The Major Thing Your Diet is Missing

If you've tried cutting calories, eating "right," and moving more with limited results, your problem may be wonky hormones and a lack of the right protein, says Dr. Ridha Arem in his new book, The Protein Boost Diet. We spoke to the endocrinologist to better understand his science-and to see whether the plan was worth a try. By Ava Feuer, REDBOOK.

You say that the best way to lose weight is to balance out your hormone systems. How do they get imbalanced in the first place, and how can we fix the problem for good?

When a person becomes overweight, no matter the reason, the two major fat-burning hormones, leptin and thyroid, don't work as well as they should. That perpetuates the problem, and makes it harder to lose weight. But it's also true that many people gain weight as a result of thyroid imbalance, menopause, polycystic ovary syndrome, or growth hormone deficiency caused by a pituitary problem. For them, unless their hormone imbalances are treated, their weight issues won't go away. Aside from these disorders, setting up hormones to work their best is a matter of a well-balanced anti-inflammation diet and taking the right amounts of antioxidants to diminish harmful free radicals.

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And the Protein Boost Diet is designed to fix your hormones?

Yes. It's a high-protein meal plan that provides specific combinations of proteins that help create the best amino acid profile and improve the thyroid hormone's ability to send signals to burn fat. Specific amino acids also work to improve the growth hormone, which has an important metabolism-boosting effect, while you sleep. Eating high-fiber foods at every meal controls appetite, decreases blood-sugar spikes after eating, and lowers the glycemic index, meaning the fat-storing effect of insulin is reduced, as are inflammation and cellular damage.

But you also ask people to go on a 1200- to 1500-calorie daily diet, and it seems like anyone would lose weight consuming so little food. Is that not the case?

The 1200- to 1500-calorie range is a safe starting point for most people. Some people should have a higher caloric intake than that [and others should have a lower caloric intake], because everyone has a different resting metabolic rate and exercises a different amount. The calorie range may seem low, but when you remove processed carbs, the calories actually end up hitting those numbers naturally. Since you're getting the essential nutrients you need, it's safe to consume so few calories. It's really about adjusting your caloric intake according to your needs and goals. That said, I don't advocate counting calories. I believe that once you hit your weight-loss goal, your appetite and metabolism naturally adjust themselves, so you don't have to worry about portion size. As long as you follow the fundamentals of the eating plan, you'll maintain your healthy weight. If you deviate, however, and start eating more processed carbs and unhealthy fats, and don't stick to the food combination schedule, you're likely to regain the weight you lost.

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Can you explain why you need a variety of protein sources in order to get all the necessary amino acids? What are an ideal day's protein sources?

Certain amino acids help you feel full and burn fat at a cellular level, and to make your thyroid hormone as efficient as possible, you need to eat a complete, well-balanced amino acid profile. That's why I structured the different protein combinations for each meal the way I did. They also help fulfill the fiber intake component, the sugar load component, and the low-glycemic-index component.

As for protein sources, I'd recommend, for instance, a breakfast of nonfat Greek yogurt or other low-fat or nonfat dairy and smoked salmon, or an egg-white omelet with low-fat cheese or goat cheese. For lunch, lentils with turkey or chicken or beans with filet mignon. At dinner, have tilapia, chicken, or turkey with low-fat cheese and three to four cups of protein-rich vegetables such as zucchini, Brussels sprouts, or green peas.

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And you should also eat foods in a specific order, right?

It's not required, but there is some evidence that if you eat protein- and fiber-rich foods first, it will help you feel full early on in a meal. That's because certain amino acids send your brain the message that you're no longer hungry. At the same time, eating fiber lowers levels of ghrelin, a hormone produced by the stomach that stimulates hunger and slows down metabolism. It's a good idea to reduce that before eating your carbs.

The Protein Boost Diet is broken into two phases between which you alternate. Does this cycle ever end? Or is it a diet that you'll be on for the rest of your life?

For some people with sugar addictions, it's really easy to relapse into eating bad carbs and high-sugar meals. Switching back to phase 1 from time to time helps them stay on track. But I give you flexibility about whether to alternate or not. The Protein Boost Diet can be a lifelong way of eating--it involves eating real, delicious- tasting food and the structure of the plan promotes overall health and a speedy metabolism.


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