The most common New Year’s Resolution that people make is to lose weight. And while not everyone sticks to their resolutions, it is certain that many thousands of diets are launched each January as a result of repenting for unwanted holiday pounds. This can be a good thing and perhaps even the start of a healthier way of living for many but only if the diets people undergo are safe. Unfortunately, sensible diet and exercise plans seem to be losing in the popularity contest against “fad diets.” It seems that just about everyone has tried or knows someone that has tried one of the various weight loss plans outlined in popular books regularly cluttering the “best-seller” lists. Many times, these diets take a black and white approach throwing aside the notion of balanced diet and urging readers to eliminate crucial elements of their diets altogether, such as carbohydrates, sugar or protein. Warnings abound that many of these diets are unwise. But many people dismiss these cautions because they know someone who’s dropped significant weight, quickly, while on a fad diet. Inter Valley Health Plan, a non-profit health maintenance organization that routinely stresses health education, offers sound advice on how to lose weight and maintain the loss. Inter Valley’s wellness experts report that weight control is a particularly difficult issue because society is set up in a way that makes it easy to gain weight. We have very efficient transport systems, such as cars and elevators, and pastimes that promote inactivity, such as computers and TV. Also, high-calorie foods are widely available, and fatty foods taste good. To do something about it, you have to go against the grain. Applying the “eat-less-exercise-more” prescription is much more complicated than it seems. That’s one of the reasons why there are so many treatments promoting easy weight loss. People want an easy fix. It’s human nature. But sadly, these “easy fixes” often cause more harm than good depriving the body of essential nutrients. One problem with fad dieting is lack of research in most of the diet books out there. Inter valley also warns consumers to be skeptical regarding the way many fad diet books make or imply promises about weight loss , that it’s easy, that you can still eat all your favorite foods and lose weight. The promise of a quick fix is a problem, as is the misinterpretation of known biochemistry and physiology. Fad diets may help bring about some weight loss, but despite what the books say, it’s usually due to eating fewer calories and not anything magical about the diet. For example, diets which limit carbohydrates on the theory that they promote insulin production, which leads to weight gain recommended about 850 calories a day. Anyone who eats 850 calories is going to lose weight whether they’re avoiding carbohydrates or not. Creating an “unbalanced” diet is the least healthy way to achieve weight loss goals. It should be mentioned that not every aspect of fad diets is bad. For instance, Sugar Busters! recommends decreasing sugar intake. Inter Valley doesn’t argue with that because many high-sugar foods are high in calories and low in nutrients. However, cutting back on sugar is only one aspect of a healthy diet. In general, with fad diets, the negatives outweigh the positives. There are two main reasons for losing weight, both of which are valid: to improve your health and for cosmetic reasons. You can lose weight on different diets, but the approach may not be healthy in the long run. Diets shouldn’t go against what we know about improving long-term health. Many fad diets advise reducing carbohydrate intake, and they include very few grains, fruits and vegetables. There’s a tremendous amount of evidence that increasing grains, fruits and vegetables is good for health and for prevention of diseases like cancer. On fad diets, even if you lose weight, you may not improve your long-term health. Often, traditional recommendations for weight management may seem old and kind of boring, but those recommendations lead to many other health benefits. A less serious problem is the lack of long-term results. Most people can’t stick with these diets, and they end up back where they started. The vast majority go off the diet and gain their weight back rapidly. Once someone loses weight by eliminating a component of a balanced diet, it is far easier to put the weight back on compared to a person who cuts calories in a healthy way retaining a balanced diet and exercising. Inter Valley recognizes that trying to lose weight is more difficult for some people than for others, and recommends different tactics for different kinds of people. Most individuals underestimate the number of calories they eat by about 20 percent , more if they’re very overweight. On the other hand, they overestimate their physical activity. It’s not intentional, it’s just that we’re not good judges. Inter Valley recommends an individualized approach. For instance, a person may have physical problems that prevent him or her from doing much activity, so we have to look more at diet. Others think they have to overdo vigorous exercise. Instead, Inter Valley encourages them to look for ways to increase their daily activity, such as parking farther away when they go to the store. Individuals are encouraged to approach weight loss in a positive manner, looking at it as an opportunity to do something that can be enjoyable. Inter Valley suggests focusing on the process instead of the end result. People want to lose weight quickly, and they focus on the number on the scale. They need to focus on making lasting lifestyle changes. The pounds will come off as a result. Whatever changes people make, they need to be comfortable enough with them to make them permanent. If they feel restricted by something, they shouldn’t do it. Support can play a key role. Group support provided by personal trainers, and programs like Weight Watchers can help. The key is changing people’s attitudes. Finally, changing food choices to include foods that not only lead to fewer calories but also are healthy and tasty is important. There’s a tremendous amount of wonderful food that can be truly enjoyable. We underestimate our ability for our tastes to change. Surely such subtle lifestyle shifts can be less world changing than engaging in fad dieting and certainly healthier!! Information for this article was provided by Inter Valley Health Plan, a federally qualified, non-profit Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) which has served Southern California for twenty years.