Here’s the key to making positive, long-term changes.
Every January, millions of people resolve to lose weight and/or eat healthier. Every February, the majority of them have gone right back to their old eating patterns. I’m convinced that the key to making positive, long-term changes is not jumping on the latest diet band-wagon but in choosing a diet philosophy that’s a good fit with your lifestyle, eating patterns, personality, and biochemistry.
All this month, we’ve been experimenting with some different approaches to watching your weight and improving your diet. This week, I’ve got some reports from the field and some tips on creating the best diet for you.
The Low Carb Diet
I started this series talking about the theory behind low-carb dieting. Part of the idea is that you’ll be less hungry on a low-carbohydrate diet, which makes it easier to eat less and lose weight. Cutting back on carbs can also have beneficial effects on things like blood glucose levels and triglycerides.
My favorite variation on the low-carb theme is a fairly simple one. You simply eliminate all refined carbohydrates, including breads, pasta, sweets, and sweetened beverages. Carbs from fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and whole, intact grains like oats, popcorn, and rice are allowed.
Many of you tried this for a week as an experiment. Some reported that when they eliminated refined carbohydrates they no longer craved these foods. One reader commented, “Normally if someone offers me a dessert, it’s extremely hard to resist, but now I can totally say no.”
But it doesn’t seem to work that way for everyone. Another listener commented that when she tried the experiment, she became completely preoccupied with the foods she couldn’t have.
Obviously, it’s not the right approach for everyone. But if you did our little experiment and found that cutting out refined carbohydrates improved your physical and mental well-being as well as the overall quality of your diet, you might be a good candidate for this kind of approach. Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes would be a good addition to your library.
Even those who feel that low-carb diets work well for them often find that they can’t stay with it for more than a month or two.
But even those who feel that low-carb diets work well for them often find that they can’t stay with it for more than a month or two at a time. Almost invariably, when they go off the regime, they slip back into their old eating habits and regain any weight they’ve lost. That’s a problem.
So one caveat for low-carb dieters is to pay attention to the dismount. If you go back to eating refined carbohydrates, you’ll probably need to adopt some other form of dietary control. Fortunately, there are other options.
It turns out that a lot of people overeat not because they are hungry or lack willpower. They are simply responding unconsciously to environmental cues. Our second experiment was to change some of the visual and environmental factors that lead to overeating. For example, I suggested eating on smaller plates and not putting serving dishes on the table.
This approach seemed to resonate with lots of listeners. Changing your environment can be a painless way to change your behavior. It’s also empowering to become more conscious of the things that drive our choices. This approach is good for those who balk at the idea that certain foods are completely off limits. Learning how to enjoy all foods—but with balance and moderation—is a more flexible approach.
If you did the experiment with me and felt that this strategy improved your mental and physical well-being and had a positive effect on the overall quality and balance of your diet, you might want to read more about becoming a more mindful eater.
One last comment about this approach: It’s focused mostly on how much you eat and not how well you eat. But for that, you have me!
The Mediterranean Diet
Finally, we tried adopting a Mediterranean-style diet, because studies suggest that people who follow this dietary pattern have good success maintaining a healthy weight and are also healthier overall. I have to confess that this is the approach that works best for me. For one thing, I like this type of cuisine. Secondly, I enjoy cooking and marketing so the emphasis on fresh foods rather than prepared foods isn’t a problem. The environmentalist in me appreciates that it’s primarily plant-based. Also, I like bread.
If you find the Mediterranean-style diet satisfying and sustainable, it’s a good candidate for long-term success. The Mediterranean Diet by Marissa Cloutier and Eve Adamson and The Mediterranean Diet Cookbook by Nancy Harmon James would be good additions to your cookbook collection.
How to Create Your Own Diet
Finally, that there is no reason to limit yourself to just one of these approaches. You can pick and choose what works best from each of these and custom-design your own diet strategy. For example, the first week you might have discovered that when you cut out sodas you end up snacking less between meals. The next week, perhaps you found that eating on smaller plates helps you feel satisfied with less at meal times. And last week, maybe you realized that you eat more vegetables when you cook more of your meals from scratch. Why not put all three strategies to work for you?
What’s important here is not what the diet gurus say, but what produces the best results in your life and in your body. You’re the boss.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this series and that you found it helpful. Next week, we’ll get back to all of those burning nutrition questions that have been piling up in my inbox. I’m working on articles on raw milk, hormones in the food supply, and lots of other great topics you’ve suggested.
You can reach me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or come join the party on the Nutrition Diva Facebook page. If tweeting is more your scene, you can find me on Twitter as well. I answer a lot of listener questions in my free weekly newsletter, so if you’ve sent a question my way, be sure you’re signed up to receive that.
Have a great week and remember to eat something good for me!