Weight Management: Success vs. Frustration


How should you pick a diet? How should it be implemented?

Many people are interested in losing weight to look better, become healthier, and increase their lifespans. While I see many patients who would like to drop a few pounds, I seldom put anyone on a specific weight loss diet. To increase the odds of success, I provide guidance about the benefits of whole foods over processed foods, suggest foods that will reduce inflammation in the body, and test for food sensitivities so people can choose the proper foods for their individual physiology. I view losing weight as a byproduct of good health, rather than as end unto itself.

There is much conflicting information available about nutrition, and different diet fads abound, causing confusion. Generally, any change in your eating habits will result in weight loss.  Low fat, low carbohydrate, and high protein diets all lead to weight loss in the short-run, but can be difficult to maintain because they are so restrictive. The paleo or keto diets may be a good way to jump-start your weight loss, but the Mediterranean and MIND diets are easier to adhere to in the long-run.

The best eating plan is one that is high in nutrients, palatable, and sustainable for the long-term. In other words, one that doesn’t rely solely on willpower and doesn’t jeopardize other health aspects for the sake of weight loss.

Diets like these are based on principles of plentiful fruits, vegetables, and complex carbohydrates with little red meat, sweets and processed snack foods. Diets that deviate significantly from this formula can be useful for people with specific health concerns. Examples are the paleo diet, which eliminates grains, as an appropriate choice for people with celiac disease, and the ketogenic diet, which is high in fat, and can be used to treat cancer and neurological conditions.

Once you have chosen a diet, possibly with the help of a professional who can help cut through the clutter, you will need to employ strategies to help you stay on track. First, have realistic expectations. Researchers found that obese people who expected to lose a lot of weight were more likely to drop out of a weight loss program within 6 months than those who had more moderate and achievable goals. Putting too much pressure on yourself can lead to discouragement.

Second, after you have made progress toward your goal, whether losing weight or cutting down on desserts, set a new goal. A research study showed that when dieters perceived they had made progress toward weight loss, they chose a chocolate bar over an apple. The explanation is that subjects allowed a past healthy behavior (losing weight) to substitute for a present healthy behavior. When you have a future goal, you are more likely to take actions that are consistent with your objective.

Third, start diet and exercise plans at the same time. The results of these behaviors reinforce each other. Studies have shown it is easier to maintain these lifestyle changes when they are begun at the same time rather than starting diet or exercise alone and adding the other later.

Fourth, keep unhealthy food out of the house. If there are other household members who insist on buying items you don’t want to consume, at least keep them out of sight. Displaying food on counter tops or dining tables has been linked to obesity and overconsumption of food. Out of sight, out of mind definitely applies here. You can also label one kitchen cabinet as “healthy” and another as “unhealthy.” When consumers were given this framing device, they consistently made healthier choices, whereas they mixed healthy and unhealthy foods when they were not clearly separated.

And finally, if you overindulge, remind yourself that it’s what you do most days that determines your health; not what you do every once in a while.

Jessica Needle, ND practices at Optimal Health Center

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