If you want to lose weight, you may have already tried the latest hot diet-whether it’s high-protein, cutting out all sugar or eating for your blood type. And the plan may have worked, at least for a while-nearly any diet will work in the short term. The problem is that most diets don’t provide lasting results.
TAKE THE QUIZ
How’d you do?
If you answered true to questions 1, 6, 11 and 15, you’re probably a Habitual Hungerer. If you answered true to questions 3, 8, 13 and 16, you’re probably a Grab-and-Runner. If you answered true to questions 4, 7, 10, and 14, you’re probably an Emotional Eater. If you answered true to questions 2, 5, 9, and 12, you’re probably a Diehard Dieter.
If you want to shed pounds and keep them off, you must examine the way you currently eat. By identifying your own eating style and taking into account your unique dietary preferences, you can revamp your current diet to maximize your nutritional intake and decrease calories-without feeling deprived, hungry or irritable.
“Essentially all we’re doing is modifying your current lifestyle pattern of eating,” says Kristine Clark, PhD, director of sports nutrition at Penn State University. “The best thing to do is look at the foods that are currently fitting in and modify or revamp it a little bit. A diet should be a lifestyle and a way of eating, not something to go on and off.”
First, take the quiz at right to determine your eating type-and then read on to learn the pitfalls of each type-and how to overcome them.
Not all habits are bad, but if you constantly eat the same things over and over, you may be unconsciously consuming far more calories than you need.
You’re also likely to get bored easily, which can lead to overeating. Eliminating types of foods or whole food groups can cause nutritional deficiencies-if you rarely drink milk or consume dairy products like cheese, you may shorting your body on calcium, for example. Skimp on fruits and vegetables and you won’t get enough fiber.
When you eat the same things out of habit, you may be eating far more than you think. You probably fill your cereal bowl without thinking about it and take the same-size portions. If those servings are even a little too large, over time they can add up to added pounds, says Clark. And if you’re bored with your diet, you may eat more looking for a feeling of satisfaction.
The solution? Start branching out. Try new things, even it’s as small a change as opting for peach yogurt over vanilla. When dining out, consider what’s appealing about a certain food and look for something similar-broiled fish instead of roasted chicken breast, for example.
Or try new ways of eating old favorites-instead of turkey sandwiches, try a turkey casserole or turkey salad. Vary the temperature-serve a food hot instead of cold, for example-or change the way you usually prepare it.
“If you’re a person who likes routine, you do need to broaden out your routine just a bit,” agrees Susan Kleiner, author of Power Eating, The Second Edition.
Kleiner suggests adopting one new change a week. If you always eat carrots, try broccoli. Buy strawberries or raspberries in addition to apples and grapes. Within just a few months, you’ll have expanded the types of foods you usually eat, boosting your nutritional intake and making you more likely to eat healthfully and less likely to turn to not-so-great-for-you stuff in the process.
Does your car double as your kitchen table or do you find it impossible to find time to prepare healthy meals and snacks? If you tend to eat while doing other things, you probably eat more than you realize-when you’re distracted, you tend to consume food without realizing it. In fact, a recent study found that women ate 15 percent more calories while listening to a recorded story than simply eating.
If you tend to grab fast food when you’re on the go, chances are you’re also shortchanging yourself on fiber and probably vitamins as well, says Clark. And because fast foods tend to be high in fat and calories, your drive-thru runs may add up to more around your middle.
If you’re a Grab-and-Runner, think like a Boy Scout: Be prepared. Keep foods like dried fruit, high-fiber cereal and granola bars in your car’s glove compartment, in your purse and in your desk. Toss a piece of fresh fruit, such as an apple, banana or bag of grapes in your bag or make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to take along.
“You have to plan ahead and always have food with you, just like an athlete,” says Kleiner. “When you do your shopping for the whole week, plan for your snacks and being caught away.”
She suggests stocking up on energy bars that include whole grains and meal replacement beverages. Smoothies are also a great, easy way to get two to three servings of fruit and some milk, and you can take them in the car.
Make time for breakfast even if you’re too busy to sit down and eat it. A bagel with peanut butter, whole grain cereal and a piece of fruit can all help start your day off right. Heading to a soccer game or to pick up the kids? Keep a mini-cooler in your car where you can toss cheese, yogurt or other quick-eat treats. Take the time to plan ahead and you’ll eat more healthfully and reduce the amount of high-fat, high-calorie meals and snacks you consume-which add up to weight loss.
The Emotional Eater
Do you find yourself munching when you’re bored or turn to chocolate and other high-fat treats when you need a lift? Women tend to be Emotional Eaters more often than men, and this can be one of the most difficult eating habits to break. It takes time and effort to overcome the habit of reaching for food when you’re bored, anxious, lonely or depressed.
When you eat to suppress emotional pain, you frequently consume calories that your body doesn’t need-and the end result is higher numbers on the scale. “The best thing to do is to keep a log of feelings and foods,” says American Dietetic Association spokesperson and dietitian Barbara Gollman, author of The Phytopia Cookbook. “Write down what you ate and what were you feeling when you chose that food, and hopefully over some time you can begin to see the pattern and realize what you’re doing.”
It’s also helpful to eliminate the high-calorie/high-fat foods in your house and replace them with lower calorie options like fruit and pretzels. And make sure that you’re eating out of physical hunger, not because you need a temporary distraction or because you’re dehydrated.
“Very often, we misinterpret thirst as hunger,” explains Kleiner. If you think you’re hungry, try drinking a big glass of water first. If you still feel hungry, stop and ask what positive, non-eating thing you can do for yourself. It might be taking a quick walk, working in the garden, calling a friend or putting on some upbeat music. If, after you do these things, you’re still hungry, opt for something healthful to reinforce the idea that taking care of yourself is important, says Kleiner. Over time, changing your behavior in this way will result in weight loss.
The Diehard Dieter
If you diet frequently, you probably know the calorie counts of everything from a McDonald’s hamburger to a small apple. But research shows that if you restrict your calories too drastically, your efforts may backfire. “It’s good to be aware of calories, but you can also shortchange your body by not eating enough, or eating so little one day that you splurge too much the next day,” says Gollman.
If you diet frequently, your metabolic rate may be affected as well. It’s your body’s way of protecting its fat stores-the less you eat, the slower your metabolism becomes to make the most of those calories.
Dieters who opt for restrictive plans like the cabbage soup diet also run the risk of getting bored quickly. “Anybody can do anything for a short period of time, and then they get bored and they get tired of it,” says Clark. Make sure you’re getting enough fat in your diet, too-a little bit at each meal helps suppress appetite, and both protein and fat are digested and metabolized and absorbed more slowly than carbohydrates.
If you want to lose weight, focus on slow but steady weight loss instead of quick-fix programs. “The bottom line is that most adult women who are only getting moderate amounts of physical activity need (at least) 1,600 calories,” says Clark. Eat less than that and most women will lose weight. Since it takes a reduction of 3,500 calories to lose a pound, if you can eliminate 500 calories a day from what you eat or add more activity, you’ll lose a pound a week-well within the guidelines for safe, lasting weight loss.
It may take changing your entire mindset to bring lasting changes, says Kleiner. “The problem with our entire society is we’ve made weight loss a goal, and weight loss is a long-term outcome of achieving some very important goals,” says Kleiner. Rather than focusing on losing weight, she suggests making your goals behavior-oriented such as getting five fruits and vegetables a day, drinking more water, becoming more physically active and eating more whole grains and fewer processed foods.
As you make these changes, you’ll perform better mentally and physically and eventually reach your long-term goal of weight loss. “You can still want to lose weight,” says Kleiner. “But alter your goal set so that you feel successful along the way.”
Kelly James-Enger is a mom of two who specializes in writing about health and nutrition.