For me, “diet” is a four-letter word, professionally and personally.
All too often, this term is used to describe a restrictive, temporary fix for shedding excess pounds that ends abruptly when you go back to eating what you want. As a former frequent dieter, I know all about it.
That’s why I was happy to hear that women are dieting less, according to a new survey of 3,800 adults by the NPD group. Twenty-three percent of women reported dieting in 2012, down from 36 percent in 1992. Sounds like a step in the right direction—or is it?
I hope this is a sign that people have finally embraced the message to adopt reasonable lifestyle changes instead of trying to stick to low-calorie plans, and that this dip isn't a result of people throwing in the towel on dieting because they think it’s so difficult to lose weight and keep it off.
Changing views about carrying around some extra pounds may also be at play. In 1985 a little more than half of respondents agreed that being thin was a lot more attractive than being “heavy.” Now fewer than 1 in 4 agree.
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Whatever the reason for the decline, one thing’s for sure: Dieting isn’t going away any time soon.
The good news is that there’s no need to follow a restrictive eating plan in the name of weight loss. Try these minor tweaks to your food and physical activity routines to reap big rewards with time without a diet.
1. Know your calorie salary. Everyone has a daily calorie allowance for weight loss or maintenance. Energy needs are based on age, gender, and activity level, and they vary throughout life, so reevaluate them on a regular basis. If you need help, use this calorie calculator to figure out how much you should be eating.
2. Prevent portion distortion. Underestimating calorie intake and overestimating calories burned in physical activity can put a damper on weight-control efforts. Use measuring cups and spoons or a kitchen scale to become more aware of serving sizes and calories consumed.
3. Take it slow. Small changes add up. If you cut caloric intake by 100 and burn an extra 150 with physical activity every day without making any other changes, you could shed upwards of 12 pounds in six-month’s time.
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4. Don’t deny yourself. After years of trying to give up chocolate, I came to the conclusion that having some every day helps me manage my weight better. Chocolate keeps me on track the rest of the day and dashes feelings of deprivation. The secret is to stick to small portions of any treats such as chips, wine, and ice cream.
5. Count weekends. Weekends come around every five days and they can wreak havoc with your waistline if you eat more and exercise less. One study found indulging on Saturdays combined with decreased physical activity on Sundays was the reason for weight gain. Plan for any splurges on foods you absolutely love, such as a cocktail or Sunday brunch, and commit to eating healthfully at every other weekend meal. Weighing yourself on Friday morning and again on Monday may also help you avoid temptations on your days off.
Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S., R.D., is a registered dietitian and author of several books about women's health and family nutrition, including MyPlate for Moms, How to Feed Yourself & Your Family Better.