By Duffy Perkins 2017-01-05 05:54:19
IT’S JANUARY 2017, AND MANY OF US ARE (YET AGAIN) EMBARKING ON A NEW WEIGHT-LOSS PROGRAM TO LOSE THE POUNDS WE’VE PUT ON SINCE THAT LAST ROUND OF NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS. But where do we start? Is it better to count calories and carbs or steps and heart rate? Can you change your food without your activity level? Will upping your exercise allow you to keep eating your favorite foods? Should we make it a point to be mindful about every bite we put in our mouths? Perhaps someone can simply hypnotize us to avoid unhealthful foods instead! Trying to find the most effective weight-loss strategy can be frustrating. The success of any diet and exercise program will differ from person to person—there are no guaranteed methods and none of them can be described as “easy.” There are many considerations to…er…weigh. How many pounds do you have to lose to get to your healthy body weight? What are your current food and activity habits? How supportive are the members of your family about your efforts? Are you someone who finds it easy to stick to the rules and routines? Do you have the temperament to track details about food intake? Do you find it helpful to get coaching and motivation from an individual or a group? Is your weight gain (and loss) complicated by emotional responses to food? Are there other factors to take into account, such as the side effects of medications, the level of stress in your life right now or a job that requires eating more meals out than at home? These questions aren’t intended to discourage your good intentions, but to help you make thoughtful decisions about finding an approach with the best chance of success for your individual circumstances. You certainly have an overwhelming number of strategies to try—WebMd.com has evaluated more than 85 distinct plans! To help just a little bit with your personal diet plan research, School Nutrition spoke with several women about the successes—and failures—they experienced with five popular weight-loss programs. VEGAN BEFORE SIX (VB6) When following this popular diet plan conceived by food writer Mark Bittman, you’ll become a “part-time vegan,” eating only fruits, grains, vegetables and beans until 6 p.m. (or dinner). Snacking is encouraged, but processed foods are not. Charlotte is a 56-year-old mother of two. She’s a school librarian who cooks dinner for her family five nights a week. She has found the pounds to be “just so much harder to come off in your 50s than in your 30s. When her daughters became teenagers, they decided they wanted to go vegetarian.” I played along with it, but it actually worked for me, because I had to learn how to cook all over again,” she recounts. Improved culinary skills was one benefit, but Charlotte was even more pleased with another consequence of the family diet change: She started losing weight. Knowing how much more weight she had to lose, Charlotte decided to take the vegetarian approach to another level and opted to try Bittman’s program. “I found out about it just by looking up vegan recipes,” she explains. “He has a bunch of free recipes everywhere you look. I was using those and cooking quinoa, lentils and all this other stuff I had never tried before. The recipes were pretty good, so I bought his book and started using it.” After two years of maintaining a vegetarian diet and 18 months of using the Vegan Before Six plan, Charlotte has lost 54 pounds. “My cholesterol has gone down significantly, and I don’t suffer from as much knee pain anymore,” she reports, adding that although she never exercised before, she now has started walking in the mornings. VEGAN BEFORE SIX (VB6) Plan Pluses: “I honestly feel healthier, and not just in a weight-loss way. And I’m much happier in the kitchen now.” Con Considerations: “You really have to research where you’re going to get your protein. Otherwise you’re hungry all day long, and you may binge eat at night.” THE 17-DAY DIET The 17-Day Diet claims to help you “rev up your fat-burning metabolism, shed pounds, and build healthy new habits”—all in 17 days. The strict diet regimen relies on proteins, vegetables, and “good fats,” while banning sugar, alcohol, processed foods, excess sodium and fried foods. Toward the end of the 17-day cycle, the plan restrictions ease a bit, allowing for minimal sugars, fats and alcohol. Barbara is a 67-year-old retiree who had a few pounds to lose at the end of a fun summer. “I chose The 17-Day Diet because I wanted something I could focus on for a specific amount of time,” she explains. “The hardest thing was that I couldn’t ‘counter surf,’” Barbara says. “I had to remove all the candy dishes and salty snacks from the pantry. Snacking, or ‘grazing,’ was really hard to give up. But the diet is all about changing your habits, so pretty soon, eating egg white omelets and drinking green tea felt normal to me.” Barbara lost eight pounds over the 17 days. “I remained motivated for about two months afterward, and lost a couple more pounds. But then, little by little, I started gaining weight,” she admits. “There are some exercises in the book that I still do every now and then, but I don’t go back to the recipes unless I’m going to commit to the diet for the full 17 days. They just didn’t have a lot of flavor.” THE 17-DAY DIET Plan Pluses: “I lost a significant amount of weight in just two and a half weeks.” Con Considerations: “I missed having fun with my food. I love cooking and just being in the kitchen, and I felt I was in the kitchen all the time on this diet, but it wasn’t in a fun way. I was constantly chopping vegetables to steam!” 21-DAY FIX On this diet plan, you are given containers in different colors to help you control the portions of various food servings. The diet relies heavily on consumption of fresh vegetables and fruits, lean proteins and certain grains. The plan also features a strenuous exercise program, which can be intense for some, but can lead to sustainable changes. Dawn is a 59-year old sales associate who started using 21-Day Fix principles four months ago. “I was looking to make a change in my diet,” she says. “It’s not easy trying to eat a well-balanced, clean food program [on your own] all the time, so the containers and the meal plan helped to make that manageable.” Dawn signed up to tackle the changes of the 21-day plan through an online support group that used social media for sharing and motivation. “Having a virtual coach made a difference,” she credits. For Dawn, getting started was the hardest part. “Meal preparation was difficult at first. I had to get myself on a schedule of planning, preparing and freezing meals ahead of time,” she explains. “Once I did that, it was easier. Participants have a saying on this program: ‘You do work in the gym and you do work in the kitchen.’ And that was very true for me.” Dawn used some of the exercises featured in the plan. As noted at the beginning of this article, two individuals can follow the same plan and see different results. “I had a friend do the program with me. She’s only 26, and she lost 15 pounds in 21 days! I lost the same amount, but it took me about four months of hard work and exercise.” Despite the effort, Dawn insists that the results are worth it: “This is a healthier lifestyle, and it’s affected me in ways other than my waistline. My mental wellness has improved, and I feel like I’m increasing my own longevity as well.” 21-DAY FIX Plan Pluses: “The program was easy to follow, and it kept me feeling full and satisfied. I had quick results within the first week, more energy and wasn’t hungry all the time.” Con Considerations: “Since you’re constantly preparing food, you can’t reach for your favorite ‘easy’ foods. How I miss tortilla chips with salsa, sweets and pizza!” WEIGHT WATCHERS It’s the weight-loss approach so popular that Oprah Winfrey is now an official spokesperson! Food items are assigned a number of points based on a calculation of certain nutrients and portion size. Individuals are restricted to eating within a points range established for their current weight, goals and activity levels. Participants track their foods to get an idea of how many “points” they can eat, according to their weight, goals and activity levels. The Weight Watchers philosophy is to get members to make long-term, sustainable changes. All foods are permitted (in moderation), but point values and program messaging emphasize fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains. Rebecca is a 37-year-old teacher who wanted to lose the 15 pounds she gained after getting married three years ago. “It just crept on, so I figured it would creep off,” she says. “But then it didn’t, so I decided to go with what works for everyone, it seems.” Rebecca liked the fact that she could eat whatever she wanted, and she found that keeping track of her points values and activity levels was easy using the Weight Watchers app on her phone. “My goals for eating and exercising were very clear, every morning,” she recounts. “I really liked to see where my calories were coming and going, so I got a Fitbit [activity tracker] and connected that to my Weight Watchers dashboard.” As far as food was concerned, Rebecca felt the program was easy and accessible. “I eat a lot of processed foods, unfortunately, so I started paying attention to sugar (bad) and fiber (good) amounts in everything. I always had my own snacks with me, but once people saw that I was losing weight, they wanted whatever it was that I was eating.” Rebecca ended up losing 25 pounds over the course of a year. “I lost enough weight to feel like I could start running with my husband, who runs marathons,” she reveals, but that’s led to a small weight gain, likely from the combination of increased appetite and the heavier weight of muscle than fat. WEIGHT WATCHERS Plan Pluses: “Keeping track of my points was easy and kind of fun, for a numbers-obsessed person like me.” Con Considerations: “You have to follow the plan if you want it to work. If you start thinking you can just follow it during the week, or just for certain meals, you won’t succeed. You have to follow it 24/7.” THE WHOLE30® Made popular by the bestseller It Starts with Food, the Whole30® incorporates lean proteins with vegetables and selected fruits. The diet plan revolves around the philosophy that certain food groups (specifically sugars, grains, dairy and legumes) have negative effects on the body. By removing these groups entirely from your diet for 30 days, some see changes in skin issues, digestive ailments, allergies and inflammation. Mary is a 49-year old corporate executive who is highly active in her spare time. “I’m currently training to run a marathon, and this will be my seventh one,” she says. Mary started the Whole30 program a year ago, after dealing with some gastrointestinal issues. “I was eating right and working out, but I always felt bloated. My husband had some weight to lose too, so we read the book, cleaned out the pantry and fridge, and started the program together,” she recounts. Changes were almost immediate. “His eczema cleared up within the first three weeks,” she says. “I stopped noticing that my stomach was bothering me, and my knees started to feel better. I never knew that I had sensitivities to dairy, but as soon as I cut it out entirely, I felt much better all around. My in-laws came for the holidays and we put them on the diet for the week too, and my father-in-law’s back pain improved significantly.” In one year, Mary lost 10 pounds and her husband lost 35. Mary was inspired to look at what she was putting onto her body, as well as what she was putting into it. “We started using avocado oil soap and natural products on our skin and hair,” she says. “I feel better being able to recognize ingredients, whether I’m in the shower or in the kitchen.” THE WHOLE30® Plan Pluses: “You aren’t counting anything, so seconds—and thirds—are possible.” Con Considerations: “Eating out is a pain. I never get over how awkward it is to ask a waiter what kind of oil my food is cooked in.” PERSONALIZE YOUR PROGRAM If the restrictive structure of these and other diet plans and programs stress you out, consider making simple, small changes that can have big effects. While significant changes in your body only come from significant changes in your diet, small tweaks here and there can create positive change in both your body and your mindset. Here are four suggestions: 1) Schedule walks. A study by researchers at the University of Birmingham in England found that participants taking a 30-minute walk three times a week not only took off an average of four pounds over 10 weeks, but their moods also significantly improved. You can make your walks social occasions, enlisting friends to join you—just don’t plan on drinking a sugary coffee afterward! Want to ramp up the intensity of your walks? Strap weights on your ankles or wrists or both. 2) Eat the rainbow. It sounds so corny, but it really does make a difference! The more (natural) colors in your food, the more nutrients and vitamins in your belly. These can reduce your risks for potential ailments and chronic diseases like the flu, cancer, digestive issues and even bone density problems. Try it for one month and see if you notice any changes in your blood pressure or cholesterol numbers. 3) Give up the soda. That daily can of regular soda pop puts 4,800 nonnutritive calories into your system each month. But even diet sodas can upset your weight-loss goals. The University of Texas Health Science Center recently published a study that showed that participants drinking two diet sodas each day saw their waist measurements increase six times more than those who didn’t drink any type of soda. There are several reasons for this, but the one most relating to your diet goals is that even “fake” sugar makes your body crave more sugar, leading you to binge more frequently. If you’re trying to cut out sugar in your system, don’t try to fool your body with beverages and snacks featuring artificial sweeteners. They’re not going to help in the long run. 4) Stop. Think. Do this every time you’re about to take a bite. Taking a moment to be mindful of your meals and snacks can have two helpful benefits. First, it can save you from mindless eating—those distracted occasions when you’re adding empty calories to beat boredom or counter stress. Second, if you decide you do want to eat that item, then you can genuinely enjoy it! More studies of middle-aged women are confirming that mindful eating is a key strategy in achieving and maintaining healthy weights. If you know you’re carrying too much weight—whether it’s 15 pounds or 115 pounds—make 2017 the year you follow through on those resolutions. Do the research, including talking over the options with your primary care physician. Find an approach that you can stick to, one that helps you in meeting your goals, rather than leaving you frustrated and defeated. You can do this! SN Duffy Perkins is a freelance writer based in Annapolis, Md.
Published by School Nutrition Association. View All Articles.
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