How to Eat for Health & Weight Loss

What is the best diet for health?

What is the best diet for weight loss?

These are common questions for many people, and misinformation abounds through bestselling books, media reports, internet blogs, and well-meaning friends. Who should you believe?

WEIGHT LOSS

Beware of fad diets promising quick results.  Often these diets aren’t nutritionally sound and focus on short-term changes you won’t be able to sustain.  To achieve and maintain a healthy weight you need to develop new eating habits that you can maintain for life.

Studies that have investigated various diets for weight loss have shown that generally the differences between diets is small, and the most important thing is adherence, that is, if people are able to stick to the diet.

If you need to lose weight, here’s what you can focus on . . .

  • Eat a diet that promotes good health. Though there are many healthy ways to eat (low fat, low carb, vegetarian, omnivore, etc.), a large body of research shows that the most disease-protective dietary patterns are Mediterranean, DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), or patterns assigned by studies as “Prudent” “High Quality” or “Healthy Eating.
  • Engage in daily physical activity. Although being physically active doesn’t guarantee weight loss (many of us overestimate the calories burned in activities and overcompensate with more food), the health benefits or being active are huge.
  • Set a realistic weight loss goal and track what you eat at least a few days a week. This will make you more aware of your eating habits, the calories in your typical diet, and help you lose weight.   Smartphone apps and websites have simplified diet tracking tremendously. Sparkpeople is a good website/phone app that helps you set weight loss goals and monitor your food intake.
  • Eat mindfully to help you tune into feelings of hunger and fullness.
  • Aim for gradual changes in your eating style and weight loss. This approach will help you adopt lifelong habits and sustainable eating behaviors.
  • Make your physical and social surroundings conducive to healthy eating. For example, surround yourself with healthful foods, register for exercise classes, hang out with like-minded friends, and limit exposure to situations that trigger cravings. We live in an obesogenic environment that promotes overeating, so do what you can make your environment foster good habits.

Here are some great tips on to help you change your eating behavior for successful weight management.

Losing weight is not easy.  If it were,  we wouldn’t have these statistics: in the US, more than one third of adults and 17% of children and adolescents are obese. In Canada (2008)  25% of adults are obese and 37% are overweight.

Recognize that social, environmental, behavioral and biological factors likely contribute to your health and weight.  You might have to focus on more than one area for success. Here are a few examples:

  • Social: access to nutritious foods, food advertising, large portions, fewer home-cooked meals, social support from family, friends, co-workers.
  • Environmental: absence of sidewalks and bike paths, city and building design, over reliance on cars
  • Behavioral: sedentary jobs, sedentary lifestyles, food choices
  • Biological: genetics, gut microbiota, body fat biology, metabolic rate

Should you worry if you are overweight? Researchers continue to investigate how being overweight can influence health.  A recent study showed that nearly half a million new cancer cases/year can be attributed to being overweight.  Some research shows that excess body fat produces hormones and specialized proteins that can increase inflammation and disturb other processes in your cells: this can contribute to the development and progression of many diseases like type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, heart diseasestroke, and certain cancers.

HEALTH

Of course, what we eat is critical to our health and well-being. You can lose weight eating junk food if your calorie intake is low, but your body won’t be getting the nutrients it needs for optimal health.

There are many ways to eat healthfully.  One of these ways, supported by a growing body of evidence is a Mediterranean-style diet.  This diet typically focuses on plant-based foods like vegetables, fruits, and whole grains; healthy fats from nuts, seeds, and olive oil; moderate intake of fish and poultry, and low intake of dairy products, red meat, processed meats, and sweets.  Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate does a nice job illustrating what a healthful diet looks like.

News and Reviews of Popular Diets

Are you curious about a certain diet? Do you want to give advice to a friend who’s following an eating plan that doesn’t make a lot of sense to you? The authors of many diet books spin a fine tale with plenty of anecdotes that sound very convincing (keep this in mind – the plural of anecdotes is not data).  What’s more confusing, is that some authors cite only research that supports their ideas to create a stronger case for their eating plan.   This makes it challenging to find evidence-based and unbiased reviews.

Here is a general review of popular diets that includes links to reputable articles, thorough reviews, and research updates that do a good job looking at the benefits and evidence behind these eating plans.  >>SEE OVERVIEW OF DIETS AND REVIEWS HERE

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Updated April 25, 2016

 

 

 

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