- If you want to lose weight and be healthier, dieting may not be the best strategy.
- Making gradual changes to what you eat may yield better long-term results.
- If you need structure to be successful, a dietitian or food program might be beneficial to get you started.
Whether you made a New Year’s resolution or not, you’ve probably thought about being healthier in 2023.
That probably means going on a diet, right? Not necessarily.
If you are looking for a temporary program to lose weight, a diet could be the answer. But many experts suggest an attitude adjustment when it comes to eating instead — because this strategy is one move that can lead to a longer, healthier life.
By improving what you eat, you can lose weight and avoid the yo-yo effect of weight loss and weight gain that can accompany fad diets. An international study of 14 diets published in 2020 in the British medical journal BMJ found that dieters lost weight after six months, but most regained weight after a year.
“Unfortunately, when people reach their goal and stop the program, most regain the weight they lost and more,” said Mimi Secor, a nurse practitioner specializing in women’s health and author of “Healthy & Fit at Any Age”.
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I want to lose weight and eat healthier. Which diet should I choose?
For starters, don’t think of it as a diet. “I advise my clients to replace the word ‘diet,’ which is often seen as a temporary fix, with the term ‘healthy diet,’ because it’s more sustainable,” said Elana Paddock, registered dietitian nutritionist at Cooper Clinic. from Dallas, TX.
A current popular diet is intermittent fasting, which most often involves only eating for 6-8 hours a day. But a recent study in the Journal of the American Heart Association found no link between meal timing and weight loss over a six-year period.
However, fewer and smaller meals were associated with weight loss.
“Also, skipping meals could lead to more hunger and cravings later on, leading to overeating and making it harder to make healthier food choices,” Paddock said. “In general, restrictive types of dietary approaches can lead to similar negative consequences.”
When you look at US News and World Report’s Best Diets 2023, the top recommendations are “technically not diets as we think diets are something restrictive,” said Gretel Schueller, health editor at US News at USA TODAY. “They are a lifestyle approach.”
What are some good diets to consider as better diets?
The Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes vegetables, fruits, lean poultry, seafood, whole grains, nuts and unsaturated fats from extra virgin olive oil, is “really more of a eating style and he’s really adaptable,” Schueller said.
“Diets that work well don’t restrict entire food groups or make you feel like you’re missing out. A better way to look at them is to think of them as a pattern of eating,” Schueller said.
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Two other diets recommended in the US News and World Report list are the DASH diet – it stands for dietary approaches to stopping hypertension – limits foods high in saturated fat, as well as sugary drinks, and the flexitarian diet, a semi -vegetarian focused on non-meat proteins such as beans, peas or eggs – as well as fruits and vegetables – as a way to reduce meat consumption.
Other than the sodium restrictions for the DASH diet, these are “non-restrictive and are really about focusing on the things we know we should be eating: whole foods, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, etc., and limit our sweets and processed foods.” Schueller said.
What are the important factors to consider when choosing a diet or diet plan?
If a diet or diet is too restrictive, you’re less likely to stick with it. Here are some other important questions to ask yourself before embarking on a new food strategy:
- Are certain favorite foods prohibited?
- Are all food groups included? What does our monetary budget allow?
- What about other family members?
“If you cook for a whole family, but one person eats differently than the rest of everyone at the table, that’s not very sustainable,” Schueller said. “The more complicated the diet becomes, the less likely you are to stick with it long term.”
These diets that are high on the list of US News and World Report can serve as the foundation of a long-term healthy eating plan. Each suggests limiting unhealthy foods and stressing portion control.
“Whatever you choose, it should consist of healthy foods and drinks — and allow for the occasional treat. That way you can stick with it,” Schueller said.
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I don’t want to go on a diet, but I want to make some simple changes.
Start with small changes. Drink more water — ideally eight 8-ounce glasses a day — and start logging your food intake with an app like MyFitnessPal, suggests Secor.
“Or maybe start going to bed 15 minutes earlier or start walking around the block every day,” she said. “Don’t try to change everything all at once. You’ll just be overwhelmed and more likely to throw in the towel until next year.”
Pick one or two specific changes to focus on and go from there, Paddock said. A few suggestions:
- Replace white bread or white rice with whole wheat bread or brown rice (these contain more nutrients).
- Choose light popcorn instead of potato chips.
- Buy individual servings of nuts or snacks instead of large containers – or fill small snack bags to control portions.
- Have fruit on hand instead of always opting for sweets or salty snacks.
- Use smaller plates and bowls to keep portions smaller.
- Eat leaner proteins like chicken or fish — or beans — when you could have eaten red meat.
- After dinner, consider the kitchen closed until morning.
“You can take a small step approach with healthier exchanges and build one success on top of another, which not only leads to positive change but is also motivating,” Paddock said.
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What if I need a stricter diet?
- Look for a registered dietitian. These nutrition specialists “can be a valuable tool in tailoring a plan with you and navigating choices that fit your needs and lifestyle,” Paddock said. You can find a nutrition expert on the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website.
- Try a program. If you’re not an experienced cook, maybe try a program like Weight Watchers, Nutrisystem, or Optavia, which has foods you can buy and guidelines to help you with portioning. “Some of these more structured commercial diets might work for (the person), even if only for a limited time to kind of kick-start a healthy eating pattern,” Schueller said.
- Get a physical trainer. Food is only part of a healthy lifestyle; physical activity is another. But exercise is part of “the holistic approach…to the healthy lifestyle you choose,” Schueller said.
Follow Mike Snider on Twitter: @mikesnider.