Falling behind your 2019 body goals? Don’t worry, you are not alone.
If you're struggling to lose weight, you're sure to find a fierce debate online and among friends and family about how best to do it.
From Instagram fitness influencers’ strict diets, to celebrities like Kalyeke Mumo – It seems like everyone has an opinion about how you can shed the extra kilos. Hype aside, what does the science say?
Two major studies last year provided more fuel for a particularly polarizing topic — the role carbohydrates, like ugali rice and chapati, play in making us fat.
Fewer carbs, fewer pounds?
It's no longer called the Atkins Diet, but the low-carb school of dieting has been enjoying a comeback.
Simply explained, low carbohydrate diets are built on the idea that refined foods like white bread are quickly converted into sugar in our bodies, leading to energy swings and hunger.
By cutting carbs, the claim is that weight loss will be easier because your body will instead burn fat for fuel while feeling less hungry.
A recent study seems to offer more support for low-carb proponents. But, like many studies, it tried to understand just one sliver of how the body works.
The study, co-led by an author of books promoting low-carb diets, looked at whether varying carb levels might affect how the body uses energy. Among 164 participants, it found those on low-carb diets burned more total calories than those on high-carb diets.
The study did not say people lost more weight on a low-carb diet — and didn't try to measure that. Meals and snacks were tightly controlled and continually adjusted so everyone's weights stayed stable.
David Ludwig, a lead author of the paper and researcher at Boston Children's Hospital, said it suggests limiting carbs could make it easier for people to keep weight off once they've lost it.
He said the approach might work best for those with diabetes or pre-diabetes.
Ludwig, however, noted the study wasn't intended to test long-term health effects or real-world scenarios where people make their own food.
Low fat or low carb?
Another big study this past year found low-carb diets and low-fat diets were about equally as effective for weight loss.
Results varied by individual, but after a year, people in both groups shed an average of 12 to 13 pounds.
Limiting processed foods could improve most diets by cutting down overall calories, while still leaving wiggle room for people's preferences.
That's important, because for a diet to be effective, a person has to be able to stick to it. A breakfast of fruit and cereal may be filling for one person, but leave another hungry soon after.
The studies gave scientists some clues, but, like other nutrition studies, they can't say which diet — if any — is best for everyone. People are so different that it's all but impossible to conduct studies that show what really works over long periods of time.
Gardner notes the study had its limitations, too.
Participants' diets weren't controlled. People were instead instructed on how to achieve eating a low-carb or low-fat in regular meetings with dietitians, which may have provided a support network most dieters don't have.
Which weight loss diets work?
In the short term you can probably lose weight by eating only raw foods, or going vegan, or cutting out gluten, or following another diet plan that catches your eye. But what will work for you over the long term is a different question.
Zhaoping Li, director of clinical nutrition division at the University of California, Los Angeles, says there is no single set of guidelines that help everyone lose weight and keep it off.
It's why diets often fail — they don't account for the many factors that drive us to eat what we do.
To help people lose weight, Li examines her patients' eating and physical activity routines to identify improvements people will be able to live with.
"What sticks is what matters," Li said.