11 Jan 2019
The Key to Losing Weight: Quality, not Quantity
A New Year’s resolution so common, it’s almost a cliché: “This year, I’ll lose weight.” The new year is already running and we start to picture ourselves several pounds lighter and flaunting a svelte figure in a bikini, the kind of figure that will have us rummaging in our closets for those jeans we haven’t worn in years and sliding onto the dance floor eager to show off our moves and confidence.
To diet or not to diet? It’s not a simple question…or maybe it’s just not the right question. Is counting calories the same thing as healthy eating? Is there such thing as the perfect diet? What do our bodies want and what do they need? Do our feelings affect our eating habits?
We have 2018 to thank for many new discoveries related to nutrition and maintaining a healthy weight. One of the key takeaways? What we eat and when we eat it is just as important—if not more important—than how much we eat.
Should We Diet?
Last February, a study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) finally debunked the age-old myth of counting calories as an efficient strategy for weight loss. The study harshly criticized our obsession with crunching numbers, and espoused instead a consistently healthy, high-quality diet.
The trial was carried out on 600 adults based in the San Francisco Bay Area, California. These individuals were instructed to eat what they liked (dishes like pasta, for example, were permitted) but emphasized the importance of choosing low calorie foods, whole grains, olive oil, salmon, avocado, and lean meats (preferably from grass-fed animals.)
After a year, many of the study’s participants had lost considerable weight. Researches from Stanford University proved that gradual, not immediate, weight loss is possible over a certain period of time if we follow these three recommendations:
- Reducing consumption of added sugars
- Reducing consumption of refined grains (rice, flour, white bread) and processed foods (cookies, sweets, processed meats such as bacon or sausage, potato chips, frozen pizzas, etc.)
- Increasing portions of vegetables and lean, non-processed foods
A different study conducted on hundreds of mice assessed the efficacy of 29 different diets. The only nutrient that made them gain weight was fat (neither sugars not carbohydrates had the same impact.)
These studies have changed the way we think about dieting.
In some ways, the findings come as a relief, as they reverse the long-held belief that diets must be synonymous with suffering.
Modern life is busy enough as it is—who has time to measure every gram of each nutrient they consume for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?!
Now, the focus has also shifted to the length or duration of a diet. There is more than enough evidence to definitively confirm that no diet promising overnight or rapid weight loss should be trusted, no matter how miraculous it may seem. Losing weight takes time and, perhaps most importantly, consistency.
Calorie counting is out. Trade in your calculator for healthy habits that you can sustain in the long term, maybe even for the rest of your life. Managing your weight shouldn’t just be about liking the body you see in the mirror—it should be about your health.
Circadian Rhythm and Eating
Another interesting point of discussion in 2018 was the importance of not just what you eat, but when. Many studies suggest that we should adjust our eating schedule to what is known as our circadian rhythm or “internal clock”: the 24-hour biological cycle that tells our body when to wake up, eat, and go to sleep.
Usually, we tend to deviate from that natural cycle. Maybe we’ll have an early breakfast, but our last meal of the day might be rather late. After all, who can resist a snack (or bowl of ice cream!) while watching an episode of their favorite show?
Experts in nutrition and circadian rhythm tell us that the ideal time frame for food should be between 8 and 10 hours, not more. For example, if you ate breakfast at 7 AM, your last meal should be no later than 5 PM. Instead, however, most people stretch their meals over a period of fifteen hours. By the time many eat their last meal of the day, it’s almost midnight.
In other words, it’s all about synching your meals with the natural light-dark cycle, which improves the body’s processing of foods, fat absorption, and overall nutrition, according to specialists.
Our Relationship with Food
Another recurring theme of the year goes to the core of our emotions and has to do with the way we relate to food. We don’t just eat when we’re hungry, it turns out, but also when we want to sweeten sadness with sugar, evade stress with calories, or feed our anger with cookies. It’s important to be aware of our feelings and the ways in which they may be boycotting our nutritional goals. Mayo Clinic experts give the following tips to keep our hearts out of our stomachs:
- Control your stress. If you feel like this kind of anxiety makes you give in to emotional eating, try stress management strategies, such as yoga or meditation.
- Identify your hunger. Is it physical or emotional? If you ate a few hours ago and your stomach isn’t rumbling, it’s likely that you don’t have much of an appetite. Recognize this anxious feeling and let it pass without digging your teeth into something your body doesn’t need.
- Keep a food guide. Make a list of what you eat, how much, when, and how you feel, and also identify the type of hunger associated with each meal. With time, you’ll be able to detect patterns that might reveal links between your mood and your diet.
- Find support. You’re much more likely to surrender to emotional eating if you’re lacking a solid support system. Look for help and encouragement from friends and family, or consider looking into a support group.
- Fight against boredom. Instead of eating to “pass the time,” distract yourself: walk, watch a movie (without a bowl of buttery popcorn), play with a pet, tend to your garden, listen to music, read, or call a friend.
- Stay away from temptation. It’s simple: if irresistible but caloric comfort foods aren’t within your reach, you’re much less likely to indulge. And avoid grocery shopping when you’re especially moody or testy.
- Don’t over-abstain. If you’re trying to achieve a specific weight loss goal, you could risk consuming too little calories. This will only make you hungrier and more susceptible to cravings. Have a variety of healthy snacks at hand to curve them.
- Choose better snacks. If you feel the need to eat between meals, choose fruits. Or try the low-fat or low-calorie versions of your favorite foods (ideally without processing.)
- Learn from your surrenders. If you finally caved and gave in to emotional eating, don’t put yourself down. Pick up your healthy habits right where you left off and try to learn from the experience so it becomes less and less frequent.
- Focus on your progress. Shift your attention to the positive changes you’re making in your eating habits and allow yourself to feel proud of your achievements toward better health.
The Ideal Weight
Finally, a concept that’s hardly novel, but worth repeating: there is no such thing as the “perfect” weight. Rather, we should refer to the “ideal” weight. The difference lies in the impossible versus the possible.
The concept of ideal weight dates back as early as the 1940s, when nutritionists began to research the relationship between weight and height. A chart was developed in the 1960s to calculate body mass index, a measure of body fat that equals your weight divided by your height squared. This number can help us determine if our weight lies in an unhealthy range, too low or too high.
Many people have their own methods to gauge whether they are at their ideal weight. Some of them use a certain pair of pants for reference—if they don’t zip, they’ll know they’ve gained weight. Others weigh themselves daily and watch their diet as soon as the scale starts to creep up above their average weight. Still others pay more attention to their overall wellbeing, if their sleep is disturbed or daily tasks have become more difficult.
No one knows your body better than you do, and no one else understands your desires, goals, dreams, objectives, strengths, and weaknesses. And regarding this last one, try not to get too frustrated with your New Year’s resolutions. In the case of losing weight, don’t expect it to happen overnight; rather, work toward your healthy weight goals at your own pace, respecting your body. Don’t let body trends determine how you think you should look. That’s really the only way to reach your objectives for your body, health, and mind.
JAMA, Effect of Low-Fat vs Low-Carbohydrate Diet on 12-Month Weight Loss in Overweight Adults and the Association With Genotype Pattern or Insulin Secretion, Cell Metsabolism, Dietary Fat, but Not Protein or Carbohydrate, Regulates Energy Intake and Causes Adiposity in Mice, National Institutes if Health, Genetics of Circadian Rhythms