Featured Columns

Written by Stephen Burns
From his column To Your Health

So, let’s talk about diets. Everyone has a newer and better diet than the last one—and there are many: Cabbage Soup, Atkins, Sugar Busters, Weight Watchers, Mayo Clinic, Paleo, Mediterranean, and DASH. One of the worst is based on a person’s blood type. It’s junk science and an unproveable theory that makes no sense at all.

When we talk about diets, there are two questions to consider: 1) What is a healthy diet? and 2) How can I diet to lose weight?

One researcher, Dr. David Katz at Yale, says “A diet of minimally processed foods close to nature, predominantly plants, is decisively associated with health promotion and disease prevention.” (quoted in The Atlantic). Dr. Katz is not talking specifically about weight loss, but rather overall good health.

The Mediterranean Diet appears to be the healthiest eating plan. It is not a weight-loss diet, but weight loss often occurs, especially if you add exercise. If you’re guessing that this plan consists of spaghetti with meatballs or pizza, think again. If you eat like someone from Greece, Italy, Israel, or Morocco, you will be consuming lots of fruits, vegetables, fish, whole grains, beans, nuts and dairy, with limited meat. Your plate will be a rainbow of color. Here’s a website that gives a good overview. One caveat is that you will find wine on the menu. I do not recommend the addition of alcohol to any diet. Any theoretical health benefits are much less than alcohol's proven damage. Just don’t!

As far as research on weight loss goes, we already know what works: Less—fewer calories; lower intake. Eating less than your body requires makes you burn fat for energy.

It turns out that rigid dieting does work—until it doesn’t. Almost every diet plan results in a loss at the start, and a person can lose 5 to 10 percent of their body weight. After a while, however, real life kicks in and few people continue to follow restrictive diets. They cheat—a lot. (Okay, you can stop poking your spouse in the ribs. Take a peek in the mirror instead.

A 2007 UCLA study showed that between one-third and two-thirds of people on rigid diets had regained more weight than they lost within four or five years. In other words, many were heavier than they might have been if they had never started to diet at all. So then, should we all just give up and pork out to our hearts’ content? To quote the Apostle Paul: “By no means!”

The idea of trying to lose weight by staying on a diet you hate will never work. Instead, you must change how and what you eat. In other words, cutting calories for a while won’t do it. The true solution to permanent weight loss is found in changing lifelong habits.

So, here are some tips to help you drop weight without going on a diet:

  • Use smaller plates. You will eat less, as long as you don’t go back for seconds, thirds, and so on.
  • When you fill your plate, put the serving dishes in the refrigerator before you start eating. That makes going back for seconds less appetizing.
  • Eat slowly, and stop before you feel completely full. Feeling satisfied occurs 15 to 20 minutes after food is consumed, so if you eat until you’re full, 20 minutes later you’ll feel “stuffed.” Avoid that feeling.
  • Leave food on your plate—every meal—no matter how much you start with. Getting away from the need to “clean your plate” will immediately decrease your calorie intake and the likelihood that you’ll go back for seconds.
  • Eat more vegetables and less bread. Also, gravy should become a fond memory.
  • Make dessert an apple instead of a piece of apple pie.
  • Aim for a plant-based diet, with meat used as a flavoring rather than as a major source of calories.
  • Enjoy snacks, but they should consist of fruit, nuts, or whole grains, and should not be more than 150 calories. That’s enough to take the edge off your hunger without causing weight gain.
  • Don’t eat in front of the TV, or because you’re bored. Only eat if you are truly hungry.

Well, there’s your start on a new year and a new life. If you’re overweight, aim to drop a pound a month this year. And stick with it!

Dr. Stephen Burns is board-certified in family medicine and has been in practice for more than 30 years.

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