A desire to lose weight is top of both mind and wallet for millions of people, responsible for about $60 billion in spending annually. Despite promises of a quick fix and a buff body in 21 days or less, most weight-loss gimmicks are simply that—slick marketing and little-to-no substance. To get a better sense of what really works, we need to turn to the evidence and learn what science suggests is the most effective and, importantly, safe way to help people achieve and maintain a healthy weight. While the science is incomplete, implementing the following five nutrition practices is likely to help guide your clients toward a healthy and sustainable weight.
- Eat fewer calories. To get a more scientific sense of how many fewer calories should be consumed based on the individual, use the scientifically sound National Institutes of Health body-weight planner, available at: https://www.supertracker.usda.gov/bwp/. Through this program, you can identify the precise amount of calories a client should eat based on age, gender, height, weight, physical activity, weight-loss goal and timeframe.
- Get on board for the long haul. The best weight-management programs last at least six months and subsequently include monthly or more frequent follow-up through a year. Creating an appropriate caloric deficit (see #1) leads to about 9- to 26-pound weight loss in six months, followed by partial regain such that the average person will lose about 9 to 22 pounds at one year and 7- to 9 pounds by the second year. This makes clear that the hardest part is not losing the weight, but keeping it off. Thus, make sure weight-loss maintenance is a built-in part of the plan.
- Choose an eating plan that will stick. There is no single eating plan that is the best plan for everyone, and the science is very clear—the exact macronutrient breakdown or dietary regimen is now what matters. Low-fat, low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets, low glycemic index, and high glycemic index diets all lead to about equal weight loss after one year when a 500 to 750kcal deficit is maintained. When it comes to losing weight and keeping it off, it is about adopting a plan that can be continued for the long run. In essence, a lifestyle change, rather than a diet is required.
- Build in physical activity and behavior change strategies. A weight-loss plan will not be effective with dietary changes alone. Physical activity and behavior-change coaching are essential ingredients for weight loss and maintenance.
- Consider legitimate adjuncts for weight loss, under the supervision of a physician. A growing number of medications have been approved to support nutrition, activity and behavior modification for weight loss. Further, recent years have seen advances in surgical options for people with severe obesity. While these adjuncts are not effective in the absence of lifestyle changes, in some cases they may help to improve overall outcomes for certain clients. Clients with obesity may benefit from a careful evaluation by an obesity medicine physician or other qualified healthcare professional to determine the best weight-loss plan for the individual.
If you’re interested in leading clients to long-term weight management success through a balance of behavior change strategies, exercise and nutrition, check out ACE’s Weight Management Specialty Certification.