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Home > Living Well > Health Library > Weight Loss and Obesity (Holistic)
Extra vitamins and minerals will help ensure your body gets the nutrition it needs, especially if you are avoiding certain foods.
For long-term success, choose a healthy diet that you can stay with.
Exercise you truly enjoy is much easier to stick to, so find activities that fit your personal style, fitness level, and workout opportunities.
Improve your chances for long-term weight loss by joining a group while you adjust to new diet and exercise habits.
Combining exercise with 6 to 10 grams a day of this supplement may help speed up your metabolism
Taking 600 to 900 mg of 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) per day may help curb your appetite.
Follow in the footsteps of successful long-term dieters by avoiding too much fat and eating a regular breakfast.
Choose foods with a low-glycemic index to help avoid blood sugar swings that can stimulate cravings.
Make exercise a regular habit to help keep body weight stable.
Adopt realistic diet and lifestyle changes you can stick with, and get help forming healthier habits, to avoid frequent ups and downs in weight.
Add cayenne pepper to your meals to help curb appetite and increase calorie burning.
About two-thirds of the adult U.S. population is overweight.1 Almost one-third not only exceeds ideal weight, but also meets the clinical criteria for obesity. In the 1990s, rates of obesity more than doubled, and are currently rising by over 5% per year.2, 3 Excess body weight is implicated as a risk factor for many different disorders, including heart disease, diabetes, several cancers (such as breast cancer in postmenopausal women, and cancers of the uterus, colon, and kidney), prostate enlargement (BPH), female infertility, uterine fibroids, and gallstones, as well as several disorders of pregnancy, including gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and gestational hypertension.4 The location of excess body fat may affect the amount of health risk associated with overweight. Increased abdominal fat, which can be estimated by waist size, may be especially hazardous to long-term health.5, 6
For overweight women, weight loss can significantly improve physical health. A four-year study of over 40,000 women found that weight loss in overweight women was associated with improved physical function and vitality as well as decreased bodily pain.7 The risk of death from all causes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, or other diseases increases in overweight men and women in all age groups.8 Losing weight and keeping it off is, unfortunately, very difficult for most people.9, 10 However, repeated weight loss followed by weight regain may be unhealthy, as it has been associated with increased heart disease risk factors and bone loss in some studies.11, 12 Rather than focusing on weight loss as the most important health outcome of a change in diet or lifestyle, some doctors advocate paying more attention to overall fitness and reduction in known risk factors for heart disease and other health hazards.13
Excess body mass has the one advantage of increasing bone mass—a protection against osteoporosis. Probably because of this, researchers have been able to show that people who successfully lose weight have greater loss of bone compared with those who do not lose weight.14 People who lose weight should, therefore, pay more attention to preventing osteoporosis.
Many doctors give overweight patients a pill, a pep talk, and a pamphlet about diet and exercise, but that combination leads only to minor weight loss.15 When overweight people attend group sessions aimed at changing eating and exercise patterns, keep daily records of food intake and exercise, and eat a specific low-calorie diet the outcome is much more successful. Group sessions where participants are given information and help on how to make lifestyle changes appear to improve the chances of losing weight and keeping it off. Such changes may include shopping from a list, storing foods out of sight, keeping portion sizes under control, and avoiding fast-food restaurants.
According to most short-term studies, the effect of exercise alone (without dietary restriction) on weight loss is small,16, 17 partly because muscle mass often increases even while fat tissue is reduced,18 and perhaps because some exercising people will experience increased appetites. The long-term effect of regular exercise on weight loss is much better, and exercise appears to help people maintain weight loss.19, 20 People who have successfully maintained weight loss for over two years report continuing high levels of physical activity.21 Combining exercise with healthier eating habits results in the best short- and long-term effects on weight loss,22, 23 and should reduce the risk of many serious diseases.24, 25, 26
People who experience "weight cycling" (repetitive weight loss and gain) have a tendency toward binge eating (periods of compulsive overeating, but without the self-induced vomiting seen in bulimia), according to a review of numerous studies focusing on weight loss.27 The researchers also found an association between weight cycling and depression or poor body image. The most successful weight-loss programs (in which weight stays off, mood stays even, and no binge eating occurs) appear to use a combination of moderate caloric restriction, moderate exercise, and behavior modification, including examination and adjustment of eating habits.
Low-carbohydrate, high-fat diets such as the Atkins diet are very popular among people trying to lose weight. In a preliminary study, overweight individuals who adhered to a very-low-carbohydrate diet (25 grams per day initially, increased to 50 grams per day after a certain weight loss target was achieved), with no limit on total calorie intake, lost on average more than 10% of their body weight over a six-month period. The participants also engaged in aerobic exercise at least three times a week, so it is not clear how much of the weight loss was due to the diet. An analysis of other preliminary studies of this type of diet concluded that its effectiveness is primarily due to reduced calorie intake. Recently, three controlled trials found people using low-carbohydrate, high-fat diets lost more weight in six months than those using diets low in fat and calories. However, 20 to 40% of these dieters did not stay on their diets, and were not counted in the results. In addition, one of these trials continued for an additional six months, at the end of which there was no longer a significant difference in weight loss between the two diet groups. A recent 12-week controlled trial found that overweight adolescents also lost more weight with a low-carbohydrate diet than with a low-fat diet, even though they consumed 50% more calories than did the children on the low-fat diet. That study suggests that the weight loss occurring on the Atkins diet is not due entirely to calorie restriction. Blood tests suggest that low-carbohydrate diets induce a condition called mild metabolic acidosis, which might increase the risk of osteoporosis and kidney stones.
The effect of low-carbohydrate diets on cardiovascular risk is also an unresolved issue. The short-term studies discussed above found that blood cholesterol levels did not worsen with these diets. Other heart-disease risk factors (triglyceride levels and insulin sensitivity) actually improved with a low-carbohydrate diet. Some studies, however, have shown a worsening of certain cardiovascular risk factors in people using a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet for up to one year. Adverse changes included increases in blood levels of homocysteine, lipoprotein(a), and fibrinogen, and a decrease in blood flow to the heart. Individuals wishing to consume a very-low-carbohydrate diet for weight loss or for other reasons should be monitored by a doctor.
Some research has investigated weight-loss diets that are high in protein, but moderate in fat and not as low in carbohydrate content as the diets discussed above. While this type of diet does not usually lead to greater weight loss than other diets when calorie intakes are kept equal, one controlled trial found greater body fat loss in women eating a diet almost equal in calories and fat but approximately twice as high in protein and lower in carbohydrate compared with a control group's diet. Another controlled trial compared two diets similar in fat content but different in protein and carbohydrate content. People allowed to eat freely from the higher protein diet (25% of calories from protein, 45% calories from carbohydrate) consumed fewer calories and lost more weight compared with people eating the lower protein diet (12% of calories from protein, 59% calories from carbohydrate).
One small study has shown that the most effective weight-loss diet for any particular person might depend on whether or not they have insulin resistance. In obese people with insulin resistance, weight loss was greater with a low-carbohydrate (40% of calories), high-fat (40% of calories) diet than with a high-carbohydrate (60% of calories), low-fat (20% of calories) diet. In contrast, obese people who did not have insulin resistance lost more weight on the high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet.
Calories in the diet come from fat, carbohydrate, protein, or alcohol. Weight-loss diets are typically designed to limit calories either by restricting certain foods that are thought to result in increased calorie intake, and/or by emphasizing foods that are believed to result in reduced calorie intake. Some currently popular diets restrict fat while emphasizing fiber and a balanced intake of healthful foods. Others restrict carbohydrates, either to extremely low amounts as in the Atkins diet, or to a lesser degree, emphasizing foods low in the glycemic index or high in protein. Discussions of the research on these diets follow; however, it should be remembered that no diet has been proven effective for long-term weight loss, and many people find it difficult to stay on most diets.
Low-fat, low-calorie, high-fiber, balanced diets are recommended by many doctors for weight loss. According to controlled studies, when people are allowed to eat as much food as they desire on a low-fat diet, they tend to lose more weight than people eating a regular diet. However, low-fat diets have not been shown to be more effective than other weight-loss diets that restrict calories. Nonetheless, a low-fat, high-fiber, balanced diet has additional potential benefits, such as reducing the risk of chronic diseases including heart disease and cancer.
Preliminary research indicates that people who successfully lost weight got less of their total calories from fat and more of them from protein foods. They also ate fewer snacks of low nutritional quality and got more of their calories from "hot meals of good quality." Other preliminary studies find that dieters who maintain long-term weight loss report using fat restriction and eating a regular breakfast as key strategies in their success.
People who go on and off diets frequently complain that it takes fewer calories to produce weight gain with each weight fluctuation. Evidence now clearly demonstrates that the body gets "stingier" in its use of calories after each diet. This means it becomes easier to gain weight and harder to lose it the next time. Dietary changes need to be long term.
Our proprietary "Star-Rating" system was developed to help you easily understand the amount of scientific support behind each supplement in relation to a specific health condition. While there is no way to predict whether a vitamin, mineral, or herb will successfully treat or prevent associated health conditions, our unique ratings tell you how well these supplements are understood by some in the medical community, and whether studies have found them to be effective for other people.
For over a decade, our team has combed through thousands of research articles published in reputable journals. To help you make educated decisions, and to better understand controversial or confusing supplements, our medical experts have digested the science into these three easy-to-follow ratings. We hope this provides you with a helpful resource to make informed decisions towards your health and well-being.
3 StarsReliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
2 StarsContradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
1 StarFor an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support.
Caution: Calcium supplements should be avoided by prostate cancer patients.
In a study of obese people consuming a low-calorie diet for 24 weeks, those receiving a calcium supplement (800 mg per day) lost significantly more weight than those given a placebo. Calcium was effective when provided either as a supplement, or in the form of dairy products. In a second study, however, the amount of weight loss resulting from calcium supplementation (1,000 mg per day) was small and not statistically significant. In that study, participants' typical diet contained more calcium than in the study in which calcium supplementation was more effective. Thus, it is possible that calcium supplementation enhances weight loss only when the diet is low in calcium.
Green tea extract rich in polyphenols (epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG) may support a weight-loss program by increasing energy expenditure or by inhibiting the digestion of fat in the intestine. Healthy young men who took two green tea capsules (containing a total of 50 mg of caffeine and 90 mg of EGCG) three times a day burned significantly more calories and oxidized significantly more fat than those who took caffeine alone or a placebo. In a preliminary study of moderately obese individuals, administration of a specific green tea extract (AR25) resulted in a 4.6% reduction in average body weight after 12 weeks. The amount of green tea extract used in this study supplied daily 270 mg of EGCG and 150 mg of caffeine.
While caffeine is known to stimulate metabolism, it appears that other substances besides caffeine were responsible for at least part of the weight loss. Although the extract produced few side effects, one individual developed abnormal liver function tests during the study. In another study, consuming approximately 12 ounces of oolong tea (a semifermented version of green tea) daily for 12 weeks reduced waist circumference and the amount of body fat in a group of normal-weight to overweight men. However, in another study, 300 mg per day of EGCG was no more effective than a placebo for promoting weight loss in overweight postmenopausal women. Additional studies are needed to confirm the safety and effectiveness of green tea extracts for promoting weight loss.
Biochemical and animal research show that HMB has a role in protein synthesis and might, therefore, improve muscle growth and overall body composition when given as a supplement. However, double-blind human research suggests that HMB may only be effective when combined with an exercise program in people who are not already highly trained athletes. Double-blind trials found no effect of 3 to 6 grams per day of HMB on body weight, body fat, or overall body composition in weight-training football players or other trained athletes. However, one double-blind study found that 3 grams per day of HMB increased the amount of body fat lost by 70-year old adults who were participating in a strength-training program for the first time. A double-blind study of young men with no strength-training experience reported greater improvements in muscle mass (but not in percentage body fat) when HMB was used in the amount of 17 mg per pound of body weight per day. However, another group of men in the same study given twice as much HMB did not experience any changes in body composition.
The ability of yohimbine, a chemical found in yohimbe bark, to stimulate the nervous system, and to promote the release of fat from fat cells, has led to claims that it might help weight loss by raising metabolic rate, reducing appetite, or increase fat burning. Although a preliminary trial found yohimbine ineffective for weight loss, a double-blind study found that women taking 5 mg of yohimbine four times per day along with a weight-loss diet lost significantly more weight than those taking a placebo with the same diet after three weeks. However, a similar study using 18 mg per day of yohimbine for eight weeks reported no benefit to weight loss compared with a placebo. A double-blind study of men who were not dieting reported no effect of up to 43 mg per day of yohimbine on weight or body composition after six months. All of these studies used pure yohimbine; no study has tested the effects of yohimbe herb on weight loss.
One double-blind trial found 100 mg per day of DHEA was effective for decreasing body fat in older men, and another double-blind trial found 1,600 mg per day decreased body fat and increased muscle mass in younger men,. However, DHEA has not been effective for improving body composition in women or in other studies of men.
High-protein diets have been shown to help prevent and treat obesity. Researchers have found in a number of studies that, compared to eating carbohydrates in the morning, eating an egg breakfast is associated with appetite reduction and reduced calorie intake that could lead to weight loss in overweight and obese people. A mid-day egg meal has also been found to induce more of a sense of fullness than a carbohydrate-rich meal. How egg protein compares to whole eggs and to other protein supplements for reducing appetite and calorie consumption is not yet known.
Guar gum, another type of fiber supplement, has not been effective in controlled studies for weight loss or weight maintenance.
Researchers have found that a high-protein diet might help reduce appetite and improve blood glucose control, help people lose weight and keep it off, and help preserve muscle mass during weight loss. Although most hemp protein supplements have less protein than other protein supplements, they are higher in fiber, which has also been shown to reduce appetite, improve glucose metabolism, and contribute to weight management. Whether hemp protein has real benefits or drawbacks compared to other sources of protein for people trying to lose weight is not known.
Animal research and preliminary human reports suggest that serotonin precursors such as L-tryptophan or 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) might help control appetite and promote weight loss. In a controlled study, increasing L-tryptophan supplementation one hour before a meal from 1 gram to 2 grams to three grams resulted in progressively fewer calories and carbohydrates being consumed during the meal at the higher L-tryptophan dosages. While this effect might lead to weight loss over time, a small double-blind trial did not find a significant benefit from taking 1 gram of L-tryptophan before each meal as part of a six-week weight loss program. Weight-loss diets result in lower L-tryptophan and serotonin levels in women, which could theoretically trigger cravings and make dieting more difficult. More research is needed to determine whether L-tryptophan might improve the results of a long-term weight loss diet.
Manufacturers of relora, a product derived from Magnolia officinalis and Phellodendron amurense bark, claim that the extract helps balance hormones such as cortisol, which are associated with weight gain. TraceGains has not seen published research demonstrating that relora promotes weight loss.
Whey protein may aid weight loss due to its effect on appetite. In a preliminary study, people were given 48 grams of either whey protein or milk protein (casein). Whey consumption resulted in more hunger satisfaction and reduced the amount of food eaten 90 minutes later compared with casein consumption. However, a double-blind study found that men taking 1.5 grams per 2.2 lbs body weight per day of whey protein for 12 weeks along with a low-calorie diet and a strength training exercise program lost the same amount of weight and body fat as did a control group that followed a similar program, but took a casein supplement instead of whey protein.
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11. Muls E, Kempen K, Vansant G, Saris W. Is weight cycling detrimental to health? A review of the literature in humans. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 1995;19 Suppl 3:S46-S50 [review].
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14. Salamone LM, Cauley JA, Black DM, et al. Effect of a lifestyle intervention on bone mineral density in premenopausal women: a randomized trial. Am J Clin Nutr 1999;70:97-103.
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21. Wing RR, Hill JO. Successful weight-loss maintenance. Annu Rev Nutr 2001;21:323-41.
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23. Miller WC, Koceja DM, Hamilton EJ. A meta-analysis of the past 25 years of weight-loss research using diet, exercise or diet plus exercise intervention. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 1997;21:941-7.
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Last Review: 06-08-2015
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