Dossier: Healthy eating

Are diet programmes a good way to lose weight?

Nutritionist Dominique Remy believes that properly designed intensive programmes and diet plans will help you kick-start a slimmer and healthier life.

Text: Barbara Lukesch, photo: Vitalii Pavlyshynets/Unsplash

Ms Remy, there are countless short-term diet and exercise programmes on offer today. Do they all deliver what they promise?

Dominique Remy: It’s important to know that you don’t need to diet to lose weight. Healthy people can lose up to four kilograms in four weeks simply by consciously and purposefully adjusting their diet and exercise habits. You shouldn’t seek to lose weight any more quickly, because you run the risk of losing muscle mass. To lose a kilogramme of weight, you have to cut your calorie intake by around 1,000 calories a day or burn equivalent more calories. You’ll notice the weight really start to drop off at first, Over a longer period, an average of two kilos a month is realistic. Diet and exercise programmes like these also have a positive impact on lab values such as blood pressure, blood sugar and blood lipids. In addition to measurable factors, these types of programmes can also have welcome psychological effects, such as greater vitality, improved concentration, and possibly better sleep.

Losing four kilogrammes in four weeks sounds tempting. But are such programmes sustainable? Or are they likely to encourage a yo-yo effect? abnehmen, mehr zunehmen, wieder abnehmen, noch mehr zunehmen?

That depends very much on the individual. If you overdo it in the first four weeks by doing too much exercise too soon or taking the diet to extremes, you may find it difficult to integrate this lifestyle into your daily routine after the end of the programme. Then it all comes crashing down, you eat more than before and you never want to do exercise again. This leads to strong weight fluctuations, frustration and a guilty conscience. The key to success is to experiment and find out which measures can be incorporated best into your daily routine after the intensive programme, and which you should forget.

““Success makes you want to at least stabilise your weight at a lower level.””
Dominique Remy

How did the idea for the intensive programmes come about?

With programmes like these, people are more likely to take part, because they hope that they will feel the benefits of their efforts within a relatively short period of time. Success makes you want to at least stabilise your weight at a lower level. This is an important first step, even if you may not have reached your ideal weight yet.

What makes for a healthy intensive exercise and diet programme?

Two or three guided training sessions a week and clear recommendations on what participants should eat are helpful. The programmes should also include tips and ideas on how to observe your habits and learn how to handle hunger or cravings, how to deal with challenges at home or at work, and how to break negative behavioural patterns with regard to diet and exercise. This provides a structure that many people find important and helpful.

““Instead of giving up one food source entirely, it’s best to find the middle ground and eat normal amounts of everything.””
Dominique Remy

What would you advise against as a nutritionist?

I would advise against taking things to extremes. Don’t say: “I’ll never eat sweet things again!” or “No more pasta or bread!”. Instead of giving up one food source entirely, it’s best to find the middle ground and eat normal amounts of everything. This way you can still have a few biscuits or a piece of chocolate.

What about exercise?

Exercising regularly as often and as much as you can helps when you’re trying to slim down or maintain a certain weight. It’s easier if you start exercising gradually and get used to it. For example, incorporate more exercise in your daily routine by always taking the stairs instead of the lift, walking more, and entering periods of exercise in your diary so you don’t forget to do them. Some people like to exercise alone, while others prefer to workout with a friend or in groups. It’s about finding out what you enjoy. For successful weight management, you can take things up a level by adding interval endurance training and personalised strength training to build muscle. You’re more likely to stick to a plan if you’re supported by an expert. You could test this for a few weeks as part of the intensive programme to get an idea of how easily a plan can be integrated into your daily routine.

““It’s crucial to make sure that this type of programme isn’t a flash in the pan.””
Dominique Remy

What happens after the first four weeks?

Ideally, you should take a look at how things stand with an expert and evaluate which measures you found easy, because these will be the ones that will be easiest to incorporate into your daily routine. It’s crucial to make sure this type of programme isn’t a flash in the pan. You have to be able to use it to change your behaviour regarding diet, exercise and relaxation for good. 

Dominique Remy, 38, is a professional nutritionist (HF/SVDE) and nutritional psychologist (IKP) and works for Medbase in Zurich-Oerlikon, Kloten and Winterthur.