Diet: Fad or Fact
It’s that time of year again. The time for New Year’s resolutions, and for a lot of you that means going on some sort of diet. Many of us yearly vow to lose weight, however, most of us somehow end up doing the opposite of what we intend to and by the following year have somehow managed to gain weight rather than lose it. And then the cycle starts all over again…thus after many years of yoyo dieting we end up fatter than ever and frustrated at our apparent inability to do anything about it. What am I doing wrong you ask? While there are many possible answers to that question here are some basic tips that as a food scientist, and an observer of many a bad diet, I have come up with.
Tip 1: Beware of the “magic bullet”. We hear about them all the time on the radio, TV, or internet. Yes, you know what I’m talking about, a magical pill or drink you take which makes pounds just melt away with absolutely no effort. Just keep eating at McDonald’s for every meal and continue sitting around playing World of Warcraft for twelve hours every night and take this happy little pill and all your fat will disappear- sound too good to be true? Well, it probably is.
Tip 2: Beware of any diet product that tells you, “No eating or lifestyle changes necessary.” This goes hand in hand with tip 1, once again they are telling you to go ahead, eat a whole pie every night and sit glued to the TV for hours at a time; you will still be able to miraculously lose weight. While this may appeal to many of you, the unfortunate truth is that in order to lose weight and KEEP IT OFF you DO need to change your eating habits and you DO need to change your lifestyle. I know, the truth can hurt, but that’s just the way it is. Even if there is some amazing pill out there that can make you drop the pounds with absolutely no effort on your part (which I highly doubt), are you going to keep taking that pill for THE REST OF YOUR LIFE? If not, then eventually your poor eating habits and life style are going to catch up with you and you will gain the weight back, and then some. And you will be worse off than where you started from and more frustrated than ever.
Tip 3: Beware of the fad diet. These are always coming and going-the so called newest and best way to lose weight. Remember the fat free craze back in the 90’s? Or more recently, the carb free craze? These popular diets come and go. Don’t substitute sound nutrition for some new diet fad that in a year or two will be all but forgotten.
Tip 4: Beware of any diet that focuses on consuming hard to find foods or food items that have to be purchased specially. The key to any successful diet is that the eating and exercise habits you establish while on the diet have to be transferable to your life permanently; otherwise you will eventually gain the weight back. A good diet should focus on “normal” healthy food that is found and purchased easily.
Tip 5: This goes along with tip 4. Beware of any diet that centers on consuming one food over and over again in replacement for a meal or normal food. For instance, if your diet consists of drinking the same diet shake every morning for breakfast, what is eventually going to happen? You are going to get sick of having that same shake over and over and you will need/want to go back to eating normal food. If you haven’t changed your eating habits in general than going back to normal food is going to mean gaining weight for you.
Tip 6: Quick fixes don’t last. We’ve all heard the diet product commercials that claim you can lose 10 pounds in one week. Sure, we would all like to lose weight quickly and effortlessly. But the truth is that our bodies resist weight changes. If you lose weight too fast your body will protest and the end result will be gaining back even more weight than you started with. In order to make weight loss permanent and healthy you really should only lose 1 to 2 pounds a week. This does mean you will have to be patient and not expect dramatic immediate results but it also means that you won’t be right back where you started next year.
Tip 7: Don’t get overwhelmed thinking you can never enjoy the foods you love again because you are on a diet-that just isn’t the case. Cutting the foods you love out altogether is really not necessary or desirable. If your favorite treat is donuts, enjoy a donut once in a while; just don’t have them for breakfast every morning. A wise professor once told me, “There is no such thing as a junk food, only a junk diet.” Any food can be part of a healthy diet if we eat it in moderation.
Tip 8: Every attempt to lose weight should include exercise! We lose weight by expending more calories than we consume. Exercise is a great way to increase how many calories we burn. It has the added benefit of increasing our lean body mass, which in turn also boosts our caloric consumption. But exercise does much more for us than just that. Those good ol’ endorphins make us feel good, not to mention the sense of accomplishment that generally accompanies exercise. And our heart will thank us.
But why does exercise have such a bad rep? Many of us avoid exercise like it was the plaque. The key is to make your form of exercise something that you really enjoy doing. Exercise does not have to be a chore. Jason and I love to go mountain biking, hiking, play soccer and racquetball, and snowboard. Though these are great forms of exercise, they are also a lot of fun for us. So if going to the gym really isn’t you thing-don’t go to the gym. Find something you love and stick with it.
Finding an exercise partner can also greatly increase your exercise success. Not only will they make exercise more enjoyable but they will keep you from making excuses not to exercise. Jason is my partner in crime and I am very grateful he is such an active person.
Tip 9: Don’t let the media convince you that you need to look like a super model. Not only is that a pretty impossible goal for most of us, usually it’s really not a healthy goal either. Your goal weight should be healthy and realistic.
Tip 10: Try replacing fattier dairy products for lower fat options. Try using skim or 1% milk instead of 2% and eating low fat or fat-free yogurt. This is a relatively easy change to make. You will get used to the taste of the lower fat options and soon will prefer them over the higher fat alternatives.
In the end, the best way to lose weight and keep it off is to change your eating habits and lifestyle altogether. You need to change the way you think about food. Change how and what you eat, and become a lot more active. And you need to change all this in a sustainable, permanent way. A “diet” that we stick to only until we reach our goal weight will never be successful because going back to our old eating habits means going back to our old weight. Also, it is important to think about what you are including in your diet not just what you are excluding. Fruits and vegetables should be consumed a plenty. Whole grains should be substituted for refined flours. Have health be your goal not just weight loss.
It may take longer to lose weight this way and it will take effort. But it could mean the difference between “Lose Weight” being on your new year’s resolution list next year again- or not.