- If you want to lose weight and live a healthier life, going on a diet may not be the best strategy.
- Making gradual changes to what you eat can help you achieve better results in the long run.
- If you need structure to succeed, a dietician or eating program can be helpful to get you started.
Whether you’ve made a New Year’s resolution or not, you’ve probably been thinking about getting healthier in 2023.
That probably means going on a diet, right? Not necessary.
If you’re looking for a temporary weight loss program, dieting may be the answer. But many experts instead suggest an attitude adjustment when it comes to eating, because that strategy is one step that can lead to a longer, healthier life.
Improving what you eat can help you 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 dieters lost weight after six months, but most regained weight after a year.
“Unfortunately, when people reach their goal and stop the program, most regain the weight they lost and then some,” says Mimi Secor, a nurse practitioner specializing in women’s health 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 coach my clients to replace the word ‘diet,’ which is often seen as a workaround, with the term ‘healthy eating plan’ because it’s more sustainable,” says Elana Paddock, a registered dietitian nutritionist at the Cooper Clinic in Dallas. , Texas.
A currently popular diet is intermittent fasting, which usually involves eating 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 have been associated with weight loss.
“In addition, skipping meals can lead to more hunger and cravings later on, encouraging overeating and making it harder to make healthier food choices,” Paddock said. “In general, restrictive species feeding approaches can lead to similar negative consequences.”
If you look at US News and World Report’s 2023 Best Diets, the top recommendations “are not technically diets as we see diets as something restrictive,” Gretel Schueller, editor of health at US News, told USA TODAY. “They’re a lifestyle approach.”
What are some good diets to consider as better eating plans?
The Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes vegetables, fruits, lean poultry, seafood, whole grains, nuts and unsaturated fat from extra virgin olive oil, is “really more of an eating style and it’s really adaptable,” Schueller said.
“The diets that do it right don’t restrict entire food groups or make you feel like you’re missing out. A better way to think of them is as an eating pattern,” Schueller said.
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Two other top diets recommended in the US News and World Report list are the DASH diet — it stands for dietary approaches to stop hypertension — limits foods high in saturated fat, as well as sweetened beverages, and the flexitarian diet, a semi-vegetarian diet. diet focusing on non-meat proteins such as beans, peas, or eggs — plus fruits and vegetables — as a way to reduce meat intake.
Aside from sodium restrictions for the DASH diet, these “are not 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 sweets and processed foods,” Schueller said.
What are some important factors to consider when choosing a diet or eating plan?
If a diet or eating plan is too restrictive, you are less likely to stick to it. Other important questions to ask before embarking on a new eating strategy include:
- Are favorite dishes not allowed?
- Are all food groups included? What does our monetary budget allow?
- What about other family members?
“If you’re cooking for an entire family, but one person eats differently than everyone else at the table, it’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 rank high on the US News and World Report list can serve as the basis for a long-term healthy eating plan. Each suggests the restriction of unhealthy foods and emphasizes portion control.
“Whatever you choose, it should consist of healthy food and drink — and you’re allowed to have a treat every now and then. That way you can stick to it,” Schueller said.
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I don’t want to go on a diet, but I want to make some simple changes.
Start with small changes. Drink more water — ideally eight 8-ounce glasses a day — and start tracking your food intake with an app like MyFitnessPal, Secor suggests.
“Or maybe go to bed 15 minutes earlier or start walking around the block every day,” she said. “Don’t try to change everything all at once. You’ll just get overwhelmed and rather throw in the towel until next year.”
Pick one or two specific changes to focus on and go from there, Paddock said. Some suggestions:
- Replace white bread or white rice with wholemeal bread or brown rice (these contain more nutrients).
- Choose light popcorn instead of chips.
- Buy individual portions of nuts or snacks instead of large containers – or fill small snack bags to keep portions under control.
- Keep fruit on hand instead of always opting for sweets or salty snacks.
- Use smaller plates and bowls so that the portions are smaller.
- Eat lean protein like chicken or fish — or beans — if you may have had red meat.
- Consider the kitchen closed after dinner until morning.
“You can consider a small step approach with healthier swaps and build one success on top of another, which not only leads to positive changes but is motivating,” said Paddock.
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What if I need a stricter regimen?
- Find a registered dietitian. These nutritionists “can be a valuable resource in working with you to tailor a plan and make the choices that fit your needs and lifestyle,” Paddock said. You can find a nutritionist on the website of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
- Try a program. If you’re not an experienced cook, maybe try a program like Weight Watchers, Nutrisystem, or Optavia, which has foods you can buy and guidelines to help with portions. “Some of these more structured commercial diets can work for[the person]even if it’s just for a limited time to kick-start a healthy eating pattern,” Schueller said.
- Get a physical trainer. Food is just one part of a healthy lifestyle; physical activity is another. But exercise is part of the “holistic approach … to the healthy lifestyle you choose,” Schueller said.
Follow Mike Snider on Twitter: @mikesnider.