5 diet tips for your New Year’s weight loss resolutions

To stay thin, change your food habits permanently

It’s January.  Time to recover from any over-indulgence and get back to the habit of healthy food and moderate portions.  Here are some random thoughts to help you in your efforts:

  1. The 80-20 Rule.  I’m not sure where this came from originally, although I remember a colleague using it back in the mid-1980’s. Basically, it says you should aim to eat healthy 80-90% of the time, leaving 10-20% of your food intake for indulgence – a fancy dessert once a month, half and half in your coffee, a piece of chocolate after dinner, sharing a pastry with a friend when you meet for coffee.  You get the picture.  There is no such thing as diet perfection, nor should there be.  Food isn’t some grim collection of nutrients.  We choose food primarily because we like the taste.  The problem is learning to enjoy clean unprocessed food that isn’t gunked up with sweeteners and salty flavorings.
  2. Control your portions by using smaller plates and glasses.  And trick your eye into taking less food by using plates with a color that contrasts with the food you’re serving.  Putting spaghetti or mashed potatoes on a white plate invites bigger portions.  Putting those white foods on a green or red plate can help you serve less, because the contrasting colors cause you to perceive more food.  On the other hand, maybe you should serve salad and veggies on green plates, so you take bigger portions of those healthy foods.  Does this mean we need to have separate sets of dishes for all the types of food we serve?
  3. Your expectations can actually affect your metabolism.  This is important!  Grehlin is a stomach hormone that rises as you become more hungry.  Grehlin tells you to eat.  As you eat and absorb calories, grehlin levels fall and the signal to eat goes away.  In a study reported last summer, subjects were given a 380 calorie milkshake two different times.  The first time they were told it was an “indulgent” 680 calorie milkshake.  The second time they were told it was a “sensible” 140 calorie milkshake.  Grehlin was measured 3 times during each milkshake session.  Even though they drank the same milkshake each time, grehlin fell dramatically after they drank the “indulgent” shake and stayed relatively flat after the “sensible” shake.  Even though it was the same exact 380 calorie shake.  When the subjects thought they were eating rich food, their grehlin responded accordingly and told them they felt satisfied.  Mindset and psychological expectation trumped actual caloric intake.  The authors suggest this explains why diet foods are so unsatisfying, and why many people tend to reward themselves for eating food perceived as healthy or diet with a treat later in the day.  Your perception causes the grehlin hunger signal to stay high.  This could explain a lot about why the obesity epidemic has skyrocketed along with consumption of artificially sweetened “diet” foods which don’t turn off grehlin signals.  How can you incorporate this information into your weight control efforts?  Avoid diet food, pimped up with artificial sweeteners and fake fats.  Just eat real food in modest portions.
  4. In case you need more reasons to resist the lure of fad diets, check out the Healthy Weight Network’s Worst Diets of 2011.  Making the list: Sensa Weight Loss Crystals and HCG injections and drops, recently banned by the FDA.
  5. Or you could just be a Fat Trap victim and give up.  New York Times writer Tara Parker Pope laments the fact that losing weight is hard and keeping it off is a life long process.  All true.  Deal with it.  We live in an obesigenic environment.  We get little exercise unless we schedule it.  We are surrounded by easily available food in excessive portions all day.  The cues to eat are relentless.  In order to lose weight and keep it off you have to learn to shut that stuff out.  You can’t constantly pick and graze at food.  And (this is important!), once you lose weight you are not cured.  You cannot go back to eating the way you did and expect to stay thin.  There is no cure for the tendency to gain weight.  On 21st Century Planet Earth, everyone has to work at keeping weight off, unless you live in a famine area.  The good news: you don’t have to be a victim.  The longer you make it a habit to control your food intake and incorporate exercise into every day, the easier it gets.  You can learn new food habits and unlearn bad ones.  Now is a great time to start.
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