01/04/2012 07:59 pm ET Updated Mar 05, 2012

Maybe You Should Stop Dieting?

I've belonged to the same gym for two decades and at the beginning of each year, attendance during the mornings when I work out really jumps. It's harder to find an empty locker, the cardio machines are jammed and you have to be prepared to wait for some weight machines.

The surge fades away after a few weeks as New Year's resolutions die. During that time, I hear men and women groaning about their holiday overeating, and comparing the benefits of various diets. And January blogs and newspapers are full of endless dieting advice. But what if diets are the problem?

Most of them promise quick results. Yet some studies have indicated that over 80 percent of dieters regain the weight they lost, and quickly, too.

My old trainer at the gym studied nutrition religiously, and he advised me and my spouse that quick weight loss was the wrong way to think about losing weight. "You have to think long-term and change the whole way you eat." He's written a book about it and is in high demand as a speaker across the country.

Following his general principles, three years ago when I was hitting 197 and feeling really chunky, I made changes in how I ate that I've stuck to. The weight loss has been slow but steady, and I've consistently kept off at least 25 pounds, so that I weigh about what I did 30 years ago when I used to run. There are fluctuations due to stress and travel since I'm an author and tour a lot, and I've hit 167 when I was home and happy and calm. But even at an average of 173 lbs. or so, I still wear a smaller waist size than before and had to get rid of extra-large sweaters and shirts.

I don't snack on cheese. I don't eat much red meat. I eat fish two to three times a week. I never have appetizers or dessert when I eat out, and I study menus carefully. But most importantly, I watch my portion size at every meal. A meatloaf that my spouse and I might have polished off in two meals lasts three dinners, or two and a lunch.

I still drink wine, I still enjoy eating and cooking, I still eat bread because I'm married to a great baker, but I'm much more careful about what I buy and plan meals ahead for each week before I go shopping. Most of all, I don't moralize about the whole thing. I don't think of having a piece of cake as being "bad" or of watching what I eat as being "good." That turns the whole subject into a source of shame and guilt.

What I do think is that I've completely changed the way I eat. That's not a diet, it's a transformation.

For more by Lev Raphael, click here.

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