- If you want to lose weight and be healthier, dieting may not be the best strategy.
- Changing your diet gradually could lead to better long-term results.
- If you need structure to be successful, a nutritionist or nutrition program could be beneficial to help you get started.
Whether you’ve made a New Year’s resolution or not, you’ve probably thought about living healthier in 2023.
That probably means going on a diet, right? Not necessarily.
If you’re looking for a temporary weight loss program, dieting could be the answer. But many experts suggest changing your mindset about eating instead — a strategy that can lead to a longer, healthier life.
By improving your diet, you can lose weight and also avoid the yo-yo effect of weight loss and gain that can accompany fad dieting. An international study of 14 diets, published in the British medical journal BMJ in 2020, found that dieters lost weight after six months, but most regained weight after a year.
“Unfortunately, when people reach their goal and complete the program, most regain the weight they lost and more,” said Mimi Secor, a women’s health nurse 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?
First of all, don’t think of it as a diet. “I coach my clients to replace the word ‘diet,’ which is often seen as a temporary fix, with the term ‘healthy eating plan,’ because it’s more sustainable,” said Elana Paddock, a Registered Dietitian at the Cooper Clinic in Dallas, Texas.
A currently popular diet is intermittent fasting, which most commonly involves eating for only 6-8 hours a day. However, a recent study in the Journal of the American Heart Association found no association between meal timing and weight loss over a six-year period.
However, fewer and smaller meals were associated with weight loss.
“Furthermore, skipping meals could lead to more hunger and cravings later on, encourage overeating and make it harder to make healthier food choices,” Paddock said. “In general, restrictive types of dietary approaches can lead to similar negative outcomes.”
If you look at US News and World Report’s Best Diets 2023, the top picks “are not technically diets, as we view dieting as something restrictive,” Gretel Schueller, senior health editor at US News, told USA TODAY . “They are a lifestyle approach.”
What are some good diets to consider as better eating plans?
The Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes vegetables, fruits, lean poultry, seafood, whole grains, nuts and unsaturated fats from extra virgin olive oil, is “actually more of an eating style and really adaptable,” Schueller said.
“The diets that work well don’t restrict entire food groups or make you feel like you’re missing out. A better way to think of them as eating patterns,” Schueller said.
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Two other top diets recommended in the US News and World Report list are the DASH diet — which stands for Dietary Approaches to Fighting High Blood Pressure — limits foods high in saturated fat and sweetened beverages, and the Flexitarian- Diet, a semi-vegetarian diet with an emphasis on non-meat proteins like beans, peas, or eggs — plus fruits and vegetables — to reduce meat consumption.
Aside from sodium restrictions on the DASH diet, these are “non-restrictive and it’s really about focusing on the things we know we should be eating: whole foods, vegetables, fruits, whole grains and so on, and ours.” Limit sweets and processed foods,” Schüller said.
What are some important factors to consider when choosing a diet or eating plan?
When a diet or eating plan is too restrictive, you are less likely to stick to it. Other important questions to ask yourself before beginning a new eating strategy are:
- Are favorite foods not allowed?
- 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 the table, it’s not very sustainable,” says Schueller. “The more complicated the diet gets, the less likely you are to stick to it long-term.”
These diets, which top US News and World Report lists, can serve as the foundation for a long-term healthy eating plan. Everyone suggests limiting unhealthy foods and emphasizing portion control.
“Whatever you choose, it must consist of healthy food and drink – and allow for the occasional treat. So you can stick to it, ”said Schüller.
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I don’t want to diet, but I want to make some simple changes.
Start with small changes. Drink more water — ideally eight 8-ounce glasses daily — and start tracking your food intake with an app like MyFitnessPal, Secor suggests.
“Or maybe you start going to bed 15 minutes earlier or start walking around the block every day,” she said. “Don’t try to change everything 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 grain bread or brown rice (these have more nutrients).
- Choose light popcorn instead of potato chips.
- Instead of buying large containers, buy individual servings of nuts or snacks – or fill small snack bags for portion control.
- Have fruit on hand instead of always opting for sweets or salty snacks.
- Use smaller plates and bowls so portions are smaller.
- Eat leaner protein like chicken or fish — or beans — if you might have had red meat.
- After dinner the kitchen is closed until morning.
“You can consider a small incremental approach with healthier trades and build one success on top of the other, which not only leads to positive change but also motivates,” Paddock said.
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What if I need a stricter regime?
- See a registered dietitian. These nutritionists “can be a valuable tool in putting together a plan with you and making the decisions that fit your needs and lifestyle,” Paddock said. To find a nutritionist, visit 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 that 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 it’s only for a limited time to kickstart healthy eating behaviors,” Schueller said.
- Get a fitness trainer. Eating is only part of a healthy lifestyle; physical activity is another. But exercise is part of the “holistic approach … to the healthy lifestyle that you choose,” Schueller said.
Follow Mike Snider on Twitter: @mikesnider.