Develop a Healthy Diet That Is Right For You
You do not need a special diet to lose weight. In fact, the best and healthiest way to lose weight and keep it off is to educate yourself about proper eating practices and to apply these to your diet.
When it comes to eating habits, each one of us has unique strengths and weaknesses, preferences and aversions. Therefore, do not assume that a diet that worked for your neighbor, a celebrity or a colleague, will also work for you.There is an enormous variation in how different people respond to the same weight loss diet, be it low-carb, low-fat, paleo or a commercial weight loss program, such as Weight Watchers. While some people lose over 50 lbs (22kg), others who follow the same diet program may even gain weight. The reasons for such dramatic differences are not known. However, it seems logical that the answer to a successful loss of excess weight lies in personalizing your diet.
Quality of the macronutrients?
Most dietary recommendations for weight loss focus on limiting either carbs or fats. However, in terms of nutritional quality, there is a wide range within these large families of macronutrients. While some carbs and fats may only provide empty calories and increase your risk of various metabolic diseases, others are quite healthful and can even help with weight loss. For example, refined starches (white rice, white flour) and added sugars found in a variety of processed foods quickly increase the level of glucose in the blood and may contribute to the insulin resistance associated with type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Other types of carbohydrates, namely fiber (found in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains), not only helps with weight loss but can also significantly improve cardiovascular, gastrointestinal and overall health. Similarly, while some fats, such as trans fats (found in processed foods), were found to be unequivocally bad for our health, others, such as omega-3 fatty acids (found in fatty fish), are beneficial for our heart health and general well-being.
Historically, proteins were not maligned the way fats or carbs were. Inside the body, all proteins are broken down into amino acids of which they are composed. Amino acids serve as the building blocks for a variety of vital molecules, such as enzymes and hormones. Unlike carbs and fats, there are no bad or good proteins. However, protein sources vary dramatically in their quality. For instance, processed meats, such as hot dogs or salami, will provide plenty of protein, but that protein will come in combination with high levels of sodium, high-fructose corn syrup, preservatives, etc. On the other hand, a piece of salmon will provide not only a hefty amount of protein but also the very healthy omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. In addition, when choosing good sources of protein, do not forget that plants are also rich in it. A cup of green peas has more protein (8 g) than a hot dog (5g); as a bonus, it provides a wealth of good nutrition: potassium, magnesium, iron, soluble and insoluble fiber.
How to spot macronutrient deficiencies in your food diary
Heavily processed foods. While minimally processed foods, such as frozen fruits and veggies, may provide a healthy alternative to fresh produce, heavily processed foods - foods whose original source is hard to recognize (what does a hot dog have to do with beef, chicken, or turkey?) - or foods that don’t exist in nature - donuts, crackers, sodas - often contain too much fats, added sugar and salt, and should therefore be avoided. Minimizing heavily processed foods will do wonders for your efforts to lose weight and your overall health!
Red meat and dairy. Red meat and full-fat dairy are among the main sources of saturated fats in our diet. Although we need saturated fats for the proper functioning of our bodies, overconsumption can lead to an increase in cholesterol and may contribute to cardiovascular disease. If you are overindulging in red meat (several times a week) try replacing it with fatty fish such as salmon, lean meat such as poultry, or protein-rich plants such as beans or lentils. Low fat or fat-free dairy is often recommended as a healthier alternative to full-fat dairy products. However, removal of fat from milk reduces the amount of some fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) and might also affect health benefits of dairy. A large study that investigated the effects of dairy intake on the weight gain in older women, found that women who consumed the greatest amount of full-fat dairy had a lower risk of becoming overweight or obese. In men, too, full-fat dairy resulted in lower risk for abdominal obesity, a known risk factor for metabolic syndrome and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. To moderate your intake of saturated fats while taking advantage of these health benefits, consume less full-fat dairy products (no more than 2 servings a day) instead of replacing them with low-fat versions. Do not forget the fermented dairy (kefir, yogurt), which provides healthy gut bacteria.
Fruits and veggies. This deficiency is very easy to spot: when you look at your plate, is at least half of it filled with colorful fruits and veggies? If not, you are missing out on the many health benefits that a plant-based diet provides. Numerous studies have shown that increased consumption of fruits and vegetables lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, regulates high blood pressure and bowel movement, and improves blood lipid profile. Fruits and vegetables are packed with nutrients. They provide a variety of vitamins, minerals, enzymes and an abundance of fiber! To get the most benefit, consume different kinds (go for different colors - you want the rainbow on your plate!) and do not shy away from including them in your every meal and snack.
Finding a diet that is right for you is, in essence, very simple: you need to identify weaknesses in your eating habits, and then correct them. The best way to pinpoint your unhealthy eating tendencies is to keep a detailed food diary for about 2 weeks (even less will do). The diary should include not only what you ate and how much, but the time, the setting, and how you felt before and after the meal. You can make your own diary or download and use the one that we designed for you. After 2 weeks, your unique eating pattern will emerge. The diary will help you identify your dietary shortcomings. The most common among these are discussed below.
Disbalance of macronutrients
Are you eating too much or too little of any of the macronutrients?
All three macronutrients - carbohydrates, proteins, and fats - are important for proper functioning of our bodies. Institute of Medicine recommends that 45-65% of adult’s daily calorie intake come from carbohydrates; 10-35% from proteins; and 20-35% from fats. Any combination of macronutrients within these ranges, together with a reduction in calorie intake and increased physical activity, can lead to weight loss. For the purpose of controlling blood glucose or decreasing abdominal fat, you may want to choose a lower carbohydrate-, lower fat-diet, however, there is no need (and it is not healthy or effective in the long run!) to deprive yourself of any of the macronutrients. Instead of vilifying (or glorifying) any particular macronutrient, the best approach to healthful eating is moderation and consumption of those foods that will provide high-quality nutrition.
Are you making the right combination of macronutrients?
The three macronutrients differ greatly in terms of the energy (calories) they provide, ability to curb hunger, and the way they are processed and stored in the body. Fats, for example, are the most energy dense of the three, providing more than double the calories as proteins or carbs, but are the least effective in their ability to suppress hunger or bring eating to an end. Proteins are considered to be the most satiating while contributing the least to the daily energy intake. Carbohydrates supply ample energy and are very filling (fiber, in particular) and efficient in suppressing hunger. Combining the three macronutrients will ensure that your meals provide sufficient energy for your daily activities while keeping you satisfied for a long time. In addition, when consumed in the same meal, macronutrients affect each other’s processing in the body. For example, carbohydrate digestion is slower when consumed together with fiber, fats, and protein. For a better blood glucose control and prevention of insulin spikes in the blood (which happen when blood glucose is high), combine carbohydrates with lean protein or healthy fats in every meal. A piece of bread with jam (combination of one carbohydrate with another) will raise your blood sugar considerably more than the same piece of bread with hummus and avocado (combination of carbohydrate with lean protein and healthy fats).
Are you consuming too many calories?
Calorie reduction is a proven method for weight loss. Your calorie needs depend on your age, gender, and level of physical activity. Women, older and inactive people need fewer calories than men, younger and active people.
Even without knowing the exact caloric value of food, you can lower your caloric intake just by paying attention to what kind of food you are eating and how large your portions are.
What kind of food are you eating?
Consuming fried foods, sugary drinks or alcohol adds too many unhealthy calories to your diet and should be avoided.
The best way to choose nourishing foods is to appropriate general guidelines from the well-balanced diets such as the Mediterranean diet or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH). These diets have been associated with a reduced risk of developing a host of conditions: diabetes, cardiovascular disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
The Mediterranean diet focuses on vegetables and fruits as well as whole grains, legumes (beans and peas), and nuts. Olive oil with its many health benefits is recommended as a primary source of fat. Poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products should be consumed in moderation (twice a week) while red meat and sweets are best avoided and consumed only a few times a month.
DASH is similar to the Mediterranean diet, in that it emphasizes vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Particular attention in DASH is paid to reduction of sodium levels, as it was designed to lower blood pressure.
Are your portion sizes too big?
Your calorie intake can be too high not only because of the kind of food you are eating but also because of the quantity of food you are consuming. To get a sense of recommended serving sizes for different food groups, consult the serving size card prepared by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. A great way to keep within the suggested portion sizes is to use the “portion control plates”.
For weight loss, the math is clear: if you keep the same activity level, you need to cut down about 500 calories to lose one pound a week. If you focus on foods emphasized in healthy diets such as the Mediterranean diet or DASH, and you limit your portion sizes, you will surely see good results.
Frequency, duration, and quality of mealtimes
Are you eating infrequently?
We tend to eat too fast and overeat when we are very hungry. Control your hunger by eating every three to four hours. You should aim for five to six moderately sized meals a day.
Do you eat too fast?
It takes about 20 minutes after eating for our gut to communicate to the brain that we are full. Chew your food slowly and take your time at the table to prevent eating past the "I am full" signal.
Are you mindful when eating?
Mindful eating is both about purposefully making healthy eating choices and paying attention to the food you are eating - its flavors, smells, colors. Avoid eating on the go, in front of a TV or while reading a book, as this takes your attention away from the joy of eating (and can also easily lead to overeating). Make the mealtimes a positive, joyful experience by sitting down with friends or family in a relaxed atmosphere.
Regular bowel movement is important as it removes waste products and reabsorption of materials that we no longer need, such as hormones or drug byproducts.
Are you regular?
Once-a-day bowel movement is an ideal scenario that not all of us have. You need to be aware of your own bowel habits and notice when they change. If you are very irregular, having bowel movements only 1-2 times a week, you should introduce some changes that would activate your colon:
Add fiber to your diet. Dietary fiber, which belongs to the carbohydrate family, is the indigestible part of a plant. Because we lack the enzymes to break it down to simpler sugars, the consumption of dietary fiber does not raise your blood glucose levels. Adding fiber to your diet can have multiple benefits: it can help with weight loss; with bowel movement regularity; it can help control insulin spikes and blood glucose. You can add fiber by consuming vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, or by taking a fiber supplement. Whatever you decide to do, make sure you introduce fiber slowly and drink plenty of water. If you are using fiber supplements, make sure they are not interfering with your medications.
Enrich your gut bacteria. Gut bacteria are increasingly recognized as an important factor in many chronic conditions, such as diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, liver and heart disease, even cancer. Comparisons of gut bacteria between healthy subjects and people with certain disorders (irritable bowel syndrome, asthma, diabetes) showed significant differences. However, at this point, it is not clear whether these differences are the cause or the consequence of the underlying conditions. In addition, due to the complexities of the gut flora (there are about 1000 different species and trillions of bacteria living in our gut), we do not know exactly the species or the number of bacteria needed to prevent a particular disease. However, since it is certain that bacteria do make a difference, it seems worthwhile to experiment with introducing different strains either in the form of a probiotic supplement or by consuming fermented foods. The number and type of bacteria in the gut depend greatly on our diet, so make sure you eat diverse foods (include vegetables from all five subgroups - dark green, red and orange, legumes, starchy and other) and vary the preparation methods (boiled, baked, steamed, raw). Healthy and diverse diet will ensure nourishment of a wide variety of good bacteria in the gut. If you opt to use probiotic supplements, make sure you choose a high-quality supplement. Unless a certain supplement makes a noticeable positive change (improved bowel habits, better mood, feeling of increased energy), it is a good idea to try different supplements on account of both the numbers and the strains of bacteria that they contain.
Be active. Constipation has been correlated with physical inactivity. Gardening, house chores, and walking all contribute to your activity, so get moving!
It is not easy changing your eating habits. But you can do it, everyone can! Here are the practical tips that will help you successfully implement a diet you developed for yourself.
Change your diet slowly
If you did not eat vegetables and fruits regularly and you suddenly introduce all the recommended servings, you may feel bloated, or experience other problems with digestion. This, in turn, could discourage you from continuing the diet. To give yourself the best chance at success - go slowly. In the beginning, introduce just one serving of your favorite vegetable or fruit and record in your food diary its effects (better bowel movement, bloatedness, etc.). Use notes from your diary to set the pace that works for you.
Change your mindset
People often make the mistake of thinking of healthy food as tasteless. Have a positive attitude towards healthy foods and always keep in mind that they are only good for you. As you are eating a delicious piece of baked salmon or a bowl of brown rice stir-fry, think about how nutritious and nourishing they are to your body. Remember, food is the most powerful medicine in the world!
Fight the system
The rise in obesity rates and health problems associated with it are related not only to the remarkably different lifestyles we have compared to the generation of our parents and grandparents, but also to the “obesogenic” environment we now live in, which promotes weight gain and impedes weight loss. Today, high-calorie low-nutrition foods (sugary drinks, sweets, chips) are readily available virtually everywhere we go – in supermarkets, cafes, subway stations, movie theaters… Sophisticated food marketing campaigns take advantage of our desire to eat healthy, branding as nutritious the heavily processed foods that are loaded with salt, sugar and empty calories. If our efforts to achieve and maintain optimal weight are to come to fruition, we have to actively resist the countless temptations that are part of our daily lives. It is important to recognize the factors that undermine your weight loss efforts and to make appropriate changes that will diminish their effect.
Cooking and eating whole foods at home is one of the best (and most economical and fun) ways to avoid unhealthy food lures and to effectively control the quality of the food you eat. Stock up on the vegetables, whole grains, fruits and nuts, and make your pantry chips-, soda- and sweets-free. To ensure you make healthy choices when grocery shopping, always do your shopping after you have eaten, never when you are hungry. That way you will be able to choose the foods that you know are good for you and avoid impulse buys driven by hunger. Rely on food labels to decide which product is best for you.
Last updated: April 27, 2018