If you've followed a fad diet, you have plenty of company. But have you been able to stay on these deprivation diets for a long time? And if you did lose weight, did the pounds stay off once you went back to your usual way of eating?
The truth is fad diets don't work to help you keep the weight you lose off long-term.
So what does work? Here's some simple, straightforward advice.
Variety Is Key
Just as a car needs the proper gasoline to make it run, a body needs a healthy diet to develop properly. That means the right balance of protein, carbohydrates, and fat -- as well as a host of other nutrients.
When you go on a fad diet and exclude necessary nutrients, you're putting yourself at risk for becoming ill. Getting too little of any nutrient may not cause an immediate problem. But if it's lacking for a long time, you may find you have health problems.
Practice Portion Control
America's obesity epidemic may not come solely from the type of foods people eat but also from the portion sizes. Food servings have grown larger and larger over the years. And fast food restaurants aren't the only places you'll find super-sized meals. Researchers have noted that from 1970 through the 1990s, portion sizes of foods such as hamburgers, burritos, tacos, French fries, sodas, ice cream, pie, cookies, and salty snacks increased -- whether the foods were eaten at home or at restaurants.
Just what does a healthy serving size look like? Here are some guidelines to keep in mind:
- A cup of fruit should be no larger than your fist.
- One ounce of meat or cheese is about the same as the size of your thumb from base to tip.
- Three ounces of meat, fish, or poultry (a normal serving) is about the size of your palm.
- One to two ounces of nuts equals your cupped hand.
Here are some more tips to help with portion (and calorie) control:
- Serve your meals on salad plates instead of large dinner plates.
- Store snack foods in tiny sandwich bags so you are sure you're eating no more than one portion.
- When ordering out, share your entrée with a friend.
- Ask for a kids' meal or small size. Never go for a super-size portion.
- Fill up on fresh green salads, fruit, and vegetables instead of high-fat foods, breads, pasta, and desserts.
Simple Strategies for Losing Weight
The best diet is not a diet at all but a way of life that includes food you enjoy, exercise, and healthy habits.
- Eat a variety of foods -- lean protein; complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables; and "good" fats, like omega-3 fats from fish and monounsaturated fats from avocados, nuts, and olives or olive oil.
- Say NO to bad fats: minimize how much saturated fat you get from animal sources, and eliminate trans fats from the fried foods, snacks, and fast food products you eat.
- Eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Choose different colors of fruits and vegetables to ensure optimal nutrition.
- Be careful about portion sizes. If you must have seconds, serve yourself vegetables.
- Exercise at least 150 minutes each week with a moderately intense activity like brisk walking. This can be divided into smaller blocks of time. For example, you could do a brisk walk for 10 minutes three times a day for five days to reach 150 minutes.
- Clean out the kitchen and eliminate all junk food. Toss out high-calorie, high-fat, sugary foods that will tempt you to overeat -- chips, cookies, crackers, ice cream, candy bars, and the like.
- Fill your kitchen with lean protein, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, good fats, and fat-free or low-fat dairy products.
- Eat smaller meals more frequently. Five to six per day may be best. Space your meals every three to four hours throughout your day. Try taking low fat cheese and whole grain crackers to school or work for a snack, or eat a tablespoon of peanut butter with one slice of whole grain bread. Find foods that are healthy and that keep you full.
- If you like lots of food on your plate, fill up with a large salad and a super serving of green beans, broccoli, cabbage, kale, or other low calorie vegetable.
- Snack on berries. Dark berries (blueberries, blackberries, cherries, and raspberries) are rich in healthy antioxidants. They are also low in calories and fat and high in fiber.
- Avoid "empty calories" including sugar-containing sodas and fruit drinks.