Thanks for the question Jon, I will do my best to answer it.
Regarding weight loss, I am not an expert by any means. It really seems more like I am just bumbling my way through this and as I have come nearer and nearer to my goal the bumbling gets worse.
More or less I have been doing Atkins. Without question for me this is the best and only way for me to lose weight and keep it off. The basic premise of Atkins is stop eating sugar and things that quickly turn to sugar through digestion. This includes obviously sugar in raw forms but also pasta, bread, beer , etc.
Now having said that, over the last 18 months I have heard just about every horror story around regarding Atkins and how bad it is for you. Here is my response to the most common.
"My friend's wife died from it"
No she didn’t
"That diet will damage your kidney's"
This is a pretty common misconception based on the fact that your body switches from using carbohydrates as fuel to fat. The liver then begins producing Ketones for fuel. Our bodies are actually perfectly adapted to using ketones for fuel. The confusion comes because people mistake Ketosis (fat burning) with ketoacidosis (SP). Ketoacidosis is a life-threatening condition associated with untreated Type-1 Diabetes, caused by a lack of insulin (GOOGLE). One other thing of note your heart and kidneys actually prefer Ketones to glucose for energy.
"I lost but gained it back as soon as I went off",
Duh, no matter what Way of Eating (WOE) you choose if you lose weight and then go back to eating crap you will gain the weight back, I promise.
"All of that fat is bad for you"
No it's not and perhaps you should do a little more research instead of basing it off what you heard on the news. Fat is needed by the body to function. Having said that, to much of a good thing is a not always a good thing. The right fats (Animal, Nuts, Avocado’s, Olive Oil, butter) would be included. Not Canola and other laboratory made fats. Google is your friend here.
"How can you eat nothing but meat and cheese and assume that's good for you"
I eat a balanced diet of protein, vegetables and fruit. While I do eat cheese and some dairy it’s very limited. Please explain to me how my lunch that consist of grilled chicken and steamed broccoli with a pat of real butter is somehow worse than your #2 Value Meal?
“I tried it once but was ‘foggy’ and hungry all of the time”
This may be true. It is often referred to as Atkins Flu and will last 2 to 5 days for most people. It is caused by low levels of glucose in your blood stream during your bodies natural transition to producing ketones. Once the liver gets up to production your ‘flu’ will dissipate.
“A ketogenic diet will make me lose muscle mass”
Only if you are not getting adequate amounts of protein in your diet. Your brain needs ketone’s along with glucose to function and we can create glucose from protein and again we are adapted to doing this quite well. If however, you are not consuming enough protein in your regular diet, 1 serving of protein in every meal, your body will without a doubt search for other sources of protein including cannibalizing your own tissue.
I could do this all day but the bottom line is that there are a lot of assumptions made about what it means to be on an Atkins diet. I have corrected many people as well that say they are on Atkins and then tell me they ate a rack of BBQ ribs as their dinner!? WTF. That's not Atkins that the Heart Attack diet. heh
BTW...the primary reason Atkins works so well for so many people is that it stabilizes your blood sugar. When you eat a meal high in carbs the blood sugar shoots up. This triggers an insulin release to bring it back down. When your blood sugar begins to drop you get hungry again. So there you are standing in front of the fridge again an hour after just consuming a big bowl of rice.
OK, so back to your original question…
“What is the #1 thing that has helped you lose weight?”
Answer: Finding a plan that works for my lifestyle and sticking to it. Devour any information you can get on whatever plan you choose with a goal to become an expert but also keep an open mind and don’t assume there is only one right or wrong way to do this. While Atkins and low-carb works great for me, it’s not for everybody. If you want to lose weight and keep it off I think you are going to first figure out some plan that you can live with for a lifetime. For me low-carb is not a diet but a permanent way of eating.