Type the word “diet” into Google, and 281 million results pop up. At least, that’s what the number was when I sat down to write this article. It’s probably far more than that now.
There’s an entire industry built around weight loss. We’re bombarded with hundreds of diet books every year, each one promising an end to your weight woes.
Please, save your money.
I’m against the commonly understood idea of dieting—”magic-cure”––because the science doesn’t support it. Generally, the primary focus of such diets is deprivation and semi-starvation.
It’s one thing to make permanent lifestyle changes in terms of your overall diet. But it’s another thing entirely to briefly overlay a temporary fix atop your life and expect it to maintain sweeping changes indefinitely. Deprivation diets stress your body, which perceives a threat and winds down your metabolism in order to conserve energy. This completely defeats the purpose of what you’re trying to accomplish.
Another casualty of dieting is the ability to feel good about food. You have to try to tough out the cravings brought on by a lack of the nutrients needed to run your body. As soon as you start associating “healthy food” with hardship, rather than as pleasurable and beneficial, it’s a recipe for failure.
Here’s something I hear frequently: “Dr. Inglis, Weight Watchers (or any similar diet) worked for me last year. I’ll try that again.” I ask, “Have you been able to keep the pounds off?” The usual reply is a puzzled, “No… I gained it all back and then some.”
This is an example of a diet that doesn’t work. And research shows that over 90 percent of people who go on diets regain their weight by the end of one year. The mostly low-fat, high-carb diets touted by the so-called “experts” may result in weight loss on a short-term basis. They’re notorious, however, for high rates of dropout over the long term. You’re better off just cutting the carbs and making sure you get enough natural fat, which for many people actually means adding fat to their diet. (I’ll delve deeper into that in just a minute.)
The worst thing you can do is to keep losing weight just to put it back on again. You’ll end up with a metabolic nightmare that will raise your risk for all those chronic, degenerative diseases you’re trying to avoid in the first place, including heart disease, diabetes, dementia, and cancer.
Here are some key tips on normalizing your body weight while supporting good health and keeping yourself off the dead-end and dangerous diet bandwagon.
One: This food group is beneficial—really
One of the more common problems I see is with people who are now on a “healthy diet” but aren’t getting enough fat. They believe cutting way back on fats is the answer to losing weight. It’s an assumption born of media misinformation. Here are the scientific facts: too many processed and refined carbs and sugary snacks tell your body to store fat—not fat itself.
Now, that doesn’t mean to run out and indulge every chance you get in a fast-food, burger-and-ice-cream meal. Cutting back on fatty foods and all the bad stuff they harbor, such as antibiotics, hormones, and pesticide residue (and who knows what else), is a very smart idea.
Skip processed cooking oils (the soy and corn varieties, for example) and trans fats (aka hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated fats) in any amount. Healthy omega-3 fats from fish and nuts are perfect alternatives. Monosaturated fats from things like nuts and olive oil are also very healthy.
Moderate amounts of saturated fats from organic dairy products and meats are also good.
Two: An emotional bond with food
Your overwhelming hunger may stem from a chokehold bond with your emotions.
Symptoms run the gamut. You may be self-medicating a mood problem by using food. You may eat more when you’re angry, or when you’re stressed.
In some homes, food is used either as a special reward or as punishment for children. This conditioning can continue to follow you long into adulthood. If these underlying problems aren’t addressed, no amount of “scientific dieting” or learning to eat this food or that one will help you to accomplish your goal.
I think you would find it beneficial to work with a behavioral psychologist or an eating-disorders professional.
Three: Rest to reduce
If you’ve tried to get rid of extra pounds that just won’t budge, evaluate your sleep habits. One study showed that women getting five hours or less of sleep each night were 32 percent more likely to gain a significant amount of weight over a 16-year period, and 15 percent more likely to become obese.
Scientists theorize that your basal metabolic rate (which is how many calories you burn while resting) may be affected. Also, a minimum amount of sleep can cause more cortisol to be released. Your body feels it’s under attack, not able to do its normal nighttime repair work. And more cortisol can cause an increase in hunger pangs, leading to overeating.
Four: Return to old-school ways
Folks used to cook a meal and sit down together at the table. Now it’s a rare occasion for families to do that. What a shame!
Many Americans have lost touch with traditional, healthy ways of eating, thanks to the industrialization of our food supply by greedy corporations.
If you eat standing up or on the go, while watching TV, or while paying your bills, turn your attention to learning (or relearning) how to cook. It will help you to reestablish a healthy relationship with wholesome, real food.
If you have a nice-sized local hospital, it may offer healthy-cooking classes. Hospitals with a good program for heart-disease patients tend to offer classes to help their patients make healthy lifestyle changes. You can make such changes before you become a heart patient.
Five: Fill up on fiber
You need fiber, and I’m not talking about a fiber supplement. (Yech!) By eating filling fiber-rich foods, you’ll be less likely to suffer from cravings that draw you to the refrigerator in the late afternoon or before you go to bed at night.
By consuming a reasonable amount of natural fats and protein, your body will be supplied with an optimum amount of vitamins and minerals in order to function. This will help you fend off any odd cravings you may get, which are really your body’s way of telling you that you’re probably low on some vital compound.
Nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables are terrific fiber choices. Other good choices are beans, nuts, brown rice, bran, and whole grains, like barley and brown rice.
Six: Build up your muscles
When you cut calories and do only regular aerobic exercise, here’s what happens: You lose muscle. And because muscle burns calories, you’re actually working against yourself. Muscle will even burn calories while you’re at rest, making it metabolically active—unlike fat.
Plus, strength training (whether it’s weightlifting, elastic bands, yoga, or chopping wood) makes it easier for you to do the myriad of things you work to accomplish every day, such as getting up out of a chair, lifting a package dropped off by the postman, and cleaning up the yard after a heavy downpour.
And few things assure healthy aging like the healthy muscles you gain by strengthening them. The beauty of a strength-training program lies in the results—which you’ll notice in just a few short weeks. Won’t the kids be impressed when you can remove the lid from your own pickle jar again?
Seven: Count your steps
Here’s the perfect tool to help you reach your weight-loss goals: a pedometer. You’ll have the opportunity to figure out smart ways to increase your daily steps. Most of you should aim for 10,000 steps per day, which comes to about three to five miles—depending on the length of your stride.
Adding just 30 extra minutes of brisk walking, evenly spread throughout the day, can translate into a 2- to 3-pound weight loss per month. You’ll notice that you feel better, and your risks of heart attack, diabetes, dementia, and premature death will all go down.
You can pick up a pedometer at most local sports shops or at a Wal-Mart or similar store.
Eight: Avoid overly packaged foods
If Americans simply cut out packaged, processed baked goods, snacks, and frozen foods, along with the oceans of soft drinks we consume, we’d lose the big bellies. Big Food would in turn go belly up, and half the doctors might have to start pounding the pavement looking for a new line of work.
The more real food you enjoy, the less junk food you’ll put in your body—and that will help eliminate the cycle of cravings that nutrient-poor foods induce. If you can grow some of your own food, you’ll also get a healthy amount of exercise in the bargain.
Nine: Give yourself two weeks
Speaking of cravings, it helps to be mindful of your behavior patterns. When people change their diets to include real, wholesome, and healthy foods, they may sometimes find their old habit of bingeing still lingers.
If this sounds like you, start by slowing down and chewing your food a bit more thoroughly. Pay attention to the sight, sounds, and pleasures that eating can bring. Think of your meals as more of a ritual.
Watch your portions, and learn your cues for feeling satiated. You may be used to a second portion, but do you really need it? Wait 15 minutes before putting more food on your plate. This gives your body time to register satisfaction and to reduce hunger.
The good news is that if you stick with this practice of mindfulness, you may find that within two weeks you’ve gotten used to less food than before. And hopefully, they’re better-tasting, healthier, more fulfilling choices.
Dr. Alan Inglis
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