Eating smart is a better recipe for your health
- If you want to lose weight and be healthier, going on a diet might not be the best strategy.
- Making some gradual changes to what you eat could produce better results in the long run.
- If you need structure to be successful, a dietitian or meal plan might be helpful to get you started.
Whether or not you’ve made a New Year’s resolution, you’ve probably thought you’d be healthier in 2023.
That probably means going on a diet, right? Not necessarily.
If you’re looking for a temporary weight loss program, a diet may be the answer. But many experts suggest an attitude adjustment instead when it comes to eating, because that strategy is a move that can lead to a longer, healthier life.
By improving what you eat, you can lose weight and also avoid the yo-yo effect of weight loss and weight gain that can come with fad diets. An international study of 14 diets published in 2020 in the British medical journal BMJ found that the dieters had lost weight after six months, but most had regained the weight after a year.
“Unfortunately, when people reach their goal and stop the program, most regain the weight they lost and then some,” said Mimi Secor, a women’s health nurse practitioner and author of “Healthy & Fit at Any Age.” “.
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I want to lose weight and eat healthier. Which diet should I choose?
For starters, don’t think of it as a diet. “I teach my clients to replace the word ‘diet,’ which is often seen as a temporary fix, with the term ‘healthy eating plan’ because it’s more sustainable,” said Elana Paddock, registered dietitian nutritionist at Cooper Clinic Dallas , Texas.
One popular diet today is intermittent fasting, which most commonly involves eating for only 6-8 hours a day. But a recent study in the Journal of the American Heart Association found no link between meal timing and weight loss over a six-year period.
However, fewer and smaller meals were associated with weight loss.
“Plus, skipping meals could lead to more hunger and cravings later, driving overeating and making it harder to make healthier food choices,” Paddock said. “In general, restrictive types of dietary approaches can lead to similar negative consequences.”
When you look at US News and World Report’s best diets of 2023, the top recommendations are “technically not diets the way we think of diets as something restrictive,” Gretel Schueller, US News editor-in-chief of health, told USA TODAY. “They are a lifestyle approach.”
What are some good diets to consider as the best meal plans?
The Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes greens, fruits, lean poultry, seafood, whole grains, nuts and the unsaturated fats from extra virgin olive oil, is “really more of an eating style and it’s really adaptable,” Schueller said.
“Diets that are good for you don’t restrict entire food groups or make you feel like you’re missing something. A better way to think of them is as an eating pattern,” Schueller said.
Two other top recommended diets on the US News and World Report list are the DASH diet – which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop High Blood Pressure – limits foods high in saturated fat, as well as sugary drinks, and the Flexitarian diet, a semi-vegetarian diet focused on non-meat proteins such as beans, peas or eggs – as well as fruits and vegetables – as a way to reduce meat intake.
In addition to the sodium restrictions for the DASH diet, these “aren’t restrictive and are really about focusing on the things we know we should be eating—whole foods, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and so on—and limiting our candy and processed foods.” . Schuller said.
What are some important factors to consider when choosing a diet or meal plan?
If a diet or meal plan is too restrictive, you’re less likely to stick with it. Other important questions to ask yourself before embarking on a new food strategy include:
- Are favorite foods prohibited?
- Are all food groups included? What does our monetary budget allow?
- And the other family members?
“If you’re cooking for a whole family, but one person is eating differently than the rest of everyone at the table, that’s not very sustainable,” Schueller said. “The more complicated the diet gets, the less likely you are to stick with it long-term.”
Those diets that top US News and World Report lists can serve as the foundation for a long-term healthy eating plan. Each suggests limiting unhealthy foods and emphasizes portion control.
“Whatever you choose, it should consist of healthy foods and drinks and allow for the occasional treat. That way you can stick to it,” Schueller said.
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I don’t want to go on a diet, but I do want to make some simple changes.
Start with small changes. Drink more water — ideally eight 8-ounce glasses a day — and start logging your food intake with an app like MyFitnessPal, suggests Secor.
“Or maybe start going to bed 15 minutes early or start walking around the block every day,” she said. “Don’t try to change everything at once. You’ll just be overwhelmed and more likely to throw in the towel until next year.”
Pick one or two specific changes to focus on and go from there, Paddock said. Some suggestions:
- Swap white bread or white rice for brown bread or brown rice (these have more nutrients).
- Choose light popcorn instead of chips.
- Purchase individual servings of nuts or snacks instead of large containers, or fill small snack bags for portion control.
- Keep fruit close at hand instead of always opting for sweet or savory snacks.
- Use smaller plates and bowls so portions are smaller.
- Eat leaner proteins like chicken or fish — or beans — when you may have been eating red meat.
- After dinner consider the kitchen closed until morning.
“You can consider a baby-step approach with healthier exchanges and building one success on another that not only leads to positive change but is also motivating,” Paddock said.
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What if I need a stricter regimen?
- Look for a registered dietitian. These nutrition specialists “can be an invaluable tool in tailoring a plan with you and navigating choices that fit your needs and lifestyle,” Paddock said. You can find a nutrition expert on the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website.
- Try a program. If you’re not an expert cook, perhaps try a program like Weight Watchers, Nutrisystem, or Optavia, which has foods you can purchase and guidelines to help you with portion sizes. “Some of these more structured commercial diets might work for (the person), even if it’s only for a limited time to kickstart a healthy eating pattern,” Schueller said.
Find a physical trainer. Food is just one part of a healthy lifestyle; physical activity is another. But exercise is part of the “holistic approach … of the healthy lifestyle you’re choosing,” Schueller said.
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Follow Mike Snider on Twitter: @mikesnider.