Succeeding at weight loss doesn't have to be complicated. Way back when humans evolved, everyone stayed lean and strong without thinking about weight control. They did it the simple way: They ate the food that grew all around them and got lots of exercise while they hunted and gathered that food.
It occurred to me that anyone would lose weight if they kept up a similar level of activity and ate like our ancestors did, a concept I developed in a new diet book, The Origin Diet: How Living in Tune With Your Evolutionary Roots Will Reduce Disease, Boost Vitality, Add Healthy Years to Your Life, and Help You Lose Weight (Henry Holt and Company, 2001).
But all this was rather abstract. I wanted to see how real people living in the 21st century would do on the simple diet plan. I decided to recruit some volunteers at my gym to test the diet. All of the people I chose were healthy exercisers, in their early 20s to their 60s. While some had elevated cholesterol or were on medications, most just wanted to lose weight. About 40 stuck with the diet for six weeks, and some of those stayed on for another six-week study with 15 volunteers from another local gym.
(Related: Keep reading to find specific weight loss tips that have helped others lose up to 30 pounds in just 15 weeks.)
Discover how a simple diet plan helped people lose 30 pounds in 15 weeks.
After six weeks on the Origin Diet, everyone who'd wanted to lose weight did—up to 30 pounds in 15 weeks! Cholesterol levels and blood pressure dropped, menopausal hot flashes lessened, and some people were even able to reduce their medications. They all slept and felt better and had more energy and fewer cravings.
Even those who didn't follow the diet to the letter noticed improvements in health. Some continued to eat egg noodles because they didn't want whole grain; others used their beloved Fig Newtons as motivation to stay with the regimen. Still, the closer they stuck to the diet, the greater the benefits.
Healthy weight loss tips: 3 simple ways to lose weight successfully
You can't go all the way back to humanity's roots; too much has changed (and do you really want to live in a cave?). You can return to your nutritional origins, however, and if you want to lose weight and keep it off, you probably should.
While our bodies have remained much the same since humans first evolved, what we eat has changed dramatically -- first by the discovery of agriculture, but especially by the Industrial Revolution. The healthy, natural foods we once enjoyed have become high-calorie, low-nutrition "food products." We grow fat on doughnuts, cheese puffs, deli meats and soda pop, when we were meant to stay lean and strong on leaves, nuts, seeds, wild game, and honey.
Here are three ways to lose weight using the simple diet of early humankind
1. Seek variety in your simple diet by eating a wide array of fruits and vegetables. Our ancient ancestors ate upward of 3,000 calories daily, 70 percent of which came from plants, including fruits, roots, legumes, leaves, sprouts, nuts and seeds. While we eat a few ounces of fresh produce a day, they consumed 3-4 pounds of it. When we do eat a vegetable, it's usually potatoes; many an American has hash browns for breakfast, french fries at lunch, potato chips for a snack and a baked spud with dinner.
We have a tendency to think of dietary variety as a wide array of refined and processed foods. Wrong! Eat at least eight servings of different fruits and vegetables daily. Aim to triple your intake of plant foods and increase their variety in your diet.
2. Switch from saturated to unsaturated fats. Our ancestors also ate wild meat, which contains just 4 percent fat compared to the 25-30 percent in our usual chops and burgers. What's more, wild game contains twice as much unsaturated fat as domesticated meats, making its fat composition more like nuts than beef. Boost your diet's ratio of saturated to unsaturated fats by getting your protein from beans, fish, shellfish, skinless poultry breast, fat-free milk products and the occasional wild game, such as venison. Eat oils, nuts, seeds and fruits (avocados, olives) that are loaded with unsaturated fats.
3. Go with natural foods. Our ancestors never saw refined food, and the less you see of it, the better. Focus on minimally processed natural foods, meaning more grains and less refined grains and sugars. Gradually boost your fiber intake to at least 25-30 grams. Whole grains and vegetables contain insoluble fibers that promote healthy digestion, while the soluble fibers in fruits, oats and cooked dried beans and peas lower cholesterol and keep blood sugar steady, helping prevent heart disease and diabetes. Both kinds help control weight.
One reason our ancestors were lean was that their daily diets included 100-150 grams of fiber. Today we average only about 15-20 grams. To maximize the health benefits of fiber, eat a variety of high-fiber natural foods all day long rather than limiting your fiber intake to a bran muffin at breakfast or a high-fiber bar before your workout.
[header = Healthy weight loss through simple eating and enjoyment of natural foods.]
6 steps to healthy weight loss through simple eating
- Graze, don't gorge: Eat five minimeals daily and have at least two fruits or vegetables at each minimeal.
- Get your carbs from starchy vegetables, whole grains, fruits, legumes and honey, not from food products processed with sugar, refined flours, salt and additives.
- Get your omega-3 fatty acids from fish, wild game, walnuts and flaxseed meal; your unsaturated fats from olive and canola oils, nuts, avocados and olives.
- Drink plenty of water -- at least 8 glasses daily.
- Stay active with cross training. Our ancestors, who were as fit as today's athletes, combined walking and running with activities similar to weight lifting and stretching.
- If your weight starts creeping up, try what worked for cave women: Create a temporary calorie shortage in your body by eating less and increasing your activity.
Shopping list: Back-to-Basics Natural Foods
Vegetables and fruits
* Lots of colorful vegetables, especially dark green, red and orange
* Lots of fresh fruit, especially vitamin-C-rich choices
* Skinless poultry breast
* Nut butters (almond, cashew, soy, peanut)
* Soy milk
* Rolled oats
* Beans and peas (canned, dried)
* Brown and wild rice
* Lentils, bulgur, whole-wheat couscous
* Whole-grain breads and crackers
Snacks and toppings
* Unsalted nuts (walnut, almond, cashew, soy, pecan)
* Unsalted seeds (pumpkin, sesame, sunflower, poppy, pine nuts)
* Dried fruits (raisins, apricots, prunes, dates, figs, berries, currants)
* Maple syrup
* Herb or green teas
* Herbs and spices
* Mustards, salsas, capers
Count on Shape for your information about natural foods and for weight loss tips that help melt the pounds away.