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When it Comes to Weight Loss, Is There Really a Quick Fix?

09/15/2013 11:45 EDT | Updated 11/15/2013 05:12 EST

When I saw the headline "How to Lose Weight Quickly," I was hooked. Who among us hasn't at one time or another wanted to drop five or 10 pounds really fast to fit into a sexy dress or fancy tux for an upcoming party, or to try to bring down our blood pressure reading, or just because?

But despite its teasing headline, the above story, published a few days ago by Medical News Today, offered much more than the usual stuff about the latest fad diet or exotic supplement. In fact, it was a most comprehensive overview of what to know and watch out for when it comes to losing weight (quickly or not).

I liked it because I think we need to be reminded about what weight loss is all about. It's not rocket science, but it's complex.

In his introduction the author Christian Nordqvist, explained that "how to lose weight quickly" is one of the most popular health questions on the Internet, according to Yahoo. But as Nordqvist wrote in his article there are no magic bullets. "Although losing weight quickly is possible, not only is it bad for your health," he wrote, "it is almost certainly a recipe for becoming even fatter later on."

Well, I think we know this but deny it to ourselves as we plunge into the latest liquid fast or are seduced by the kale and asparagus wonder diet (I made that up, but it could work?) Nordqvist addresses the vicious cycle of crash dieting and reminds us that in order to lose one pound of fat you need a whopping calorific deficit of 3,500 kilocalories. "The trouble is, by the time the body starts turning to reserves of fat to make up for the energy deficit caused by the crash diet, its metabolism has slowed right down."

Most dietitians and weight loss experts recommend losing no more than one to two pounds a week. Given that one pound in body weight equals 3,500 kcals, you need 500 fewer calories per day than usual in order to lose one pound a week. For me, that's a couple of lattes, not an easy thing to let go. Want to lose two pounds weekly? Find 1,000 calories per day to cut -- and tell me how you do it.

Of course there's exercise: It burns up those calories, it helps in maintaining weight loss, and it protects against muscle loss. The article looks at types of exercise and concludes that aerobic exercises (swimming, cycling, running and brisk walking) are better for weight loss than strength or resistance training.

As for the "best" diet for weight loss, Nordqvist combed the research and warned readers that a low-fat diet (though healthy and wildly popular) has the highest risk for weight gain later on. He quoted reputable research published in the New England Journal of Medicine which concluded, after checking out four types of diets, that reduced-calorie diets are the ones that "result in clinically meaningful weight loss -- regardless of which macro-nutrients they emphasize."

Finally, Normqvist looked at a Canadian Medical Association Journal study on why the right amount of sleep may be important to weight loss. In the study co-authors Drs. Jean-Phillippe Chaput of the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute and Angelo Tremblay from Laval University said that "sleeping habits should not be overlooked when prescribing a weight-reduction program to a patient with obesity. Sleep should be included as part of the lifestyle package that traditionally has focused on diet and physical activity."

One of Canada's sanest voices when it comes to dieting is Dr. Yoni Freedhoff. The Ottawa obesity specialist is currently medical director of the Bariatric Medical Institute and he blogs at. Dr. Freedhoff previously told me that there is no perfect weight and he doesn't put much faith in BMI or body fat percentages. So-called best weight, he says, "is the weight you reach living the healthiest life you can honestly and realistically enjoy."

Undereating and overexercising will get weight down, he tells patients at www.bmimedical.ca, the website for the weight management program that he founded and runs. But that's short-term. "Much like telling someone that they should 'buy low and sell high' to make money on the stock market, telling someone to eat less and exercise more for weight loss has little value."

In a blog he wrote earlier this year for the Huffington Post, Dr. Freedhoff reminded viewers of the popular TV show Biggest Loser that when it comes to losing weight it's not the before and after picture we should come away with but the before and after-after. "The biggest losers each and every season aren't in fact the contestants, they're the viewers. By watching The Biggest Loser and basing their devoted adoration only on the proverbial "after" pictures, but not the "after-after" pictures, viewers are being taught non-sustainable approaches to weight management that in turn the medical literature suggests promote hatred of those who struggle with their weight, and potentially of themselves."

Face it, we've got a short attention span when it comes to having to diet. We want those pounds off, and we want it now. Losing weight need not be a losing battle, but there's certainly no quick fix.

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