"It's time to diet and exercise when you accept the fact that you can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time--but not while you're wearing a bathing suit. - Gene Perret
Almost every day it seems as if there is some new miracle weight loss product on the market promising to give us a body we'd be proud to flaunt at the beach. Many claim to be based on superior technology or cutting edge science and promise quick if not overnight results. Some are relatively safe even if their results are overstated, and some are downright dangerous, more likely to cause harm rather than long-term good. A few will even allude to being "the secret." A select program that promotes exclusive results that can only be achieved with their patented product, powder, pill, or special diet plan.
But the real secret, the one they don't want you to hear, is that there is no secret. Sure, there will likely always be some disagreement among different camps on the specifics, but there is also a lot of agreement. The 5 steps below represent several areas of relative consensus amongst experts in all the various camps from paleo to keto to vegan to the Mediterranean diet.
1. The bulk of your diet (70%) should come from colorful fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices. These plant-based products are nutrient dense, which means they are low in calories but high in nutrition. The provide a boat load of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, a group of nutrients believed to promote health and maybe even fight disease. These include greens like spinach dandelion greens, chard, parsley, oregano, and purslane and, cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli, root vegetables like carrots, beets, and turnips, and edible fungi which include mushrooms, in addition to fruits such as apples, oranges, grapefruit, berries, cherries, plums, peaches, watermelon, avocados, cantaloupe, mangoes, and pomegranates. Of course the list goes on.
2. Restrict or avoid processed foods including processed/refined grains like white flour, white pasta, and white rice, processed meats like bacon, scrapple, and lunchmeat, processed and mass produced oils including peanut, soybean, and cotton seed, added sugars, added salt, or anything with a list of ingredients you can't pronounce or don't recognize. Instead eat beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, healthier oils like olive oil, and animal protein in smaller amounts (think side dish) preferably if available from grass-fed, free-range, or wild animals.
It's important to remember that high protein doesn't necessarily mean high in animal products as plants, especially beans, nuts, and legumes contain a significant amount of protein, and while not complete protein, when a variety of different sources are eaten, they are more than capable of providing all the essential amino acids we need to thrive.
3. Restrict or avoid liquid calories including sweetened fruit juice, sweetened tea/coffee, soda, and sports' drinks. While more controversial, many experts agree that 100% fruit can be consumed in small amounts as part of a healthy diet, as can milk as long as it is well-tolerated (though for the record calorie per calorie, dark leafy greens are arguably a better source of calcium.) Stick to water or unsweetened tea and coffee. Almond milk, soy milk, coconut milk, and flax seed milk can all be used as a milk alternative. Just make sure they don't have sugar added to them, as many do. Also, if possible avoid artificial sweeteners. Though there isn't 100% consensus, there is more and more evidence that these sugar alternatives may not benign as we once thought, though the jury is still out.
4. Eat when you are hungry and stop when you are 80% full. This Japanese practice referred to as hara hachi bu is one behavior believed to help explain the longevity observed in the Okinawan population, a Japanese community with an unusual high number of centenarians. The practice emphasizes mindful eating and the idea is to eat until you just begin to feel full. In essence, you depend on internal rather than external factors to tell you when you've had enough. We know through research that for most people the meal ends when the plate is clean, the bag is empty, or the food is gone. This practice results in a significant amount of non-hungry eating and contributes a lot of unnecessary calories, ultimately stored as fat, to our diet.
Recently, the practice of intermittent fasting has become somewhat trendy. Intermittent fasts generally involve abstaining from food for 12-16 hours at time, but can also include longer fasts. Shorter, intermittent fasts appear to be relatively harmless, and may offer benefits to those trying to lose weight. I have found that one of the main benefits of these short fasts is that people get a chance to experience true hunger. It is amazing how many of my clients do not know what hunger and fullness feel like.
5. Exercise. Daily if possible. Include a variety of exercise types to include endurance, flexibility and mobility through stretching, and strengthening through resistance training. And if you don't think you have time and even if you do, try HIIT (high intensity interval training.) HIIT has been around for quite a while, but it is only recently that scientists have identified the real benefits that can often be achieved in a fraction of the time. You can read more about HIIT here.
And that's it. 5 steps. No secrets. And simple even if not always easy.