A friend and I were discussing diets recently and in the course of that conversation, I mentioned that I was invariably stunned when I visited Barnes and Noble and saw how many different diet books are on the market. Ditto inside women’s magazine. The reason for so many books, I argued, is that no one wants to present the unpleasant reality that dieting is actually pretty . It’s the execution that trips people up. In fact, I argued, all the dieting advice anyone would ever need can be condensed into 10 bullet points or less. He challenged me and I accepted. Here are my bullets (and I bet I don’t come close to 10):
- Consume less than you burn. While the quality of the food you eat matters, the number one rule of weight loss is to eat less than you burn. How do you know how much you’re eating? Weigh yourself at the start of the week. Then, track every morsel you eat for a week — every splash of cream in your coffee, every drizzle of olive oil in the pan, etc. Sites like MyFitnessPal are free. At the end of the week, add up the calories and weigh yourself again. If your weight didn’t change, you’ve discovered your maintenance calories — the number of calories you need to maintain your current body weight. To lose weight, eat 10% – 20% fewer calories each day.
- Eat as close to nature as possible. Stated differently, this means avoiding processed foods in favor of those we were designed to eat. In addition to ditching the obvious stuff like Twinkies and donuts, this also means ditching pseudo-foods, like reduced-fat cream cheese that replaces the fat with a bunch of strange chemicals you can’t pronounce (or understand what they do once in your body).
- Don’t ditch the carbs. Guess what? Vegetables are carbs and they are great to eat. So are beans and legumes. Even whole grains can be part of your diet. A word of caution: Current labeling allows a food with 50% whole grain to be labeled as whole grain. Fifty percent is half, and that’s not whole grain. Similarly, some manufacturers plaster the label with the words “Multi Grain!” but this is totally meaningless. A food made of multiple (multi_ processed grains is no better for you than a food made of a single, processed grain.
- Choose healthy fats. Eating fat won’t make you fat. Nor will it lead to health problems. In fact, eating the right kinds of fats — think salmon and other fatty fish, nuts, olive oil, avocado — will help to reduce inflammation in your body and provide a host of other health benefits. The fats to avoid? Saturated fats from animal sources, although even these are ok in moderation.
- Increase your protein. Most women are not eating enough protein. Aim for 20 grams or so at each meal. If you’re working out, aim for 1 gram of protein for each pound of bodyweight, more or less split up evenly across your day. Whey protein is power food and comes in nearly every flavor imaginable. Optimum Nutrition at Bodybuilding.comis tasty and inexpensive.
- Get moving. I feel compelled to add this one, even though exercise is not necessary for weight loss. But it is essential to being healthier. So do whatever it is you like to do — play tennis, swim, hike, lift weights. The more muscle you have, the greater your metabolic rate and the more you’ll be able to eat without gaining.
- Cheat a little. It’s ok to splurge now and then and have that piece of cake or bowl of ice cream… once in a while. How often is that? Pick one or two meals a week in which you eat whatever you want. But that’s it. Don’t let two meals become three, and then four, and then…
- Track what you eat. See above, where I talked about the need to religiously weigh, measure, and account for everything you eat. After a while, you’ll be able to eyeball what 4 ounces of uncooked chicken breast looks like, but, at first, this is difficult to do. Research has found that the more overweight a person is, the more likely she or he is to underestimate calories consumed. So if you’re looking to lose weight, odds are that you are not a good judge of portion sizes and calories.
- No stupid stuff! No fasting, no colon cleanses, no all-liquid diets, no only-eating-this-one-food-for-two-weeks programs.
Well, there you have it. How many bullets is that? I count nine. Almost seems as though I should add a tenth just to round things out.