When most people think of diets, they think of measures taken to reduce body weight by controlling what is eaten. But the word diet can mean any eating regimen that is meant to serve a specific purpose other than satiating the body.
The Greek derivation of the word diet, diaita, means "manner of living," and comes from the word diaitasthai: to lead one's life. For some people, dieting is just that: a way of life. Nutritionists say that proper dietary habits should be developed and maintained over time. That means learning to eat fats, salt and sweets, for instance, in limited amounts. It also means consuming enough calories to fuel the metabolism but not so much as to gain an unhealthy amount of weight. Sometimes a diet is for religious reasons, such as, for example, one that conforms to the rules of kashrut, the Jewish dietary laws. There are many reasons for dieting and many different types of diets.
Weight loss is called for when a person is overweight or obese. Obesity is usually defined as weighing 20 percent or more above the recommended weight for height and sex, or having a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or above. The BMI formula is the weight in kilograms divided by the square of one's height in meters. The obesity rate in the population has grown in Western countries, in some areas to the point of alarm. Being overweight or obese can lead to a number of health problems, many of them serious. There are numerous methods, including all types of diets that have been designed for the purpose of losing excess weight.
In the United States, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) determined in 2010 that obesity rates had been constant over a five-year period for men and over a decade for women and children. This constancy led the CDC to announce that the percentage of obesity had leveled off. The CDC estimated that just under 34 percent of adults were obese. This figure is more than double the percentage three decades prior to that time. The percentage of obese children tripled during the same time, rising to 17 percent.
Obesity is more common in women than in men. The health risks linked to obesity are more common in those for whom the onset of obesity begins in childhood. Untreated obesity can lead to increased cardiovascular risks, elevated blood pressure, dysfunction of the immune system and infections of the lower respiratory tract.
Attempts to lose weight through dieting are often unsuccessful. Some 60-70 percent of women who manage to lose 20 pounds or more will regain the weight within a two-year time span. Sometimes, a weight reduction diet will be successful in the short term, but the dieter will regain the weight quickly. Often this leads to repeated dieting, known in popular culture as "yo-yo dieting," in which the individual goes through repetitive cycles of weight loss alternating with weight gain. This type of dieting is associated with increased health risks.
Some weight reduction diets may cause actual harm to health. Known as "fad diets," because of the way they attract popular attention, these diets tend to be focused on a particular food or food group to the exclusion of other necessary sources of nutrition. Examples of fad diets include low-carbohydrate, low-fat, high-protein and grapefruit diets. Fad diets may be named after their creators, for instance the Atkin's Diet or Stillman's Diet. Such diets often lack fiber and carbohydrates and may be lacking in minerals and important phytochemicals (plant-based chemicals) such as antioxidants which protect against certain diseases. If followed over a long period, these diets may lead to the development of serious health issues.
In some cases, dangerous coping methods or maladaptive behaviors are used as crutches to aid the dieter in the quest to lose weight, such as heavy cigarette smoking as a weight control strategy. Using cigarettes to help lose weight or maintain a weight loss may seem like a good idea. Tobacco is known to speed up the metabolism and control hunger pangs. However, using cigarettes for this purpose is a losing proposition. Cigarette smoking has been deemed to be even more dangerous as a health risk than the carrying of excess weight.
The best method for losing weight and keeping it off for good is to combine a moderate reduction diet with other weight reduction methods. The most successful dieters attend behavior modification programs and undertake to exercise several times a week. A weight reduction plan should be crafted with the help of a healthcare professional.