If we were wired differently, sliding past the corner bakery would be a cake walk. Drinking milk without Oreos? A slam-dunk. But according to diet experts, it’s hard to lose weight because our bodies are designed to binge. How can you fight this instinct? By knowing which diet rules are the right ones. Read on for 10 surprising ways to lose weight. Plus, are you really ready to shed those pounds? Take our quiz…
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Losing weight is frustrating. You’re hungry all the time. You even dream about food. Until that chocolate cake is yours, you simply can’t rest. Then once you’ve eaten it, you feel doomed. Will you always be tormented and overweight?
Not necessarily. Researchers are learning that eating too much has little to do with lack of willpower. We’re wired to eat as much as we can when food is available and to undereat when it’s not.
Trouble is, we’re not living in caves anymore, and our body’s conditioning hasn’t caught up to the fact that food is now available 24/7.
In fact, the mere sight and smell of our favorite dishes set off brain signals that make passing them up unbearable.
Saliva increases, our stomach muscles relax and the pancreas secretes insulin, causing our blood sugar levels to drop, says Susan Roberts, Ph.D., director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Energy Metabolism Laboratory at Tufts University and co-author of The Instinct Diet: Use Your Five Food Instincts to Lose Weight and Keep it Off (Workman Publishing).
Scans of overeaters also show “that their brains are excessively activated by fat, sugar and salt,” says David Kessler, M.D., a former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration and author of The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite (Rodale).
“Eating those [foods] activates the brain’s reward pathways — and that just keeps happening,” he says.
So how do you fight your own brain chemistry?
“The secret to dieting is learning to control those internal and external signals that get to the brain,” Roberts says.
10 Diet Rules to Shed Pounds
Experts say you can obey your body’s drive and still outsmart it. Here are 10 ways to get a better body:
1. Banish hunger.
Hunger is the first problem dieters deal with, Roberts says. “Controlling it is a matter of what you eat, how often you eat and watching your calories.” The combination of what, how and when is dynamite for weight control.
To figure out how many calories to eat, Roberts recommends you focus on pounds first.
If you weigh 120-160 pounds, start your diet by eating 1,200 calories per day; 160-200 pounds, 1,600 calories per day; 200-240 pounds, 1,800 calories per day.
For two weeks, spread most of your allotted calories over three 300-400 calorie meals and two 100-200-calorie snacks.
If you lose 6 or more pounds right away, add back 200 calories per day so you don’t get too hungry. Once you reach your desired weight, you can eat more but keep track of calories and pounds, Roberts says.
2. Know what to eat.
The best foods to nosh are low fat but high in fiber and protein.
For a high-fiber cereal, try All Bran (which contains 10 grams of fiber per half cup) or Fiber One (14 grams of fiber per half cup).
Eat lean proteins like white fish, which satisfies hunger better than any other protein food, Roberts says.
For reference, a 200-calorie serving of fish is about the size of a checkbook. Lean, skin-less chicken and vegetables and legumes, like chickpeas, are good sources of protein too. A 200-calorie serving of chicken is the size of a deck of cards.
For your daily dose of dairy, swap out regular yogurt for low-fat Greek yogurt, which is higher in protein.
3. Clear cabinets of the bad stuff.
“If it’s there, you’ll eat it,” Roberts says. “This isn’t just a willpower issue.” Remember, the sight and smell of food triggers metabolic responses that make you hungry.
So throw away cookies and corn chips and put healthy foods like fresh fruit and sliced red peppers, celery and carrots within reach.
4. Retrain your brain.
Stop thinking of potato chips as your pals.
“The way you take power out of a stimulus is to change the wanting,” Kessler says. “Food loaded with fat, sugar and salt is designed to make you want more.”
You have to start saying, I don’t want that food. “That helps you cool down the stimulus.”
By consistently telling yourself that sugary, fatty foods are no good, you lay down new circuitry in your brain that changes how you perceive the alluring food, he says.
5. Set up eating rules.
Tell yourself, No fried foods. I’m going to put half my sandwich in a take-out box. It’s important to set boundaries when temptation tries to muscle in, Kessler says. But make sure your rules are ones you can follow.
If you think you’re obsessing and craving, stop the debate right away, Kessler advises, so there’s no room for argument in your mind. Taking this approach means you won't feel deprived because you'll want to follow your own rule, he says.
6. Eat healthy versions of favorite foods.
Another urge we fight? Mom’s home cooking. Don’t ask yourself to give it all up. It just won’t work, Roberts says.
“The best way to deal with those cravings is to cook more satisfying — and healthful — versions of the same foods.”
That may mean adding fiber (think oats) to Mom’s chocolate chip cookie recipe or putting more mushrooms in your chicken Parmesan and less cheese.
“Your brain gets the familiar taste and you get healthier food,” Roberts says.
7. Limit your choices.
Stay away from buffets. The more choices we have at a meal, the more we’re driven to eat.
A 2006 British study found that people ate up to 40% more when offered several foods instead of one.
The assortment of foods, sight and smells stimulated people's appetites, delaying a feeling of fullness.
So save the variety for fruits and vegetables, which can stimulate you to eat more of the good and less of the bad, fatty stuff.
“That makes your eating so much easier to control than if you have an array of things,” Roberts says.
8. Enjoy treats — with restraint.
Anyone who has broken a diet with a bag of M&Ms knows that deprivation doesn't work.
“Food has to be pleasurable,” Kessler says, “but you have to control and plan [your cheats].”
So leave room in your diet plan for an occasional treat — a small piece of chocolate or biscotti.
Roberts' advice: Allow 100 calories a day of your favorite food.
Just don't eat that goodie by itself. Roberts suggests “sandwiching” the treat between two low-calorie fillers.
For example, if you’re craving a cookie, have a half cup of strawberries, then eat the cookie, followed by a cup of tea.
“That makes it possible to enjoy the food without having a huge amount,” Kessler says.
9. Think of the rewards.
Just cutting down or eliminating forbidden foods you overeat isn't enough. To break pleasurable food associations, create rewards.
Maybe it's a picture of your slim self on the refrigerator, the new feeling of energy you get from daily walks or the delight that comes with wearing new flattering clothes.
10. Forgive setbacks.
Everyone succumbs to temptation sometimes, so don’t beat yourself up for binging on chocolate.
That old brain circuitry is always there despite the patterns you've laid down, Kessler says.
“If you get stressed or fatigued, it will [reactivate]. That’s normal and human. I go through a handful of chocolate chip cookies every once in a while.”
Want more? Get your own copies of Susan Roberts' The Instinct Diet: Use Your Five Food Instincts to Lose Weight and Keep it Off and David Kessler's The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite.
Are You Ready to Shed Pounds?
Losing weight is a commitment to diet, exercise and behavioral changes. You know you could stand to lose some of those unwanted pounds, but are you ready to make this life-long commitment? Take this weight-loss quiz to find out.
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