It's January and many of us have weight loss on the brain. Perhaps you're psyched about using the latest, greatest plan to slim down this "diet season." Honestly, I've never been a fan of trendy, fad diets. They make ridiculous promises. Sure, you may drop 10 pounds in a week eating cabbage soup and little else, but once you go back to eating like a normal person you'll gain it right back.
That's the biggest problem with most fad diets: they generally don't give you eating patterns that you can stick to long-term. Essentially, they set you up to fail. (Get a healthy 28-day weight-loss meal plan of delicious breakfast, lunch and dinner recipes to help you shed pounds here.)
But I'll be the first to admit that there are kernels of truth buried in the shaky "scientific" rhetoric of many popular plans--real advice that will help you lose weight healthfully. (Drop 10 pounds healthfully with these 6 easy steps and super-cool tools.)
Without further ado, I give you 5 weight-loss secrets I've found hidden in fad diet and how to apply them with common sense to your own healthy weight-loss plan.
The bottom line of "French Women Don't Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure" by Mireille Guiliano: food should be savored and enjoyed. Guiliano is right: we should continue to eat foods that we love, like chocolate and cheese -- just in small portions. Deprivation diets only work for a short time. Making room for a small treat every day can help you stick to an overall-healthy eating plan for the long haul.
According to "The Zone" diet, created by Dr. Barry Sears and made famous by big-name followers like Jennifer Aniston, meals that are precisely 30 percent protein, 30 percent fat and 40 percent carbohydrates can reset your metabolism in a way that results in weight loss, reduced risk for heart disease and loads more energy. I don't buy into the Sears super-exact 30-30-40 formula, but I do know that meals like the ones he suggests -- a small amount of lean protein, such as salmon, paired with "favorable" carbohydrates, like vegetables and whole grains -- do tend to be more satisfying. Science shows that gram for gram, protein tends to be more filling than carbohydrates or fat. Vegetables and whole grains contain fiber, which causes you to digest them more slowly than refined carbohydrates like pasta or white rice.
If the Atkins diet taught us anything, it's that following a fat free diet isn't always the best way to lose weight -- especially if your favorite fat free foods are big, caloric cookies and bagels. Then, the more sensible South Beach Diet came along and taught us to opt for healthy fats, like almonds and fatty fish (think: salmon and tuna), over the artery-clogging burgers and bacon that Atkins permitted. South Beach also encouraged carbohydrates that fall low on the glycemic index (i.e., they don't cause rapid spikes and drops in your blood sugar) -- vegetables and whole grains like brown rice and barley. And we all should adopt the philosophy that judicious amounts of healthy fats trump unlimited refined carbs any day. (This is just one of our 6 secrets to losing weight. Find out the other 5 here.) Recipes to try: Discover Healthy Tuna and Salmon Salad Recipes
The anonymous creator of the "Cabbage Soup Diet" was onto something: soup (based on a low-calorie veggie, like cabbage) may help you lose weight. Various studies show that soup is highly satisfying. In one study, published in the journal Physiology & Behavior, people consumed the fewest calories on days when they ate soup. Broth-based soups packed with vegetables and lean proteins or fiber-rich beans give you the biggest bang for your caloric buck. Recipes to try: Soups and Salads to Help you Lose Weight Yummy low-calorie soups ready in 30 minutes or less.
The Zone, South Beach, Sugar Busters and Atkins all had us cutting back on sugars. While I don't advocate limiting healthy foods that naturally contain sugars, like fruits and dairy (unless you have diabetes and your doctor tells you to), I agree that cutting added sugars is good for our health and our "bottom lines." The average American consumes 355 calories of added sugars each day. A year ago, the American Heart Association released recommendations advising women to eat no more than 100 calories per day from added sugars (that's about 6 teaspoons) and men to stick to less than 150 calories, approximately 9 teaspoons. "Sugars" on Nutrition Facts panels include natural and added sugars, so check ingredient lists for sugar and all its aliases: corn syrup, honey, molasses, etc. The closer sugars are to the top of the list, the more the food contains. Recipes to try: Naturally sweet diet-friendly desserts with low or no added sugars.
So if you are going to use a "faddish" diet plan to shed pounds in 2011, I urge you to read with a critical eye, sort the sensible from the silliness and only make changes that feel healthful. You may not lose weight as quickly but you'll keep it off longer and feel better while you're doing it!
What have you learned from fad diets?
Nicci Micco is editor-at-large for EatingWell and co-author of EatingWell 500-Calorie Dinners. She has a master's degree in nutrition and food sciences, with a focus in weight management.