<< Previous Episode | Nutrition Bytes Page | Next Episode >>
It’s a new year, so everyone has weight loss on their mind—at least they will for a few weeks! That’s where the fad diets come in. Anyone can stick with some crazy diet plan for a few weeks and lose a few pounds, but those results are only temporary. I don’t like diets because they don’t work.
The term “going on a diet” implies that you will eventually go off of the diet—and back to your old eating habits. Diets are a quick fix that can lead to weight fluctuations and life-long struggles with your weight and weight-related health issues. I meet many older obese individuals who tell me they have “been on every diet there is.” Since the dieting mentality is one of short-term deprivation, it’s easy to convince yourself that you only have to give up soda, cake and cookies for a little while until you reach your target weight, but that’s a lie because true weight loss success is found in the ability to maintain your weight loss for the rest of your life. When you are truly committed to making changes to your current lifestyle, you will finally be able to end your struggle with your weight. Anyone listening to this who has ever lost weight knows that losing weight is easy compared to maintaining weight loss.
Most people think that losing weight is about cutting calories, exercising intensely, and relying on willpower. In my experience, none of those things work for the long term. The keys to weight loss success aren’t what you think they are.
Yes, what you eat is important, but it’s not about calories, because all calories are not created equal. 100 calories of cookies is not the same to your body as 100 calories of raw almonds. And drinking a calorie free diet soda is not the same as drinking 0 calorie filtered water. Calories from sugars and sweets are the least satisfying and promote carbohydrate cravings, while calories from protein, fats and fiber-rich foods are more satisfying, which can allow you to eat less. Like I said, it’s not really about calories, its about quality and balance.
Minimally processed foods in their most natural form are the types of high-quality foods you want to focus on. Vegetables, fruits, beans, extra virgin olive oil, whole intact grains, small amounts of yogurt and cheese, nuts, seeds, eggs, and occasional fish, poultry, and red meat are the foods that should form the basis of your diet. Minimize packaged and processed foods—especially those that are promoted for weight loss! Meals and snacks need to contain some produce, plus protein and fat for balance to help control blood sugar levels. Focusing on balanced meals and snacks will help you feel more satisfied so that you’re not starving an hour after eating breakfast or craving sugar all day long.
Losing weight permanently is about changing your behavior, so the key to success does not lie in a juice cleanse or even avoiding wheat. Instead, being aware of your hunger, satiety, emotions, and environment, as well as how your food tastes, is critically important to successfully transforming your relationship with food.
You need to work on promoting good eating habits so that you will not feel the need to “detox” or go on a special crash diet. There is no substitute for good nutrition. Eating well is not a quick fix, but a life-long journey that takes commitment. Just focusing on what you eat is almost like a diversion from looking closely and honestly at what’s eating you. That’s really hard work!
1. Eliminate emotional eating.
Eating is not an effective way to deal with anger, stress, boredom, disappointment, or anxiety. Food is not a reward or a band-aid, but many people over-eat for these reasons. If you often eat for emotional rather than physiological reasons, identify your emotional eating triggers and learn to refocus your negative emotions towards more productive and healthful activities. Direct that energy instead towards breath work, meditation, visualization, physical activity, yoga or other enjoyable or productive activities. This strategy can help curb emotional eating and bring your focus back to your health goals. One of my favorite strategies that I recommend to people is to turn a cookie jar into an activity jar. This works really well for people who eat out of habit and boredom, especially at night.
I think it’s really important to make peace with food. You have probably learned to label food as “good” or “bad” and judge yourself as “good” or “bad” for making certain food choices
. That approach to eating needs to change! Work towards practicing self-compassion and flexibility with your eating and you will have better success with weight loss.
2. Incorporate structure.
I can’t emphasize enough that eating can’t be haphazard if you want to have a healthy relationship with food. You must be reliable about feeding yourself regularly and making mealtimes a priority. Take your lunch break around noon, when you start to get hungry instead of ignoring your hunger and waiting until 2 or 3 in the afternoon to scrounge up some fast food. Instead of scarfing your food down at your desk or in your car, sit down at a table and eat without distractions like your Smartphone or the TV; ideally you will eat with at least one other pleasant person. At home, try to make breakfast or dinner “family meals” where you share your food around the table with others (relatives or friends).
3. Write everything down.
People who use food journals are more successful at losing weight and keeping it off than people who don’t record every bite of food they put in their mouths. Journaling forces you to “own” your eating behavior and your food choices. It can also help you identify unhealthy patterns in your eating habits. Some people use a food journal to plan their meals ahead of time; they record what and how much they will eat and find it easier to stick to their plan once it is on paper.
Download food journal pages here.
4. Foster flexibility.
Being adaptable with your eating habits seems to be one of the most important factors in long-term success in weight loss and maintenance. Planning your meals, having backup strategies and coming up with creative solutions to different eating challenges can make you more successful in achieving your goals. Losing weight is not all about self control and willpower; it’s more about adapting your new lifestyle to your current situation and having a strategy for dealing with difficult eating situations. When you have a good understanding of which foods are healthful and how to create satisfying, balanced meals, you can successfully plan for dealing with dining out with friends, eating lunch on the road, making good choices at your hungriest times of day, eating triggers, emotional eating, special occasions and people who push food on you. There are always going to be challenges to eating healthfully, but being prepared to deal with your personal obstacles is the smartest way to overcome them.
Finding the balance between being flexible and structured is important. Plan an eating schedule and have sit-down meals and snacks daily. Put some thought into your foods, but don’t obsess over everything. While you are losing weight, try to stick to your eating plan 90% of the time and be flexible about 10% of the time (two meals a week); once you have reached your goal and are working on maintaining your weight, you can be more relaxed with 20% of your meals (about four meals a week). A rigid all-or-nothing approach is a recipe for disaster and a major reason why strict diets only work for the short term.
Creating a healthy lifestyle and focusing on health, rather than weight and calories, is a good way to foster flexibility in adjusting your eating as the situation requires.
Take the best of what fad diets have to offer
Go ahead and eat grapefruit and cabbage soup as part of your diet! These are healthful foods that are certainly satisfying, nutritious and low in calories and they should be eaten regularly, but don’t eat them exclusively. Like many of these diets, I agree that you should pay more attention to your carbohydrate intake, but I don’t believe that you should avoid carbs completely. Limit your portions as appropriate to your body shape and try to choose minimally processed intact whole grains such as oats, quinoa, barley, and brown and wild rice. Eat fewer processed and packaged foods and more foods in their most natural form. Drink water exclusively and eliminate soft drinks (both regular and diet), juice and other sweetened beverages.
Successful weight loss does not happen by accident; it takes thought, work, sweat, learning and dedication. Prepare yourself for the long haul and keep in mind that three years should be your time frame for permanent weight loss. Additionally, try to implement as many of the strategies covered here as you can, since the more you use, the more successful your long-term weight loss will be.
Q: Do some styles of eating work better for certain body types?
A: Know your body
Not every style of eating is right for every body. Emerging research indicates that different body types respond better to varying distributions of carbohydrates and fat. Most people (almost all men and about 35-45% of women) tend to store their excess fat primarily in their mid-sections. We call this body type “apple-shaped.” A smaller percentage of people are “pear-shaped” since they tend to store their excess fat around their hips and thighs.
“Apple-shaped” individuals seem to have more success with weight loss and maintenance when they closely monitor the type and amount of carbohydrates they eat. (This is a lower carb diet, but not a low-carb fad diet.) Their diet should consist of mostly vegetables (carrots are fine!), plant proteins, lean animal proteins and fatty fish, with about 30-40% of calories coming from extra virgin first cold pressed organic olive oil, nuts, seeds, fatty fish and avocado. Carbohydrates should be whole intact grains that have a low glycemic load such as oats, quinoa and barley (see March 2011 Nutrition Notes) and/or starchy vegetables such as sweet potatoes, baby potatoes, corn, peas and winter squash, and portions need to be limited. Two to three daily servings of fruit is acceptable. Concentrated sugars, sweets and added sweeteners (both natural and artificial) need to be severely reduced.
“Pear-shaped” people may have more success when they monitor they type and quantity of fat they eat along with the type of carbohydrate they eat. They seem to obtain the best results when they replace some of their fats with carbohydrates, though high-quality fats and carbs, like those mentioned above, must be emphasized. About 20% of calories should come from fat. Sugar and sweets must still be limited.
Both styles of eating are nutrient-dense and plant-based. The amount of protein needed for each body type is roughly the same, and both eating styles should emphasize plant sources of protein, such as beans and legumes. Red meat can be eaten up to once a week, but certainly not daily (as many high-protein fad diets would have you believe). Two vegetarian meals a day is still an optimal goal, even if you are “apple-shaped.” In order for weight loss to occur, portions must be controlled and calories must be reduced—if you’re still hungry at the end of a meal, eat more vegetables, not more starch or protein. Neither type of eating allows much room for empty calories from nutrient-poor junk food, so retrain your taste buds to appreciate less sweet and lower sodium foods (this takes three to six weeks).
Food Journal Resources