Life in the Fast Food lane is taking its toll on Americans. Yes, it's official two in three adult Americans are overweight or obese. TWO IN THREE! We need to do something about it and fast. In fact, left unabated, "obesity may soon cause as much preventable disease and death as cigarette smoking," says Surgeon General David Satcher. We're talking about nearly 400,000 people...talk about cramping your lifestyle.

How Did We Get Here?

In our culture, we hate to wait and we live life on the run, as our eating habits reflect. We eat out and drive-thru like there's no tomorrow and we nuke ready-made TV dinners or open a can instead of putting together a healthy meal and cooking. Portion sizes are out of control and we're all too familiar with the good ol' scorning, "clean your plate!" We certainly don't have a problem with that. Meanwhile, years of overeating and lacking exercise have added up!

Some people, sick of being overweight, finally reach the breaking point and decide to do something about it. Fantastic! But, losing weight is no piece of cake. We want a simple solution with instant results. And if all the cutting, tucking and nipping isn't enough to make you sick, there are plenty of fad diets that will. It can be discouraging for those who actually put forth a valiant effort and lose weight, but for all their effort, they end up gaining the weight back.

Low Carb Crazy?

In case you haven't noticed, we've gone a bit low carb bonkers in this country. When it comes to dieting, that's all you hear about, it seems. Even fast food restaurants have jumped on the bandwagon with their bunless burgers. The problem is that 95% of the people who go on these diets gain the weight they lost back OR MORE! Huh? That's right. The results you see are the exception, not the rule. How could this be?

Known by familiar names like Atkins, The Zone, Protein Power, Carbohydrate Addicts and others, a low carb diet by any other name is still a low carb diet. The premise is the samecarbohydrates are the enemy. Greatly restrict them and you'll lose weight! At least in the short term, people do lose weight with the high protein, low carbohydrate diet. But, the reason is not because of carb-reduction.

Any diet that effectively restricts an entire macronutrient (e.g. carbs), will have a good chance of reducing overall daily calories. If you think about it, you're cutting out grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables and sugars. While at the same time, you're allowed to eat as much meat as you want. "Without its refried beans, tortilla wrapping, and chopped vegetables, a burrito is reduced to a pile of ground beef" (Whitney, 265). When a caloric deficit is produced be it by increasing activity or reducing kcalorie consumption, weight loss ensues. "Weight loss, after all, depends on a negative energy balance" (Whitney, 264).

Targeting Insulin

Insulin is often targeted by proponents of fad diets as an enemy in weight loss. Insulin is an anabolic hormone secreted by the pancreas that builds and stores. It causes glucose to be transported into cells and fatty acids to be stored as it helps to regulate metabolism, among other things. Insulin is released in response to ingesting high-glycemic foods.

The idea being that by restricting the high-carb foods, insulin's response will be reduced and fat storage will diminish. But, it does not always respond as expected. For example, eating beef produces a greater insulin response than eating whole-wheat pasta. Also, many high-fiber fruits and vegetables actually moderate insulin response and slow glucose absorption.

"Insulin promotes fat storage when energy intake exceeds energy needs. Furthermore, insulin is only one hormone involved in the complex processes of maintaining the body's energy balance and health" (Whitney, 264). Insulin only becomes a problem when the body develops insulin resistance, accompanied with being overweight. Simply losing weight improves insulin response.

Low Carb Diet Benefits

"Unlimited" meat
Satiety
Short-term success

The major draw of this diet is being able to eat a lot of high protein foods normally considered a no-no because of their high saturated fat. Many people enjoy steak, ribs and meatballs. Another benefit of this diet is that you don't have to count calories, although kcalorie guidelines are still usually put in place: "not to exceed 500 kcalories" each meal, "100 kcalories" each snack. "Success then, depends on the restricted intake, not on protein's magical powers or carbohydrate's evil forces" (Whitney, 265).

Protein also produces the greatest feelings of satiety, which is another nice draw. No one likes to feel hungry all the time. For a diet to be successful, it must be satisfying. Lastly, the diet provides a plan. The toughest thing for dieters is figuring out what to eat. So, by making it easy, the high protein, low carbohydrate diet attracts people.

Clearly people are experiencing some short-term success. However, if they were as successful as diet book authors claim, then our obesity problems would be solved, but they're not. Incidentally, there have been no published research findings in any scientific journals. The diets rely heavily on anecdotal success stories and failures are not reported (Whitney, 264).

Shortcomings of the Low Carb Diet

Too much saturated fat
Low energy
Depression
Vitamin and Mineral deficiencies

The risks with the diet include getting too much daily fat intake, having low energy and depression as well as micronutrient deficiencies. "A breakfast of bacon and eggs, lunch of ham and cheese, and dinner of barbecued short ribs would provide 100 grams of protein-and 121 grams of fat! Yet this day's meals, even with a snack of peanuts, provides only 1600 kcalories. Without careful selection, protein-rich diets can be extraordinarily high in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol-all dietary risk factors for heart disease" (Whitney, 265). Generally, fat intake of about 65 grams per 2000 kcalories is recommended.Your brain and nervous system runs on glucose, so restricting carbs can leave people low on energy, mentally zapped and depressed. "It's called the 'Atkins attitude,' " says Judith Wurtman, director of the Women's Health Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Adara Weight Loss Center, both in Boston. "It's very well-documented."

Wurtman, who advocates a diet high in complex carbohydrates for weight loss and stress relief, says her studies on rats have shown a connection between a diet low in carbohydrates and low levels of serotonin-a neurotransmitter that promotes feelings of happiness and satisfaction. In her research, rats placed on a ketotic, or low-carbohydrate, diet for three weeks were found to have lower levels of serotonin in their brains. The same rats binged once starch was reintroduced into their diets (Goodman).

The intake of vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicalsall of which are protective against diseasegreatly diminishes as a result of unbalanced nutrition. For this reason, anyone who goes on a restrictive diet like this should do so with caution. A multi-vitamin and mineral supplement is often recommended to help compensate for the diet's shortcomings.

Starvation Anyone?

It's interesting to note that what happens to the body during a low-carb diet is similar to what happens during starvation. Due to the lack of carbs, glucose levels dwindle, depleting glycogen reserves. Glucose is much needed by the brain and the rest of the body for proper functioning. The body then turns to protein, the only other significant source of glucose. The body uses ingested protein as well as breaks down lean body tissue (muscle) to generate precious glucose. This in turn leads to weight loss, as the less muscle you have the lower your weight will be (muscle weighs more than fat) and the lower your metabolism will go (muscle is more active than fat). Also, most of the weight of muscle is water, so your water balance will decrease as well.

The incomplete break down of fat and a lack of glucose produces ketosis. The release of ketones can be detected in the urine. Low carb diets often regard this as successful. However, "fat losses on low carb diets are no greater than on other diets providing the same number of kcalories" (Whitney, 266). Why torture yourself, losing valuable muscle and water when a low calorie balanced diet can accomplish success without these downfalls? What people do not realize is that loss of lean body mass equates to a loss of water, glycogen and body protein. There is a difference between fat loss and weight loss!

The problem is that the high protein, low carbohydrate diet cannot be sustained for a long period of time without dire consequences to the body. Once balanced eating returns, the body quickly replenishes lost water and nutrients, and tries to rebuild lean tissue. This results in gaining much of the lost weight back, if not more.

The real value of a diet is determined by its ability to maintain weight loss and support good health over the long term. The goal is not simply weight loss, but health gains! For the most part, high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets, do not support optimal health and sustainable weight loss over time.

Solution!

First, you need to change the way you think about the word "diet." Rather than thinking of a diet as a change in eating habits you do for a short period of time, think of dieting in the long-term, as a way of life. Does this mean you can never eat pizza or hamburgers again? Of course not! A diet you can stick to will allow you to "cheat" here and there. And during Thanksgiving and the holidays or special occasions, live it up, don't torture yourself! The key is to make smarter eating choices on a regular basis. With this in mind it's also important to say, "Don't forget to exercise!" Over 50% of Americans get little or no exercise at all!

Remember, a low carb diet can work temporarily, but a balanced calorie-reduced diet in conjunction with exercise is healthy and safe long term. The weight will drop gradually, the same way you put it on! The best part is, the weight lost will not easily be regained. A diet and fitness routine of this nature is more realistic long-term, so if you can adapt and make the change a part of your lifestyle, reaching your ideal weight should be only a matter of time.

The toughest part of the weight loss journey is knowing what to eat. I recommend picking up a few balanced nutrition recipe books. One very good book is available that includes 150 fantastic recipes that are quick and easy to make. The book includes practical knowledge from a renowned expert in the fitness industry, Bill Phillips. I highly recommend picking up a copy of his book, Eating for Life.

As you know, one of the biggest factors in weight loss is a balanced diet, not a crash diet where the weight yo-yos back up when it's done! We're talking about a diet you can stick to that not only helps you lose weight, but allows you to keep it off. The ideal diet is one that you can make into a lifestyle to fit with your schedule, to provide you energy and balanced nutrition, and to keep you on the road to health and happiness and out of the Fast Food lane!

To learn more about losing weight through lifestyle changes, and find in-depth articles with body calculators and more, please visit http://www.gettinglean.com today!

References:

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES. National Institutes of Health. (2003): NIH Publication No. 03-4158.

Goodman, Brenda. Low-Carb State of Mind.
http://cms.psychologytoday.com/articles/pto-20040406-000014.html. Phillips, Bill. Eating for Life. High Point Media, 2003.

Sibbald, Barbara. Obesity may soon be leading cause of preventable death in US. http://www.cmaj.ca/cgi/content/full/166/5/642-a.

Stein, Rob. Obesity Passing Smoking as Top Avoidable Cause of Death. http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A43253-2004Mar9?language=printer.

Weight Loss Diet Recipes. http://www.weight-loss-i.com/free-diet-recipes.htm. Whitney, Eleanor, et al. Vegetarian Diets. Understanding Nutrition Ninth Edition. (2002): 663-667.

Author's Bio: 

Travis Smith has been involved in fitness, nutrition and supplementation for the past 15 years. His website, www.gettinglean.com provides free weight loss guides and diet support. His number one priority is to help others reach success in their fitness goals!