New diet fads seem to appear weekly, promising rapid, effortless weight loss. Advocates claim that by eating more grapefruit or avoiding carbohydrates or consuming lots of cabbage soup, pounds will disappear easily.
The appeal is obvious. Many of us weigh too much and want to slim down. In fact, about 45 million Americans diet each year and spend about $1.5 billion trying to get trim. So, an easy solution has wide appeal.
Unfortunately, fad diets never really work. They often gain media attention and word-of-mouth buzz because of a bizarre twist. For example, the “Twinkie Diet” is based on eating snack foods, like potato chips and cookies. This and similar regimens may produce quick losses. Yet, they aren’t long-term solutions for weight control or healthy eating.
Fad diets also ignore medical facts. They don’t provide the vitamins and nutrients you need. They disregard portion size (i.e., eat all the cabbage soup you want.) They promise too much (i.e., ten pounds gone in seven days.) And, they promote the idea that lifestyle changes are unneeded to reach and to keep a healthy weight.
Perhaps, the worst sin of fad diets is raising people’s hopes and then dashing them. People try a fad diet, see quick results, and believe all is well. Then, they tire of eating cabbage soup or miss bread and pasta. Soon, they dump the quick fix and regain weight. The result? Frustration and a rejection of good nutritional and exercise ideas.
In short, fad diets embody the old warning: if it sounds too good to be true, it is.
So, what’s the best path to a healthy lifestyle? Medical research shows that the keys are losing weight safely and keeping it off over time. The best weight-loss approaches always protect your overall health and avoid wild promises.
If you want to adopt a healthy lifestyle, then try to:
• Get a dietitian to help. Everybody does better with a coach who advises, helps set goals, and cheers you on. A dietitian can do all this and ensure that your weight-loss program is safe and effective.
• Be realistic. Aim to lose one or two pounds a week. This is safe, practical, and doable. A faster pace can be dangerous and is doomed to long-term failure.
• Eat balanced meals. Enjoy all the basic food groups—grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy products, lean meats and nuts, seeds, and legumes. A dietitian can construct a meal plan that gets you the proper nutrients and vitamins. Fortunately, healthy dining no longer means bland dining. Great recipes exist that can meet dietary needs and please your palate. Your dietitian can be a great source of food preparation ideas and tips.
• Watch portions. For example, a meat serving should be about the size of a card deck and a butter serving as large as a poker chip.
• Eat three meals daily. About 70 percent of us don’t do this. Dining regularly prevents snacking and gorging. Breakfast is the most missed meal. It shouldn’t be, as it provides energy to start the day and regulates hunger in the morning. Successful dieters consistently eat a healthy breakfast. This includes complex carbohydrates, like hot oatmeal; protein, like egg whites; and healthy fat, like that found in low-fat dairy products. Skip breakfast and you may overeat late. This alone can add about eight pounds to your weight in a year.
• Avoid fried foods and high-calorie drinks. These are a standard feature of American fare, especially in restaurants. These culprits lead to rapid weight gain, and eating lots of fried foods can pose heart problems over time.
• Read food labels. Thanks to labeling, we can track precisely the calories, sodium, fat, and fiber we consume. That’s important because we need less than 30 percent of calories coming from fat and less than seven percent from saturated fat. Daily sodium intake should be below 2,300 mg. For people with hypertension, the target is under 1,500 mg. Twenty-five to 35 grams of fiber daily is a good target.
• Exercise. Burn more energy than you consume, and you lose weight. Exercise can make that happen. Studies show that exercise also benefits your heart, lungs, and mental well being. Aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity daily. You don’t need to join a team or buy expensive gear. Exercise can range from a walk around the block to lifting weights or swimming a few laps. Pick something you like and ask a friend to join you. These two simple steps will go a long way to making a workout a pleasurable event.
Please keep in mind one final suggestion. All the foregoing tips are good ideas that will work. However, making many changes at once can be difficult and intimidating. So, don’t get overwhelmed. Pick several that seem easy. Work them into your routine. Then, once you’ve done that, add a couple more. In time, you’ll be using them all and losing weight in a safe and sound way.
Jackie Browning, MS, RD, is a clinical dietitian with Bon Secours Weight Loss Institute in Hampton Roads. To learn more about the Institute, visit http://bshr.com/our-services-weight-loss-institute.html