Monday, July 9, 2012

Decoding the Plans: Part one

This is the first of a series of posts where I will be reviewing the workout/diet plans out there to help you decide what is right for you. In this post, I will be talking about three of the most popular ones out that are very diet focused: Atkins, Slim Fast, and Weight Watchers

The Atkins Diet is a popular diet that focuses on reducing your intake of carbohydrates in favor of consuming more protein-rich foods. It requires strict attention to the amount of carbohydrates in the diet, particularly during the first few weeks. I've heard it joked about saying "Have a double bacon cheeseburger but hold the bun".

You go through four “phases” of the Atkins diet, starting with very few carbs and eating progressively more until you get to your desired weight. Keeping carbs at bay isn’t as simple as saying "No" to sugar and baked potatoes. You’ll keep acceptable foods lists handy and do a lot of counting. In phase 1, for example, you are allowed 20 grams a day of “net carbs” <<<pull out the food list>>>, 12 to 15 of them from “foundation vegetables” <<<pull out another list>>> high in fiber. But as for fat, you don’t even have to trim it off your steak.

By reducing your carbohydrate-intake, your body will enter a process called ketosis. Ketosis is the state in which your body burns fat as fuel. Dr. Atkins also says that ketosis will affect insulin production, which will prevent more fat from being formed. He also says that once you enter ketosis and your body begins efficiently using fat as fuel, your cravings for carbs will subside and you won't miss the foods you are doing without.

Sounds great, right? Ohhhhh, so WRONG! The build up of ketones can cause a myriad of symptoms. The Atkins Diet acknowledges that drastically cutting carbs in the early phase of the program can result in some side effects, including:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Constipation
That doesn't sound too pleasant, does it? And for those "bacon cheeseburger, hold the bun lovers"... sorry folks, but eating foods that are high in cholesterol and saturated fat, which are now established as major culprits in heart attacks and strokes, isn't a good idea at all. This diet plan is not a safe one, in my opinion and in the opinions of many leading medical professionals.

Remember those old commercials... "A shake for breakfast. A shake for lunch. And a sensible dinner"?!

I thought they were B.S. back then and I still do. As I sit here trying to come up with *something* good to say about Slim Fast plan, the only thing I can come up with is that it is mind-numbingly easy to follow. A healthy shake for breakfast, one for lunch, and a healthy dinner, and a couple of small snacks in between - doesn't get much easier than that, does it?

Nonetheless, the Slim Fast diet pretty much encapsulates what's wrong with the state of mainstream dieting and weight loss today. In a Slim Fast shake, the four main ingredients are skim milk, sugar, fructose, and cocoa. In other words, milk, sugar, sugar, and sugar. Other ingredients include various vegetable oils, emulsifiers, and a vitamin blend.They contain about 150 calories each so with 2 shakes, a snack and a sensible dinner, you are looking at 1000-1200 calories a day into your body.

Of course, if you limit yourself to 1200 calories a day, you will lose weight but you'll also lose muscle mass and the will to live. Ok, maybe that last part is an exaggeration but on that amount of calories, you ARE going to be hungry - *really* hungry. Assuming you've got excellent willpower and can keep from eating, you should also know that these is so much sugar in these shakes and so little fiber, your blood sugar levels are going to go through the roof. Can you say "crash and burn" because that is what you are going to do....

Nope. This plan doesn't fit the bill for anyone. Sorry. Not going to waste any more of my precious time on this one.

 Weight watchers is a popular program that specifically assigns food values, in the form of points that are given for different types of foods. You are assigned a maximum amount of points based on your height, weight, activity level, etc that you can eat throughout the day. In order to be successful, you are supposed to aim for this amount of points or less each day. The points system works very similar to counting calories, so it is similar to that in the fact that it is tracking energy in versus energy out. The one major difference is that it helps you to make better food choices by assigning large number to the unhealthy/white flour/sugary items and allows you to eat tons of fruits and vegetables throughout the day for little or no points.

The Weight Watchers plan tries to cut down on the number of carbohydrates in your diet. Carbohydrates are your first energy source for anything you do whether it is walking to the mailbox or running a full-fledged marathon. This plan works so quickly at the beginning because when you cut carbohydrates from your diet, your body will begin to use an alternate form of energy. This second form of energy that your body uses after carbohydrates is the fat that is stored in your muscle and tissues.  Once you begin using fat as the main energy source, this is where you begin to burn fat calories and start losing excess fat and lose weight.

If you learn HOW to eat while on the Weight Watchers program, you CAN maintain your weight afterward. It's not ideal for the people who just want to "diet" for a short time and then go back to eating the way they did before. 

I am actually a pretty big fan of this program. My only issue with it is that they don't promote exercise much except to say "Aim to get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per day". As I have wrote about in other blogs, in order to keep the weight off, you MUST incorporate weight training into your routine. Muscle boosts your metabolism and makes you burn more calories in every single activity you do.

In my opinion, this is a great program for a newbie in the world of healthy eating. It really does start to teach you more about what is healthy for your body and what is not.  If you decide to start this program, just be sure to pair it with an appropriate workout plan.

More to come in my next installment of "Decoding the Plans"

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