You've tried every diet, from a low fat diet to low-carb one to raw food—so why are you still struggling with those extra pounds? Maybe the problem is that you’re focusing too much on what you eat rather than how you eat. The latest crop of diet books can help you decode your eating habits and attitudes— and show you how to make a change for the thinner. Stephanie Clarke, R.D., reviews popular weight loss programs and highlights the best advice from each one. Together these weight loss tips can help you reach your goals easily.
THE INSTINCT DIET
by Susan B. Roberts, Ph.D.
Your food choices and eating patterns are nearly always influenced by five basic instincts: hunger, availability, variety, familiarity, and satiety (how full you feel after eating), according to Roberts, an obesity researcher at Tufts University.
Being in tune with these factors ensured our ancestors got enough nutrients when food was available so they could survive when times were lean. Though we’re in little danger of starving today, our bodies are still hardwired to react to these natural urges. Rather than fighting them, you need to learn how to respond to them to maintain healthy eating habits.
The Expert Take:
More than 200 published papers verify that Roberts’ strategies work, so even if you don’t practice healthy eating according to her daily menus, making the behavioral changes she suggests can help you slim down. But her day-by-day eating plan gives you a clearer picture of how to put these healthy eating changes into practice. For instance, because most of us tend to eat more when we’re presented with a variety of foods, Roberts offers an assortment of fruits and veggies and limits calorie-dense options. Dessert is allowed, but in small portions—for example, a cup of chocolate-covered strawberries.
by Louis J. Aronne, M.D.
Some overweight people have a tougher time slimming down because their internal weight-regulating system is “busted,” causing them to have heartier appetites and stockpile fat, claims Aronne, director of the Comprehensive Weight Control Program at Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University. You can override this faulty biology in three months, Aronne suggests, simply by altering the types of food you eat and the order in which you eat them, thereby initiating healthy weight loss. The first steps for healthy weight loss: Have protein at every meal, slash nearly all saturated and trans fat and sugar, and limit starches to a single half-cup serving of whole grains, whole-grain pasta, beans, or rice with dinner. That way you prevent recurring spikes in blood sugar, which can exacerbate hunger and trigger hormonal changes that may increase fat storage. Next, eat lunch and dinner in a specific order. Have a salad or soup and a veggie side dish first, followed by protein, then healthy carbs. Vegetables and soup fill you up fast, Aronne says, sending a satiety signal to your brain so you eat less of the higher-calorie fare.
The Expert Take:
This healthy eating plan is best suited for people who have at least 10 percent of their body weight to lose and can’t seem to control their hunger. While it’s based on science—a recent study found that this healthy eating style increases fat burning in overweight people—it’s a strict approach. So you don’t miss out on important nutrients or fall into a diet rut, take a multivitamin and calcium supplement and don’t eat the same things every day. For snacks, make sure to have at least one piece of fruit and one low fat dairy option daily to maintain your low fat diet.
Delay the bread basket. Since banishing fun foods (like wine, bread, and fatty side dishes), from your low fat diet can trigger bingeing, Aronne suggests having them after you’ve finished your healthy eating. By that time, you may feel satisfied and find you don’t really want that dinner roll or that you’ll be happy with just a few sweet potato fries.
THE NO CRAVE DIET
by Penny Kendall-Reed and Stephen Reed
By controlling physical and emotional factors that trigger cravings—like hunger, stress, low blood sugar, and mood swings— you can dial them down, according to this husband and wife team (he’s an orthopedic surgeon and she’s a naturopath). On this diet, you’ll have three small protein-rich meals (fish, egg whites, poultry, or tofu) per day spaced five to six hours apart with nothing in between. (The Reeds claim even healthy eating between meals intensifies cravings, reduces fat burning, and prevents the release of leptin, a feel-full hormone.) Also on the healthy eating plan: two pieces of fruit daily and as many vegetables (except potatoes, winter squash, peas, and corn) as you like. In the second phase of the diet, healthy carbs are slowly reintroduced, but protein always dominates to maintain healthy eating habits.
The Expert Take:
It’s tough to keep track of how many calories you’re eating on this plan. You choose from a list of dishes, but calorie counts aren’t provided. We estimate they vary widely, so you could get 1,000 calories one day and 2,500 the next. The skipping snacks claim isn’t backed up by science; in fact, there’s more support for the idea that healthy snacking helps you stay satisfied. And while a multivitamin is a good idea, there’s no proof that the other recommended supplements, like L-tyrosine, help with weight loss.
Keep meals simple. Having a smorgasbord of flavors in one sitting can overload your senses and may make you more likely to overeat. Use two seasonings max, and when possible, select a “power spice”—one that provides additional benefits. For instance, chili pepper can help you stay satisfied after a meal.
RELATED: 10 Money-Saving Weight Loss Tips
Keep reading for healthy weight loss tips, plus a review of one of the weight loss programs that focuses on how to master thin thinking and build resistance muscles.
THE COMPLETE BECK DIET FOR LIFE
by Judith S. Beck, Ph.D.
The reason many of us struggle to control our weight is that we haven’t learned (or don’t consistently use) the healthy eating habits employed by “naturally slim” people. That’s why Beck, a weight loss programs expert and director of the Beck Institute for Cognitive Therapy and Research in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, has you do some prep work before you even think about cutting calories.
First you make your lifestyle weight-loss friendly by completing 10 tasks (such as setting a modest weight loss goal and finding a low fat diet buddy), then you master nine “think thin skills,” such as motivating yourself daily and eating slowly. Next you calculate how many calories you need to maintain your current weight, then subtract just 200. There’s no day-to-day low fat diet; you build your own menus from a list of foods and recipes Beck provides.
The Expert Take:
This healthy eating plan prepares you to make the healthiest choices no matter what situation you find yourself in. But the most refreshing thing about Beck’s healthy eating approach is that she doesn’t recommend drastic calorie cutting: A 35-year-old woman who is 5-feet-4-inches and weighs 160 pounds (about 20 pounds overweight) can have 1,800 calories a day and still lose weight. The idea: If you don’t feel deprived, you’ll have a better chance of sticking with this (or any) plan.
Strengthen your “resistance” muscle. When you’re faced with a tough food choice, tell yourself: “If I eat this I’ll get temporary pleasure, but I’ll feel bad later. It’s not worth it.” The more often you make the right healthy eating choice and resist the wrong one, the more willpower you’ll develop.
SLIM FOR LIFE
by Gillian McKeith
Staying on top of what you eat with a healthy eating food diary is good—but you can do even more to pinpoint your bad eating habits. McKeith, a holistic nutritionist, recommends stashing the packaging from every food and beverage you consume for a week in a box so you see what you really eat. The diet is long on fruits, veggies, and beans; contains small amounts of fish, chicken, nuts, and healthy fats; and requires you to cook—using McKeith’s recipes—at every meal. Wheat, refined sugar, caffeine, red meat, and cow’s milk products are discouraged.
The Expert Take:
While the tone is supportive, McKeith comes across as a healthy eating drill sergeant: “It’s my way or the highway,” she says. If you like rules and structure, though, her plan might work for you. One of best things about her book is the recipes—such as chickpea-vegetable stew and salmon and savoy cabbage lasagna—which show you how to use veggies in delicious and filling ways.
See your success. Instead of simply writing down your intended action (such as making a healthy snack to take to work), draw a picture of yourself actually doing packing a low fat diet snack. You don’t need to be Rembrandt, says McKeith— use stick figures and place a caption underneath the image (“This is me, making my low fat diet snack”). It may feel silly, but doing this will solidify your intention and help move you one step closer to action.