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Weight Loss Diets
Why do I need to lose weight if I am overweight?
Being overweight increases your risk for high blood
pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and some forms
of cancer. If you are overweight, losing just 5 to 10% of
your weight and keeping it off lowers your risk for
developing most of these diseases. Your healthcare provider
can give you a good sense of whether you have an increased
risk of health problems because of your weight.
What can I do to lose weight?
Changes that will help you lose weight include:
a better understanding of your own health
healthier eating habits
a plan for rewards for following your program to lose
more physical activity
Diets for losing weight involve:
making smart choices from every food group: fruits,
vegetables, grains, milk products, meat, and fats
finding a balance between how much food you eat and how
much exercise you get
getting the most nutrition out of your calories.
If you are trying to lose weight, this most often means
eating fewer calories and avoiding some foods. A weight
loss diet needs to give enough nutrition and a good variety
of satisfying foods as well as fewer calories.
What works best is a gradual change in your habits of eating
and physical activity--a change that you can continue for
the rest of your life. The ideal diet is one that helps you
lose weight slowly but steadily, so you can keep a healthy
weight after you have reached your goal. The best weight
loss plan is one that fits your own needs and food
preferences. Ask your healthcare provider for a safe,
healthy, and effective weight loss program.
What foods should I choose to lose weight?
A healthy eating plan is one that:
Emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans.
Includes fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products.
Includes lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs or egg whites,
nuts, seeds, and soy foods.
Is low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt
(sodium), and added sugars.
Keep a food diary. As soon as you eat or drink, write it
down. It may be helpful to use a small pocket diary.
Seeing what you eat and drink will help you learn more
about your eating patterns and food habits.
What foods should I limit or avoid?
As much as you can, avoid the following types of food:
refined carbohydrates (sugar) and foods containing added
sugars, such as sucrose, glucose, dextrose, highfructose
corn syrup, corn sweetener, honey, and brown
refined grain products such as white rice and white flour
(Try to substitute whole grains for refined grains
whenever you can.)
saturated fats such as butter, cream cheese, poultry skin,
whole-milk dairy products (including cheese), and fat on
other foods that often contain a lot of fat and trans
fats, such as pastries, cakes, cookies, potato chips, and
packaged meats because they are often high in fat, salt, and
preservatives (Look for low-fat, low-salt varieties.).
If you choose to drink alcohol, do so in moderation.
Moderate drinking means up to 1 drink a day for women and up
to 2 drinks for men. A drink equals 12 ounces of regular
beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1 and 1/2 ounces of 80-proof
distilled spirits. Remember that alcoholic beverages add
calories to your diet with very little nutrition.
What are calories?
A calorie is a way to measure the energy value of food.
Your body burns calories to use for basic body functions.
Proteins, carbohydrates, and fats contain calories and
produce energy. To lose weight, reduce the calories in the
food you eat (without giving up nutrition). Increase the
number of calories you use in physical activity. Your body
will burn fat stored in your body to get the energy it needs
and you will lose weight.
Eating 500 calories a day less than you need to maintain
your present weight can result in losing 1 pound a week.
Try to lose 1 to 2 pounds a week. If you lose more than
that each week, you begin to lose muscle rather than fat.
Most weight loss diets suggest 1200 to 1500 calories a day
for women and 1500 to 1800 calories a day for men. However,
calorie needs can vary a lot depending on your activity
level and current weight. Ask your healthcare provider or
dietitian to help you determine how many calories you need a
Don’t reduce your calories too much. If you get too few
calories a day, your body will shut down its metabolism so
that you can survive the lean time. This can happen if you
go on a "starvation diet." The body’s survival response
will then stop you from losing weight.
What are some of the popular diets?
There are many popular diets. Some are considered to be fad
diets and unsafe for the long term, and others are healthy
and may be right for you. Remember that no one diet works
for everyone. Broad categories of popular diets are:
specific food diets
varied weight loss diets
heart-healthy, balanced nutrition diets
calorie-conscious commercial programs.
High-protein, low-carbohydrate diets
result in a quick initial loss of weight. Most of these diets allow unlimited
amounts of high-protein foods and limit other food groups.
Carbohydrate content varies but usually is very low at
first. The amount of fat allowed in the diets varies.
Diets that emphasize low amounts of saturated fat and move
more quickly to adding other food groups back to the diet
The Atkins Diet is a high-protein, high-fat, lowcarbohydrate
diet. New versions of this diet include
the option to substitute healthy fat for saturated fat
and eating leaner protein choices, but this option is
not emphasized as necessary for success. Avoiding trans
fats is strongly encouraged. There are 4 phases to this
diet plan. The first includes no more than 20 grams of
carbohydrate. As you progress through the 4 phases, more
carbs are allowed. When you reach the fourth phase
(maintenance phase), 40 to 120 grams of carbohydrate are
allowed. In recent studies, dieters following the Atkins
plan lost more weight in the first 6 months than dieters
on a calorie-controlled, low-fat diet. However, the
amount of weight lost in the 2 groups after 1 year was
about the same. It is not clear if the Atkins diet is
better than a calorie-controlled, low-fat diet for
maintaining weight loss.
The South Beach Diet is similar to the Atkins diet for
the first 2 weeks except that only very lean proteins
and unsaturated fats are allowed. The second phase adds
back all food groups gradually but with most starchy
carbohydrates eaten less often. This diet is based on
the glycemic index and recommends that you completely
avoid most refined grains and some fruits and
vegetables. Eating foods low in saturated fat, trans
fat, and cholesterol continues through the maintenance
The Stillman Diet is a very restrictive high-protein
diet that includes almost no carbs, no added fats, and
only the leanest proteins. It lacks many nutrients and
can be dangerous.
Research has yet to determine the long-term benefits or
risks of high-protein, low-carb diets. Recent studies of
people following the Atkins Diet showed that they lowered
their triglyceride levels (unhealthy blood fat) and
increased their HDL (good cholesterol), despite eating a
diet rich in saturated fat. A possible risk is that the
diet limits foods (whole grains, fruits, and vegetables)
that help reduce the risk for cancer, heart disease,
diabetes, and other health conditions.
Specific food diets
are based on limiting your diet to a few
specific foods. They are a type of fad diet. These diets
do not count calories, are boring, and depend mostly on will
power to follow a diet that is so lacking in variety. You
may develop vitamin and mineral deficiencies after a few
days on one of these diets. Examples of these diets are the
grapefruit diet and the cabbage diet.
Varied weight reduction diets:
Every day there seems to be a
new diet book out claiming to hold the secrets of long-term
weight control. Here are some of the most popular:
Eat Right 4 Your Type is based on eating a diet that
matches your blood type. This diet’s recommendations for
eliminating certain food groups based on blood type is
not supported by any scientific research.
The Zone Diet is a complicated eating plan allowing 40%
carbohydrate, 30% protein, and 30% fat. Although this
40/30/30 plan can be healthy and help you lose weight, it
requires a lot of counting, calculations, and measuring.
The 3-Hour Diet recommends eating within 1 hour after you
wake up in the morning and every 3 hours after that until 3
hours before you go to bed. There is some evidence that
eating smaller, more frequent meals can help some people
lose weight. The plan is balanced and is fine if you
don’t mind watching the clock. There is no magic to the
3-hour intervals or proof that keeping your calorie
intake constant throughout the day will lead to greater
The Sonoma Diet includes a restrictive first "wave" which
eliminates all fruits from your diet and limits dairy
products. By the third wave, a variety of healthy
"power" foods are included. This diet encourages
wholesome and flavorful foods in controlled portions and
can work if coupled with regular exercise.
The Cheater's Diet recommends eating a well-balanced,
portion-controlled diet during the week, and "cheating"
on the weekend. It allows you to eat whatever you want
from 9 AM Saturday to 9 PM Sunday to help keep you from
feeling deprived. Supporters of the diet claim this
boosts your metabolism. There is no scientific evidence
showing that eating bigger portions or higher calorie
foods over a weekend will improve metabolism. To change
habits long term, it is better to include your favorites
in small portions on occasion than to binge on the
Balanced nutrition diet plans
are higher carbohydrate, low
saturated fat diets that more closely follow the 2005
Dietary Guidelines for Americans and guidelines recommended
by the American Heart Association and Cancer Society.
The Dean Ornish and Pritikin diet plans are very high in carbohydrate and extremely low in fat. Although these plans can be healthy, they are hard to stick to for a long time. New national guidelines for a healthy diet call for diets that include 20 to 35% of calories from fat, which means that these diets may be too low in fat.
The [Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight Pyramid] and the [American] Heart diets are based on high fiber, unrefined carbohydrates, lean protein foods, and recommended levels of healthy fats.
The Mediterranean Diet focuses on plant foods but has very few restrictions. Learning to prepare tasty, small meals is the cornerstone of this plan. This diet includes a lot of fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, bread (often pita bread), and olive oil. Although the focus of this diet is plant based, healthy animal proteins such as fish, lean meats, and dairy are included. The healthy foods and smaller portions result in a gradual weight loss.
The Supermarket Diet begins with a 2-week meal plan that provides grocery lists, recipes, and snacks. It includes details on how to stock your kitchen with healthy foods and ingredients, easy-to-follow meal plans, and lots of nutrition tips. The instructions are easy to follow and can be adjusted for different calorie levels.
Calorie-conscious commercial programs and weight loss clinics
Offer group support and motivation for the dieter, a
wide variety of foods, and meal plans of 500 to 1500
calories a day. These programs are often expensive. Some
should not be followed without medical supervision. Some
programs, such as Weight Watchers, can provide excellent
support in changing bad eating habits and sticking to your
weight loss diet.
Very low calorie diets and total fasting (eating less than
500 calories a day) can be fatal and require medical
How will physical activity help me lose weight?
In addition to diet, daily walking can help you manage your
weight. Start with a comfortable goal: 5, 10, or 15 minutes
a day. Walk this amount at least 4 to 7 times a week. Each
week add 5 minutes to your time until you have worked up to
at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day. Moderate
aerobic exercise is generally defined as requiring the
energy it takes to walk 2 miles in 30 minutes. Once you
have reached the 30-minute goal, you may need to work up to
exercising 60 minutes a day to prevent weight gain and 90
minutes a day to lose weight. Invite someone to walk with
you--for example, your spouse or a child you've been meaning
to spend more time with. Be sure to check with your
healthcare provider before starting an exercise program.
As you walk you will burn calories. By exercising regularly
you will also increase your metabolic rate. This means you
will be burning more calories for several hours after
exercise. If you are unable to walk, ask your healthcare
provider to recommend another type of exercise.
In addition to helping you lose or maintain your weight,
regular physical activity lowers your pulse, blood pressure,
cholesterol, and blood sugar. It also increases your energy
level and improves your sleep.
What if I can’t stop overeating?
If you compulsively overeat, the Overeaters Anonymous
organization may help. The program is free. Write or call:
Web site: http://www.oa.org.v id="margin1" class="cushycms">
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