For many, the battle of the bulge seems never-ending. We lose weight. We gain it back. We lose more weight. We gain even more weight back. To see real, permanent change on the scale, what’s the best way to ditch those unwanted pounds?
From Atkins to The Zone, there are more diets than there are seats in Madison Square Garden. Some diets, like the Mediterranean diet, ask you to fill your plate full of healthy fats. Others, such as the Paleo diet, challenge you to go full “cavewoman” and only eat the foods that our earliest ancestors ate: nuts, lean meats, berries.
No matter what’s on the menu, virtually all diets have two things in common. First, most diets are designed to offer big results in a short period of time. They tend to do this by similar means, too:
“Eat and “Do Not Eat” lists
Prewritten weekly meal plans
Eliminating certain foods or food groups from your diet
The other thing that most diets have in common is that they’re ineffective. In the simplest terms, following a regimented eating plan that’s full of rules and restrictions is a hassle. For starters, it eliminates the possibility to eat, drink and be merry. A slice of birthday cake or that second glass of wine are strictly off limits, which can make socializing a self-conscious slog.
It can also result in a frustrating cycle of eating very little for several days and then eating everything in sight. In fact, the overwhelming majority of people who lose weight using a diet gain all of that weight back within five years, and many of those folks pack on additional pounds in the process.
Dieting can also be bad for your health. Extreme diets can be a gateway to eating disorders, particularly in younger women and men. They can also leave you nutrient-deprived. Remember the Grapefruit Diet that was all the rage in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s? It turns out that woman cannot live on citrus fruit (and some strategically placed salads and skim milk) alone. Many diets lack balance. This can have adverse effects on your health, such as iron-deficiency, for example.
Some diets also impart unhealthy, if not downright bizarre, eating tips. Contrary to what you may have believed in the era of Pac-Man and shoulder pads, grapefruits do not burn fat.
While diets typically provide a temporary fix, healthy lifestyle changes create the potential for lasting weight loss. Slow and steady wins the race, right? Instead of forsaking all carbs, for example, make a switch to healthy whole grains, and incorporate them mindfully. This behavior is far easier to maintain than trying to swear off all bread baskets until the end of time.
Here are several examples of other lifestyle changes that can lead to permanent weight loss:
Eating and drinking in moderation
Taking the stairs
Avoiding processed and prepackaged “convenience” foods
Going for a walk everyday
Using a fitness tracker or pedometer
Drinking more water
Treating yourself from time to time
The key to implementing lifestyle changes is starting small. If you want to start walking two miles every day, but you haven’t dusted off your sneakers in years, start by just walking to the mailbox every day — or even just putting on some sneakers. Once you master that walk to the mailbox, start walking to the end of your block and back. You’ll likely find yourself getting to the end of your block and deciding to go even farther — just because you can.
If you want to lose 10 pounds for your niece’s wedding next month, a crash diet might do the trick. If, however, you want to lose weight and make it stay gone, most health and nutrition experts agree that lifestyle changes are far superior to dieting.