By now, we’re all ready to say goodbye (good riddance?) to 2020. It was an extremely stressful year for so many reasons, particularly the COVID-19 pandemic, which imposed severe limits on our activities. Not surprisingly, many people fell short of their weight and fitness goals this past year. If you embraced the 2020 chaos and refused to let it derail your weight-loss or weight-maintenance efforts, congratulations and keep on keeping on! On the other hand, if you’re thinking, “Ok, it’s time to reel it back in,” you have some decisions to make.
There are many diet programs out there you could choose from, whether it’s a structured program such as WW®, Noom®, or Sanford®, or something you do on your own like Paleo or Keto, plant-based, whole foods, mindfulness, or intuitive eating—most of which I’ve covered in this column in the past. Of course, there are also plenty of fad diets and dubious diet products out there that lure people in with hyped-up claims and testimonials.
The truth is, if a diet or product sounds too good to be true, it probably is. No magic pill, food, or combination of foods will allow you to burn fat while you sleep or watch TV. Nor will eliminating certain foods or food groups allow you to shed pounds like magic. And certainly no super food will alter your genetic code. A better option is to ditch the diet and opt for healthy eating. Learn to enjoy the taste of eating right, making healthy food choices most of the time.
But before you start any new eating plan, be sure to ask yourself:
Is it doable?
Life is already complicated enough, and trying to figure out foods and meals only adds stress and anxiety. Ask yourself, “Can I eat this way for the rest of my life?” The answer should be yes! If the answer is no, then the plan is not for you. And remember, it’s hard to stick to monotonous, rigid plans and it’s boring to eat the same foods day after day, such as the Grapefruit Diet or the Cabbage Soup Diet (although that soup is really good!).
I admit I tried going plant-based for two weeks and barely made it through. I felt physically terrible, and even though the foods and meals were delicious, I knew I just couldn’t do it a day longer! You want a plan that is realistic and flexible, and helps you feel your best.
In addition to choosing a doable plan, ask yourself:
Is it healthy?
Many diet plans out there can help you lose weight quickly, but you’ll lose bone, muscle, and water too. Not to mention, you’ll likely gain the weight back just as fast. Avoid diets that make you eliminate or severely restrict entire food groups or nutrients, such as carbohydrates. Even if you take a multivitamin, you will lose out on critical nutrients.
Watch out for misinformation here too. There is no evidence that combining certain foods or eating certain foods at specific times of the day will help with weight loss. Also, eating the “wrong” food combinations does not cause them to turn to fat immediately or produce toxins in your intestines as some plans claim.
As we bid a not-so-fond farewell to 2020, the best advice I can give is to focus on eating in a way that helps you feel nourished, energized, and satisfied.
People often ask me, “What is the best eating plan?” I like to recommend the Mediterranean Diet, which focuses on lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and limited meat. I also like whole foods—eating foods in their natural state, not processed and loaded with additives and sodium. I also like to track my food intake and use the Livestrong.com and MyPlate apps on my phone to log my meals and snacks.
However, don’t worry about achieving perfection with your eating plan. Just try to eat healthy at most meals and on most days, and don’t beat yourself up if you overindulge. There is always tomorrow to pick yourself up and get back on track. Having a support system can often help you do that. You goal should be a lifelong combination of eating well and exercise.
That’s right, this wouldn’t be Eating Well without mentioning that regular exercise is essential for good health. The key to success with exercising, just as with your eating plan, is finding activities that you enjoy. You have nature’s treadmill right outside your front door, so brisk walking, jogging, or bicycling might be up your alley. Or it may be shooting hoops in the driveway or playing pickle ball with your neighbors. Whatever activity you choose, aim to do it for 30 to 60 minutes on most days of the week. Also, be sure to work in some strength-building exercise—the stronger you are, the more calories you’ll burn, even just sitting still.
Wishing you all the best in 2021! Let’s try to make it the best year for ourselves in so many ways!
Laurie Syring, RD/LD, is Clinical Nutrition Manager at ProMedica Flower Hospital