To diet or not to diet? That is the question | Health

With the holiday season gone, many of us are taken aback looking at our waist line or stepping on the bathroom scale. And we make the annual vow to go on a diet. The question is which one.

The internet, newspapers and bookstores are filled with advice, articles and new or old diet book releases. What is a consumer to do? 

The first impulse is to reach for a diet that promises rapid weight loss of 15 to 20 pounds in a week, such as the “10 Day Green Smoothie Cleanse,” which placed number 3 on the best seller list for diets for 2020.

Never mind that the US News and World Report ranked the Mediterranean diet as No. 1, but with the latter, the weight loss is gradual and depends on adhering to it for a long time. It seems that we are stuck in the fast food/instant gratification rut. Losing weight and keeping it off demands effort and adherence.

For starters, any diet undertaken, be it the grapefruit or cabbage diet of yesteryear, will result in some weight loss, mostly due to the fact that one becomes conscious of the calories ingested. In the case of severely calorie restricted diets there is a huge loss of water and salt, leading to the false belief you will regain your svelte figure in no time. 

The reason for this is that for the first time your insulin levels drop! High insulin levels as seen after consuming foods high in carbs, be it bread, pasta, rice, cereals, chips, crackers, ice cream or soft drinks, make your body retain salt and water. 

My advice, therefore is, to first set a reasonable and realistic weight-loss goal, such as striving to lose 15 to 20 pounds rather than setting it to 50 pounds or more in the long term. Crash diets such as the 10 day green smoothie way are not sustainable and you set yourself up for failure and disappointment.

A lot of times all you have to do is cut out sugar laden soft drinks and snacking mindlessly throughout  the day on chips, crackers or cookies. Eat two or three meals a day. Contrary to common wisdom, breakfast is not a must. Do not have second helpings even if you still feel hungry. It takes 20 minutes for fullness to set in. Remember, anytime you put sugars and carbs in your mouth, your insulin levels rise, preventing you from burning fat, which is the way to lose weight.

Another very important advice is to not eat or snack for at least 12 hours overnight! For example after finishing dinner at 6 or 7 pm, do not eat or drink anything but plain water until 6 or 7 am. No late evening or nighttime refrigerator raids.

A last word of advice, eliminate trips to fast food restaurants. Start cooking and eating most of your meals at home. If you need to lose 50 pounds or more you probably need to look into the Atkins Diet for Life for guidance, since it severely restricts carbohydrate consumption. Losing up to 20 pounds can easily be achieved and maintained with the Mediterranean diet which emphasizes a lot of legumes (beans and lentils), green leafy vegetables, nuts, lean meat and fish. Be sure to discuss any new diet with your doctor, especially if you have diabetes and take medications.

I have not mentioned exercise for one simple reason. By itself it will not yield a big weight loss. Simply hiring a trainer or taking out a gym membership without correcting your eating habits is doomed for failure. However, a regular exercise routine such a walking daily for 30 minutes will help you maintain your new weight.

To paraphrase a Chinese proverb “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” or in the case of your selected diet with a single bite.

Dr. Eva Abbo is a doctor of internal medicine in La Jolla, Calif., and former Laurel resident.

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