Lose Weight Without Dieting
How to Eat to Feel and Look Your Best
by April Thompson
One of the top New Year’s resolutions is to lose weight, and to that end, millions of Americans go on a diet each year. As we look to reset after holiday indulgences, nutrition experts say it’s a great time to cultivate healthy, long-term eating habits rather than unsustainable diets that lead us in circles.
“A 'live it’ is better than a diet: small, manageable changes you can live with over time,” says Lisa Mallonee, a registered dietician and professor at the Texas A&M College of Dentistry, in Dallas. “People get focused on losing 15 pounds, but once they get to the finish line, they don’t have a plan for after and often end up regaining the weight.”
While navigating the labyrinth of nutrition information can be tough, eating better is actually simple, says David Katz, M.D., founder of both the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center and the nonprofit True Health Initiative, and co-author of How to Eat: All Your Food and Diet Questions Answered. “There are two general shifts to make: first, to less processed foods, and second, to more plant-based foods,” says Katz.
In making such shifts, Mallonee suggests applying the 80/20 rule to food. “If 80 percent of the time you are making healthy choices, and the other 20 percent of the time you allow splurges, you’re less likely to feel deprived and revert to old ways.”
Katz agrees that small shifts are more likely to stick, in part because of our adaptable palates. “If you commit to improving your diet little by little, you will find that taste buds are adaptable fellas that will learn to love the foods they are with. For example, try something as simple as switching from regular soda to diet to seltzer to water over time.”
The good news for dieters with questions, suggests Katz, is there is no one superior diet. “You can have a high-quality diet whether you are flexitarian, pescatarian or vegetarian, low-carb or high-carb,” he says.
For Jill Weisenberger, a registered dietitian nutritionist, in Yorktown, Virginia, and author of The Overworked Person’s Guide to Better Nutrition, a healthy diet comes down to three meals a day, each with a good source of protein and fiber. “When losing weight, it’s especially important to eat enough protein so you don’t lose muscle mass with the fat,” she says, suggesting a target of 25 to 35 grams of fiber a day, achieved through a diverse diet that focuses on fruits, vegetables and legumes.
Katz, Mallonee and Weisenberger all caution against a diet like keto that restricts many nourishing foods only because they contain carbs. “There is no evidence of long-term safety or benefit of keto,” says Katz. “A truly keto diet cuts out a lot of highly nutritious foods like fruit, grains and beans, all associated with better health and longer life. I think a diet excluding these foods would be a colossal mistake.”
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While it’s not healthy to obsess over numbers on the scale, it is important to understand the health risks of carrying extra weight, particularly around the middle. “Belly fat is a concern for co-morbidities like pre-diabetes, diabetes, increased blood pressure and even sleep apnea,” says Mallonee, stating that women should aim for a waist circumference of less than 35 inches and men of less than 40.
Katz advises that the effects of abdominal fat can vary. “Certain ethnicities are extremely vulnerable to excess weight around the middle, which can result in insulin resistance and metabolic mayhem. However, many people can gain considerable amounts of weight and show no metabolic effects,” he says, suggesting that a comprehensive health checkup can clear up any doubts.
Physiologically, it is hard to keep weight off, says Weisenberger, but people should not get discouraged if they fall short of their goals. “If you are overweight, you will get an enormous boost from the first 5 to 10 percent of weight loss—it’s much more important than that last 5 to 10 percent.”
While weight loss is an exercise in delayed gratification, the power of high-quality food is immediate, advises Katz. “You can improve the quality of your immune response with a single meal. It’s the gift that keeps on giving, too, as those positive health benefits accumulate over time.”
Connect with Washington, D.C., freelance writer April Thompson at AprilWrites.com.