Janice Bennett and Nathan Livingston
These days the phrase "the latest research carries little weight. In comprehensive research, best practices combine primary, anecdotal, and dialogue-focused data with secondary, online, and published work from clinical trials.
These days the phrase “the latest research” carries little weight. In comprehensive research, best practices combine primary, anecdotal, and dialogue-focused data with secondary, online, and published work from clinical trials.
The purpose of Research Watch is to give readers starting places for self-directed research and to initiate informed dialogue on current health issues. Nathan will use his muscular click finger and limitless love of library resources to find recent information on a variety of health issues, and Janice will conduct primary research, otherwise known as talking to people.
Seventeen-year-old Anne looks at her hands and says, “Skating changed for me the day my coach told me I needed to lose five pounds by the end of the week. And it was already Wednesday.”
Anne is an elite figure skater who, in the last year, has consulted three different dieticians; each put her on a different diet. She is petite and athletically built, and I ask what her parents think about her dieting. “My mom is often trying a new weight-loss diet. The last one was the Cabbage Soup Diet.”
Athletes are not the only ones willing to face long-term problems that accompany short-term weight-loss. Fad diets, popular because they induce rapid weight-loss, come in and out of fashion like bell-bottomed pants.
However, low-calorie diets cause the body to quickly lose gastrointestinal bulk and water, which dieters often mistake for a loss of body fat. Calorie deficits, in turn, lower the body’s metabolic rate, and as soon as eating habits return to normal, weight is gained back. A study at the University of Alberta in 2000 found that chronic dieting lowered the metabolic rate of dieters aged 21 to 49 years, causing them to burn fewer calories during rest and activity. (Refer to ajcn.org/cgi/content/abstract/71/6/1413 for more.)
Nevertheless, people continue to try to fast track weight loss, hoping for an easier way than a lifelong pursuit of fitness and nutrition. Trina has learned the hard way that weight-loss quick fixes come with a price. When she joined a gym last March, she paid an additional $300 for a “personalized nutritional program,” which included a bottle of weight-loss supplements labelled “ephedrine-free.”
“After three days of taking them, I felt sick,” Trina recounts. “I checked the label and noticed something called ephedrina.”
Ephedrine (generically, efedrina clorhidrato) is used by some athletes to lose body fat, but studies show thermogenic (fat-burning) pills like this have limited efficacy.
A 2003 study (ahcpr.gov/clinic/epcsums/ephedsum.pdf) revealed that “adding caffeine to ephedrine modestly increases…weight loss.” However, researchers are quick to point out two flaws in the research: no clinical studies for long-term use and high rates of attrition.
If you visit the nutrition webpage of Trina‘s supplement-selling fitness club, there are photographs of pill bottles, but the text is about the glycemic index, a system that rates foods numerically based on their effect on blood sugar levels.
The glycemic index, created in 1981 by Dr. David J. Jenkins and increasingly popular with athletes, ranks foods as “low GI” when they release energy slowly. Low-GI foods are beneficial for diabetics, exercisers, and those trying to lose weight. The most important element of the GI-based diets seems to be that when and what you eat is actually more important than simply counting calories.
For those looking to lose a few pounds, sports nutrition, which focuses on maintaining peak fitness, managing blood sugar, and optimizing the body’s ability to use its fat stores, may hold the answers to avoiding the weight-loss-and-gain-back cycle that accompanies fad diets.
Besides, when we are talking about maintaining ideal weight–especially as a lifelong pursuit–nutrition sounds more appetizing than diet.
Online Resources on Weight Loss and Management
“Obesity and Heart Disease: A Statement for Healthcare Professionals from the Nutrition Committee, American Heart Association.” (1997): circ.ahajournals.org/cgi/content/full/96/9/3248
”Diet Pills and Major Depression in the Canadian Population.” (2001): cpa-apc.org/Publications/Archives/CJP/2001/June/PDF/dietpills.pdf
GI Index: glycemicindex.com
South Beach Diet: southbeachdiet.com/index3.asp