Diet Advice You Can Ignore

Photo: ThinkstockBy Corrie Pikul

Small Tweaks Are Just as Effective as Big Changes

You've switched from mustard to mayo, and you're cutting back on Coke--yet these aren't foods that you eat every day. That could be why these occasional sacrifices aren't changing the numbers on the scale.

A better way to think about it: "You'll see more impressive results by focusing on changes that are part of a regular routine," says registered dietician Keri Glassman, the author of The New You (and Improved!) Diet. "Consistency is key." For example, if you drink an 8-ounce glass of soda every afternoon, switching to sparkling water could save 700 calories a week. But if you only drink soda at the movies, say, once a month, try to find a smarter substitution (the bagels you pick up on your way into the office, perhaps) with a bigger payoff.

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Wait Until You're Really Hungry to Eat

It's the rare person who can confront a menu, a full plate or a bread basket on an empty stomach without being tempted to devour the first rosemary-seasoned focaccia-type thing they see (especially if that thing is slathered in butter). We also now know that overweight people have a harder time recognizing when they're truly hungry--or full--and tend to be more susceptible to messages from ads or friends urging them to eat. Another habit that can mess with your hunger signals over time: yo-yo dieting.

A better way to think about it: "Eat small, healthy snacks to help keep your appetite in check," Glassman says, and track hunger using a 10-point scale (10 being stuffed). Try to stay between a 4 and a 6, or slightly satisfied to slightly hungry.

Exercise More to Lose More

Repeated studies have shown that exercise alone isn't enough to help people shed pounds (maybe the reason scientists keep testing this theory is because no one wants to believe the results). In fact, when some people begin a workout routine, they actually gain weight. Here's why: Intense exercise makes a lot of us hungrier, there's a tendency to reward physical effort with a high-calorie treat, we don't burn as many calories as we think (usually about 200--the amount in one sports drink), and it can be hard to maintain a consistent workout schedule over time. That's why eating more healthfully, and eating less, is twice as effective at helping people drop pounds.

A better way to think about it: Exercise helps you build muscle to look leaner and stronger (even if your weight doesn't budge) and improves your mood--which bolsters your motivation to take care of your body. It's also hard to snack while you're working out. Plus, regularly getting your heart rate up measurably improves your health and can add years to your life.

Cut Calories Wherever You Can

Not all calories are created equal. Yet many diets of the past failed to sufficiently distinguish between different types of calories. The scientists behind Weight Watchers (which allocates points to food based on calories and other factors) overhauled the program's methodology in 2010 to encourage people to eat more protein and fiber. This was in response to research on food density and satiety that shows these foods help fill us up and keep hunger at bay.

A better way to think about it: Focus, as experts do, on where your calories come from. Research has shown that calories from highly processed carbs, like white flour and sugar, are treated differently by the body than calories from other foods, causing blood sugar and insulin to spike, leading to fat retention. So when calories are a draw, always reach for the option with more fiber and protein and fewer grams of added sugar and refined carbs. (It's still true that if you want to lose weight, you need to consume fewer calories overall.)

Avoid Fat. Any Kind of Fat. Always and Forever.

Fat is not only an essential nutrient, but it can also help you lose weight by filling you up and helping to satisfy cravings, Glassman says. In fact, she adds that a sensible diet is made up of about 30 percent fat. The key is choosing the right fats, and that can get a little confusing. "I have a lot of clients who are still afraid to eat nuts," Glassman says.

A better way to think about it: "Choose healthy (i.e., unsaturated or monosaturated) fats that come from nuts as well as avocado, fish, seeds (including flaxseed and chia seeds) and olive oil," Glassman says, and be mindful of portion size (for example, only a palmful of nuts). Limit your consumption of not-so-healthy saturated fats from cheese, butter, cream, fatty cuts of meat and palm oil. And avoid trans fats--commonly found in processed foods like chips, cookies and margarine--which, Glassman says, can not only cause weight gain but can also raise LDL ("bad") cholesterol and increase the risk of heart disease.


Slow and Steady Is Always the Best Way to Lose Weight

The recommended speed limit for weight loss is 1 to 2 pounds per week . But the scientific research doesn't support it, found David B. Allison, PhD, who directs the Nutrition Obesity Research Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. In a recent article for the New England Journal of Medicine that busted myths about obesity , Allison cited studies that challenged the take-it-slow rule. One of these compared people who drastically cut their calories and dropped weight rapidly with people who cut fewer calories and took longer to lose, and found that both groups had the same success in keeping the weight off over 18 months .

A better way to think about it: If you follow a balanced, nutritionist-recommended eating plan for a few weeks and drop more than the recommended amount in the first few (say, 3 or 4 pounds a week) feel psyched instead of worried you may be losing too quickly. (But this shouldn't be seen as a reason to try that powdered-drink plan you've heard can help you lose 10 pounds in the time it takes your manicure to chip; nor should it tempt you to starve yourself. Fad diets and fasts are unhealthy and unsustainable.)

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