A significant and growing proportion of adults in Ireland and other developed countries are overweight or obese. This is primarily due to easy access to food and a decrease in physical activity, resulting in the consumption of more calories than the body requires, leading to weight gain. Recent studies have shown that 41.9 percent of adults are overweight or obese, a significant increase from the 1960s when only 13 percent fell into this category (1). As a result, many individuals are eager to lose weight and often attempt to do so through diet and exercise. Unfortunately, the majority of these attempts are unsuccessful, with dieters either failing to lose weight altogether or quickly regaining any weight lost. In some cases, individuals even end up gaining more weight than they initially shed, essentially dieting themselves into a larger size. Needless to say, this situation can be incredibly frustrating and disheartening. Many may question the point of trying to lose weight at all if dieting frequently fails. However, it is important to note that in many instances, failure to lose weight is a result of common mistakes that can hinder progress. By avoiding these mistakes, individuals can make their weight loss journey easier and more effective.
It is important to understand the distinction between fat loss and weight loss. While these terms are often used interchangeably, they have different meanings. Fat loss occurs when the body consumes more calories than it requires, resulting in the conversion of excess energy into body fat. The source of these calories, whether it be protein, carbohydrates, fat, or alcohol, does not matter as the fate of excess calories remains the same. It is generally estimated that one pound of fat is equivalent to 3,500 calories. Therefore, to lose fat, one must burn more calories than they consume. This typically involves eating less and potentially increasing physical activity through exercise, creating a calorie deficit. Based on the notion that a pound of fat is equal to 3,500 calories, a 500-calorie per day deficit should result in a weight loss of one pound per week. It is important to note that losing fat often leads to weight loss, but this is not always the case. For example, an individual may lose five pounds of fat while simultaneously gaining two pounds of muscle. Although the scales may not reflect the desired weight loss, changes in body composition can significantly impact one’s appearance, well-being, and overall health.
Weight loss, on the other hand, refers to the overall reduction in body weight, encompassing various components such as skin, muscle, bone, internal organs, connective tissue, chemicals, and fluids. These components can be divided into two categories: fat mass (FM) and fat-free mass (FFM). The relationship between FM and FFM is typically expressed as a percentage, known as body fat percentage. Consequently, weight loss can occur by reducing the amount of any of these components in the body. For instance, sweating profusely in a hot room can lead to weight loss through the loss of water. Conversely, prolonged inactivity, such as bedrest following an illness, can result in the loss of muscle mass and subsequent weight loss. However, in the majority of cases, individuals who are overweight aim to lose fat specifically, as it is fat that visibly protrudes over the waistband, contributes to a double chin, and can have adverse effects on health. Unfortunately, many dieters become fixated on their weight alone and measure their success solely by the number on the bathroom scale. Although weight loss often accompanies fat loss, it does not provide a comprehensive picture of progress. Therefore, the primary focus should always be on losing fat and improving body composition. Whenever the term “weight loss” is encountered, it is essential to mentally replace it with “fat loss.”
Numerous dieters unknowingly sabotage their progress by making common mistakes that hinder their ability to lose weight or result in weight regain shortly after. By avoiding these pitfalls, individuals can experience a smoother fat loss journey. One common mistake is attempting to starve oneself to achieve weight loss. Very low-calorie diets (VLCDs) promise rapid and significant weight loss. When an individual accustomed to consuming 2,500 calories per day suddenly reduces their intake to 1,000 calories or less, weight and fat loss are guaranteed. However, any eating plan that guarantees rapid weight loss, such as losing 30 pounds in 30 days, typically falls under the category of VLCDs. While these diets may yield quick results, they are only effective for as long as one can adhere to them. Unfortunately, most people find it challenging to sustain VLCDs due to their unpleasant side effects and drawbacks, including extreme hunger, cravings, food obsession, electrolyte imbalances, low energy levels, nutritional deficiencies, mood swings, insomnia, muscle atrophy, heart arrhythmias, low blood pressure, and stomach and digestive issues (2). It goes without saying that all of these factors contribute to the difficulty, if not impossibility, of maintaining VLCDs. In simple terms, these diets make life miserable, as hunger becomes a constant companion and low energy levels make everyday tasks feel like an uphill battle.