Does one diet work for everyone? Is there one best way of eating? Is one diet better than all the others? The answer to all these questions is no. There are clear healthy eating habits everyone should follow. This includes avoiding processed foods, eating real/whole foods, avoiding sugar, and avoiding processed oils. The exact composition of a healthy diet can vary depending on one’s age, metabolism, and genetics. Most children are highly sensitive to insulin. This means they can eat carbs all day long and still remain thin. Furthermore, most children have a good metabolism. Unfortunately, as we get older things change. Most people, as they age, become less sensitive to insulin. This means that excess sugar is not burned by the body’s cells, but instead gets stored as fat. Insulin sensitivity varies from person to person. Some people can cut their carbs to 100grams a day and can lose weight and remain thin. Other people need to lower their carbs to under 25grams a day to lose weight. If you are on a low carb diet and not losing weight, you may need to cut your carb intake even more. Remember that everyone’s metabolism is different. Some people can eat a large amount of food and remain thin. Others are not as lucky. As we get older and lose muscle mass our metabolism slows down. We burn less calories at rest compared to when we were younger. A good way to naturally increase your metabolism is to increase muscle mass by lifting weights. More muscle mass leads to a higher metabolism and more calories burned at rest. The take home message is that everyone is different. Do not believe anyone who claims their diet is the best for everyone. What works for others, may not work for you. The key is to experiment and find what does work for you. Again, you can never go wrong avoiding processed food and sugar in your diet. A good rule of thumb that everyone can follow includes a diet of unprocessed, whole foods that your body recognizes as food. For most people, including a good amount of protein in every meal can help with weight loss. As noted above, cutting back on carbs is also important in losing weight. However, the exact amount will vary from person to person. Therefore, experiment a little with your diet if you are not having success. Keep a food diary if needed. Find what works specifically for you. One size does not fit all.
I have talked with several people in the past few weeks who were frustrated that they were not able to lose any weight. They have been watching what they eat very closely. They have been exercising frequently. But still the scale still has not budged. They were becoming discouraged. I asked each of them to keep a food diary. I wanted to know their daily carb intake. Some used online counters; others found apps on their phones or I pads to help analyze their daily carb intake. They brought in the results for me to review. What we discovered is that each person was consuming a lot more grams of daily carbs than each realized. All were above 100 grams of carbs a day. Some were above 200grams a day and one was above 300grams a day. It was no wonder they could not lose weight. With their elevated daily carb intake levels, their insulin levels were also surely sky-high. Elevated insulin levels make weight loss very difficult if not impossible. We looked at the foods they were consuming including large amounts of whole wheat bread, oatmeal, and brown rice. Most were consuming large amounts of fruit, including daily bananas. We looked at ways to cut their daily intake below 100 grams a day to promote weight loss. Some people may need to cut down their daily carb intake to 50 grams a day. Everyone is different. If you are having trouble losing weight, count your daily carb intake. If you are not losing weight at your current carb intake level, cut down until the weight starts coming off. You need a low enough daily carb intake level to decrease your insulin levels low enough to promote weight loss. Once it does, be patient. Eating healthy is a lifestyle change, not a diet.
Every year new fad diets come along. The grapefruit diet, cookie diet, low carb diet, diets using shakes, and hormone injection diets have all come and gone. Many people are able to lose some weight on these diets, unfortunately most eventually put it all back on. Diets do not work. Most are too restrictive. Many leave you hungry or tired. So is weight loss hopeless? Should we all give up and have a triple scoop ice cream sundae instead? No!! Your goal should be a healthy lifestyle. Being healthy includes keeping your weight down, but should also reduce your chances of chronic diseases including heart attacks, strokes, and cancer. Losing weight should not mean risking your health at the same time. The key to a healthy lifestyle and sustained weight loss is the concept of calorie density. Calorie density refers to the amount of calories in a set amount of food, usually per gram. Some foods have a low calorie density (for example, 1 calorie per gram) and other have a high calorie density (for example, 10 calories per gram). Your goal is to eat as many foods every meal with the lowest calorie densities. Therefore, you end up getting full on less calories. You do not want to be hungry – which is a critical point. Hunger always eventually leads to binge eating. For example, think of your stomach as a round fish bowl. If you fill it with peanuts, you will have eaten approximately 2500 calories. If instead, you fill it with bananas, you will have eaten only about 500 calories. In both instances you are full and cannot eat anymore. By eating bananas instead of peanuts you have received 5x less calories. By choosing foods that are lower in calorie density you fill up with less calories which will lead to weight loss. So which foods have the lowest calorie density? Those that are filled with water and fiber. Fruits and vegetables top the list. You can eat vegetables all day long and lose weight. You get filled up way before over-eating too many calories. The same goes for fruit. Every meal should include a variety of fruits and vegetables. Your snacks should involve fruits and vegetables. It is impossible to get fat on carrots or peppers. On the other hand fats, oils, and processed foods are quite calorie dense. You get a lot of calories for a small amount of food. Oils, for example have 120 calories per tablespoon. Processed foods are highly calorie dense. When food manufactures process foods they remove the water and fiber. This creates foods that are loaded with calories in a small amount of food. Corn has few calories. Corn chips are loaded with calories. Potatoes are lower in calories. Potato chips are loaded with calories. Processed foods are unhealthy and calorie dense. Many vitamins and nutrients are also removed when foods are processed. The more you avoid them the better off you will be. The more your food looks like when it came out of the ground the better. Your daily goal should be 10 servings of fruits and vegetables. Your stomach has only so much room. Fill it up with healthy fruits and vegetables and there will be little room for the highly processed, calorie dense foods. Start to think about this concept at every meal. Your daily calorie intake will decline as will your weight. We will be discussing this concept of calorie density further in later posts including discussing other foods that are low in calorie density. We will also be exploring a closely related topic – nutrient density. Remember, fill up on healthy low calorie foods and the weight will start to come off and stay off.
Mindfulness is an important concept to remember when eating. Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience. Most people tend to eat very quickly. Before they know it they have over eaten. Watching people eat, it seems as if their is a prize for finishing first. Eating is not a NASCAR race! Slow down! Mindfulness while eating means being aware of how each bite of food tastes. It means chewing each bite completely. It also means seeing how you feel between bites. How full are you? Do you really need another bite? It is recommended that you stop eating when you are 75% full. It takes about 20 minutes from the time you are full until your brain gets the message. This is why you feel “stuffed” 10-20 minutes after eating too much, especially when eating quickly. Stop and slow down. Enjoy your food. Eating is not meant to be a race. Pay attention to what you are eating and you will ultimately eat less. Recognize the signs of when you are getting close to being full. Stop when you are full. Do not overeat. Being mindful when eating helps you fully enjoy your meals and all the different flavors and textures of your food. It will also help you eat less and lose weight. Pay more attention during your next meal. Make your meals more enjoyable. Eating should be a pleasurable experience. Do not miss out!