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The anti-diet diet

If you’ve been battling excess pounds over the years, you’re probably fed up with weighing and measuring food—or yourself! You may even be ready to throw in the diet towel. Still, you know there’s good reason to reach and maintain a desirable weight. Extra pounds are linked to high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, some forms of cancer and other ills. And slimming down—only if you need to, of course—will help you look, feel and sleep better and maybe even boost your self-image. So before you give up, try this no-diet approach to taking off pounds.

  1. Get committed.
    To hear diet gurus tell it, losing weight is a piece of cake. The truth? The key to losing weight—simply eating well—takes a lot of work. It means shopping for whole-grain products, fresh produce, legumes and lean proteins and reading nutrition labels on packaged foods. It means planning and preparing meals. That’s quite a challenge if you usually eat on the run, grabbing whatever’s convenient no matter the quality or the quantity. Ask yourself how much time, effort and patience you’re willing to invest in the most precious commodity of all—your own well-being.
  2. Get real.
    Will you ever be a size 6 again or wear size 32 Levi’s? Maybe not. Does that mean you’ll never be healthy, happy or attractive at a somewhat larger size? Not at all. When it comes to shedding excess pounds, every little bit helps. In fact, losing just 10 percent of your weight can help lower high blood pressure and/or improve your cholesterol profile. If you’re discouraged because you have a lot of weight to lose, aim for minigoals—5- to 10-pound losses—and celebrate each one!
  3. Put food in its place.
    Respect food as the fuel that keeps you going. And refuel every four hours or so. If you’re a chronic dieter who ignores hunger pangs (and binges later!), try something new: Satisfy your hunger every time with a nutritious meal or snack. The catch: You can eat only when you’re truly hungry. (To be sure it’s hunger and not thirst you’re feeling, drink a tall glass of water and wait 10 minutes. If your stomach is still growling, it’s confirmed—you’re hungry.)
  4. Lose the food-mood connection.
    Food isn’t a balm for a bad mood or a lonely moment, yet many of us turn to food for comfort. What works better: confronting problems, acknowledging emotions, finding ways to de-stress. To identify which moods trigger eat-a-thons, keep a food journal. Record what you ate and when you ate it, where you were, whom you were with and how you were feeling. Look for patterns and ways to break them. If stress gets you bingeing, for instance, try walking or talking to a friend to defuse tension.
  5. Use the eyeball system.
    Yes, you can throw out your food scale and measuring cups—as long as you keep an eye on your plate. Here’s what portions should look like:
    • A serving of meat (3 ounces) is as big as a deck of cards or the size of your palm minus the fingers.
    • A serving of rice, pasta or cereal (1 cup) is about the size of a tennis ball or your closed fist.
    • An ounce of cheese or a teaspoon of butter or margarine is about the size of the top joint of your thumb.
  6. Fuel up for less.
    Here’s an easy way to keep calorie intake low without counting: Always eat low-calorie, low-fat, high-fiber foods first. That means going for veggies, boiled or baked potatoes, fruit, legumes and whole-grain rolls before digging into entrees. You’ll have less room—not to mention less desire—for more calorie-dense fare. Of course, it’s important to recognize when you’re full and take it as a cue to put down your fork. Eat slowly to give your stomach a chance to send an “I’m satisfied” signal to your brain.
  7. Get creative.
    To cut fat and keep flavor, use your imagination. Sauté in broth or wine instead of oil and use other low-fat cooking methods like steaming, broiling, baking and poaching. Dress salads with flavored vinegars. Go easy on salt and experiment with herbs and spices. Make meatless dishes the centerpieces of your meals or enjoy meat as a condiment instead of a main course. Try new fruits and vegetables in new combinations and stay away from prepared, processed or refined products.
  8. Step up your efforts.
    Just take a walk. Or climb a flight of stairs. Or do the twist. Any movement will burn calories and help you reach and maintain your goal weight. Whether you take several two-minute walks each day, join a tai chi class at the Y or swim laps, aim for 30 minutes of activity at least five days a week. (Check with your doctor before starting an exercise program.)
  9. Find something you like.
    Are your hands beautiful? Your face? Do you have strong legs or full, thick hair? Find something about yourself that you like today. Cultivating a good body image, no matter your size, will help you succeed on the road to a slimmer body and better health.