Happy New Year!
For many, the start of a new year is an opportunity to reset and begin anew. Perhaps that means starting a good practice or phasing out a bad one. Maybe it means both! For many of us, this dynamic takes the form of a New Year’s resolution. Health-centered resolutions tend to be the most common: according to a 2020 YouGov America survey, of Americans making New Year’s resolutions, 46% said exercising more was one of their goals, 45% said improving diet and 44% said losing weight (respondents could list multiple goals).
If you fall in the category of people looking to lose weight and improve your diet in 2022, you have some different options on how you go about achieving your goal. There are many popular diets out there today – let’s take a look at some of those most common.
The Fundamentals of Weight Loss
Whatever diet plan you choose, remember that there is no great mystery to weight loss: to lose weight, you must burn more calories than you consume. That’s one reason exercise is so important, no matter what your diet strategy is: if you’re not getting in physical activity most days of the week, it will be difficult to burn enough calories to lose weight. Also, exercise is important to keep your heart in good shape.
A pound of weight is equivalent to 3,500 calories. So, if you ate 3,500 calories and burned none of them, you would gain one pound. However, even without exercise, our bodies naturally burn some calories on their own, in addition to what is burned through routine movements throughout the day, like walking to your car or cleaning the house. Yet, to achieve real weight loss, intentional exercise is usually necessary.
Most people are able to lose weight by learning and sticking with a few fundamentals. These are free and don’t require any memberships or subscriptions! Keep in mind:
- Center your diet around healthy foods: whole grains, legumes, nuts, fresh fruit and vegetables, lean meat and fish.
- Eat less fatty and processed meats, sugar and foods with white flour and white rice
- Keep in mind portion control: it’s not just what you eat, but how much. Control your portions by eating slowly, not eating in front of the TV and not feeling like you must clean your plate every time
- Don’t eat right before bedtime
- Avoid sugary drinks like sodas and fruit punch. They are loaded with sugar and have zero nutritional value. Also, avoid fruit juices – while they have some vitamins, they are high in calories. Fresh fruit is a better choice.
- If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation. This is important for a multitude of health reasons. In terms of weight loss, alcoholic drinks are high in calories, so cutting back will also help your weight loss goals.
Finally, when you are considering a new diet program, steer clear of diets that sound too good to be true. A healthy weight-loss pace means losing one or two pounds a week. So, if a diet program is promising you’ll lose 20 pounds in a month, keep looking! That’s not realistic and probably unhealthy to try.
A plant-based diet is a solid option for weight loss and improving overall health. Fruits and vegetables have lots of fiber, which helps promote healthy digestion. When vegetables are not prepared in excess amounts of sugar, butter or salt, they are also heart-friendly and promote healthy levels of blood cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar. People on a plant-based diet get their protein through non-meat sources like beans, soy and nuts.
For people who like to eat meat – and that’s many of us—a plant-based diet may not be an option worth considering. But, if you think you could do without meat in your diet – or with much less of it – consider these options:
- Vegan: Vegans avoid all animal products, not just meat. This means no dairy, eggs, honey, etc.
- Vegetarian: A vegetarian diet means no meat but can still include dairy and eggs.
- Pescatarian: Think of this as “vegetarian plus fish and seafood.”
- Flexitarian: This diet offers the most leeway for a plant-based diet. People who practice this diet primarily eat vegetables but will occasionally have a meat dish.
Pros: Plant-based diets are heavy on fiber, which can curb hunger by making you feel full. Studies indicate people on plant-based diets tend to consume fewer calories overall, leading to weight loss. Meat is often higher in calories and saturated fat, both of which contribute to weight gain.
Cons: If you’re someone who loves meat, this is not for you. Additionally, eliminating all meat from a diet can result in a deficiency in certain nutrients, such as zinc and iron.
Intermittent fasting is exactly what it sounds like: you fast for certain periods of time. One of the most common forms of intermittent fasting is to eat only within an eight-hour period each day and fast during the other 16 hours. Water and other non-calorie drinks are OK during the fasting period.
Intermittent fasting can help with weight loss, provided you eat healthy, balanced meals when your fast is over, as opposed to overcompensating by eating huge servings.
Pros: Studies have indicated intermittent fasting contributes to weight loss and may increase the rate at which the body burns fat.
Cons: The eight-hour window in which to eat means going most of the morning on an empty stomach, or, if you choose to eat breakfast, eating your last meal in the late afternoon. Either way, some people may find this difficult to do. People who have a history of eating disorders should not attempt fasting.
Low-carbohydrate diets have been popular for a while. Some restaurants have even embraced them by placing low-carb friendly options on their menus. Who needs a bun with a cheeseburger, anyway?
The average American gets roughly half of their daily calories from carbs – too often, that means unhealthy foods like pastries and cookies. A low-carb diet forces the body to burn fat for energy, leading to weight loss.
Some low-carb diets call for a limit of 30% of all calories attributable to carbs. The ketogenic (keto) diet, an ultra-low carb program, requires carbs to be no more than 10% of total calorie intake. In low-carb diets, the reduction in carbs is offset by additional protein and fat intake.
Pros: Low-carb diets have been shown to promote weight loss and loss of belly fat. They may also promote healthy blood pressure and reduce risk of diabetes.
Cons: A diet too high in saturated fat can contribute to high cholesterol levels, a key risk factor for heart disease. If you go the low-carb route, work to ensure your protein intake is predominantly from lean meats and avoid excessive consumption of fatty or processed meats.
In some ways, a low-fat diet is the inverse of a low-carb diet. With a low-fat diet, you seek to avoid fatty meats and dairy products and limit your fat consumption to 30% of your daily caloric intake. The reasoning behind this is that fat contains twice the calories per gram compared to protein and carbs.
Pros: Low-fat diets can contribute to weight loss while promoting heart health and lower cholesterol levels.
Cons: Fat helps our hormone production and the health of our cells. Watch out for products labeled “low fat” – they may sometimes contain unhealthy amounts of sugar and be self-defeating when it comes to weight loss.
There are literally hundreds of diet programs out there. Here’s a look at a few more of the most common:
Mediterranean: As the name indicates, this diet is based on the foods traditionally eaten in the Mediterranean region, such as Greece and Italy. Sadly, however, this does not mean a diet of pizza, pasta and tiramisu. Instead, it calls for lots of fruits, vegetables, legumes, seeds, nuts, whole grains, fish, seafood and olive oil.
This is not intended to be a weight-loss diet, but a heart-healthy one. Nonetheless, by sticking to traditional Mediterranean staples, you may also lose weight while you are taking care of your heart.
Paleo: This diet is based upon what our ancestors were thought to have eaten thousands of years ago: vegetables, fruits, lean meats, nuts and seeds. It bars the consumption of processed foods, sugars, grains and dairy products.
The paleo diet may help with weight loss, but it also takes several beneficial foods off the table, such as whole grains and legumes.
Lifestyle Adaptation: These aren’t exactly diets, but programs that train you to think about food differently so that you eat less, eat better and get more active.
Regardless of what diet approach you take, you may find it helpful to track how much and what types of food you are eating. There are dozens of phone apps available to help you eat better. You can use them to track meals, help count the number of calories you’ve consumed, get meal suggestions and create your own meals. Most basic apps are free, with more advanced versions available for a price.
The top nutrition apps have vast databases of food items that allow you to easily log what you ate and automatically generate calorie counts and measurements of fat, carbohydrates, sodium, sugar and vitamin and minerals. With some apps, you can even use your phone’s camera to scan the barcode on the food item, sparing you the hassle of having to type it in.
These apps are a good tool to keep track of what you eat and can help you identify possible culprits if you find your weight creeping up. For patients with a health condition such as hypertension, high cholesterol or diabetes, food-tracking apps can be extremely beneficial tools by helping you track and manage your sodium, sugar and fat intake.
Take it Slow and Steady
When we gain unwanted pounds, it doesn’t happen overnight – it happens over time, sometime years. And just like we don’t gain it all overnight, we can’t lose it all at once either. Effective weight loss – when the pounds come off and stay off – happens gradually over time. No matter what approach you choose, healthy weight loss is based on healthier eating, portion control and regular exercise. Focusing on those fundamentals and avoiding fad diets or ones that are built around depriving you of everything you like to eat, are the keys to long-term success.
Many people can’t – and should not be expected to – do it alone. Talk with your health care provider about your weight loss goals and get his or her advice on what might work best for you. Remember, it’s a journey – but one well worth taking to boost both your health and self-confidence.
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