most will be in-between, but success depends on a knowledge of the basic facts, more than a little bit of will power, and a commitment to consistent action. In time, lifestyle changes become self-reinforcing. Everyone will falter; real strength is in getting back on track until it is second nature to live healthily.

Sources:

http://aspe.hhs.gov/health/prevention/

http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/weight-loss/basics/weightloss-basics/hlv-20049483

http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/pyramid-full-story/

http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/files/2012/10/healthy-eating-pyramid-700-link.jpg

About the Author:
Iris Stone has worked as a freelance writer since 2011. Her writing has included content on medicine, healthcare, and education, although her interests are wide and varied. Prior to breaking into the freelance biz, Iris worked in sales for a health company and prior to that as an assistant in a chiropractic office. She is currently attending George Mason University and is majoring in Political Science. Check out her Google+ profile.

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