Dear Dr. Blonz: As part of my plan to drop weight, I gave up sweetened sodas and began drinking a costly weight-loss drink. I dropped almost 10 pounds in a couple of weeks. I went off that drink, and even though I never went back to soda, the weight came back. I’m trying to figure this out, including whether I was doing anything dangerous to my body. The product said it contained no stimulants, which I should avoid. How could I have handled it so that the weight stayed off? — M.G., Tulsa, Oklahoma
Dear M.G.: You would think that the purpose of a weight-reduction diet was simply to drop weight, but this is not entirely accurate. More specifically, the goal is to reduce excess body fat. Diet products might help you reduce weight while failing to make a significant dent in your stores of surplus fat. How can that be?
Fat is the most calorie-dense material we consume; it has 9 calories per gram, compared to 4 per gram for protein and carbohydrates. (Also be aware that there are 7 calories per gram of alcohol.) Our energy storage tissue, or adipose, is made up almost entirely of fat. While estimates vary, the standard is that the body needs to spend about 3,500 more calories than it takes in to lose a pound of body fat. If you were to cut your food intake by 500 calories per day, you would lose about a pound of body fat in a week.
Interestingly, less of a calorie deficit is needed to lose a pound of body protein. This is because the protein tissue in our muscles and organs is about 80% water by weight. If a diet causes the breakdown of body protein, the numbers on the scale can drop rapidly, but the major component will be the loss of water, not fat.
Some weight-loss products are diuretics, which cause the body to lose water, not fat. Others contain laxatives, which can also make the numbers on the scale go down, but in that case, it is a decrease in the amount of waste in queue for elimination, not a drop of excess body fat.
Your experience suggests that your product contained diuretics, laxatives or both; that would explain why so much weight was lost, only to return so quickly.
Stimulants, which rev up your metabolism, are another way to lose weight, but they are risky business. Stimulants can be dangerous for anyone with existing health conditions, including cardiovascular disease, hypertension or anxiety disorders. I am hoping your product’s label is accurate in its claim that it is free of such substances.
Weight-loss success takes time, determination and a good plan. Quick fixes tend to fail the test of time. I commend you for stopping your intake of excess caloric soda, but relying solely on a weight-loss drink (or diet pills) does not bode well for long-term chances. Better to find a plan that includes a healthful, balanced diet; a good selection from all the food groups and a solid activity component. By shifting to more healthful foods and increasing activity, you make gradual adjustments. The results may be less dramatic, but there is a greater chance for long-term success. Another benefit: No more costly products to buy.
(Ed Blonz, Ph.D., is a nutrition scientist and an assistant clinical professor at the University of California, San Francisco. He is the author of the digital book “The Wellness Supermarket Buying Guide” (2012), which is also available as a free digital resource at blonz.com/guide.)
Send questions to: “On Nutrition,” Ed Blonz, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to email@example.com. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.