- Take in fewer calories,
- Burn more calories, or
All of the popular diet books, regardless of the “scientific” explanations they give, recommend menus that give you 1500-1800 calories or less per day, and for most people this means you will be taking in fewer calories. You can lose weight on any low-calorie diet, but ask yourself: Is this a way of eating I can follow for the rest of my life? (If not, you will regain the weight as soon as you go back to your old eating habits.) And, do the foods they tell me to eat supply all the nutrients my body needs? Most people can eliminate whole food groups for a short time without any harm, but eventually you may create deficiencies if you do not eat a wide variety of foods, with lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and other seeds. Don’t believe that you can make up for what’s missing with pills: a lousy diet with supplements is a lousy diet.
The sensible way to lose weight is to eliminate the foods with little or no nutritional value beyond the concentrated calories they contain: refined carbohydrates and added fats. My guidelines for diabetics apply for anyone who needs to lose weight, particularly if you store most of your weight in your belly. Avoid foods that raise insulin to high levels such as bakery products, pasta, and foods with added sugars. You should eat enough whole grains, beans, and vegetables to keep you full and satisfied. Eat root vegetables and fruits only with other foods.
I do not recommend “counting calories” since you will not do that for the rest of your life, and the calorie count listed on a food may not be what YOUR body actually extracts from a particular food. For example, nuts have a large number of calories, but your body cannot break down the fats in nuts very efficiently, so many of the potential calories pass through undigested. You may find that you can eat lots of nuts and still lose weight. See Why Nuts Won’t Make You Fat
It may be better to eat several small meals than one or two large ones. After you eat, your body temperature rises to burn extra calories because food must first be broken down by multiple chemical reactions that produce a lot of heat. If you eat only one large meal, you produce extra heat for only a few hours. When you nibble small amounts more often, you produce extra heat throughout the day and burn far more calories.
When one person in a household needs to lose weight, the whole family should cooperate. Foods made with refined carbohydrates and added fats should be kept out of the house. Everyone will benefit from eating more vegetables, whole grains and beans.
Here’s the daily eating pattern I recommend, while you are losing weight and for the rest of your life:
- At least 5 Vegetables
- At least 5 Fruits
- Up to 8 servings of WHOLE grains (that means not ground into flour)
- Up to 2 servings of seafood
- Beans or legumes (no limit)
- 1-2 tablespoons nuts or seeds
- Up to 3 teaspoons olive oil (optional)
- Up to 3 servings of dairy products
- Minimal added sugars (none if diabetic or trying to lose weight)
If you have had weight-loss surgery or are using prescription drugs for weight loss, you will be given you specific diet recommendations; they should be very similar to the guidelines above. Check with your doctor.
Also see my recommendations on Intermittent fasting for weight loss and weight control
Serving sizes are typically 1/2 cup of cooked foods and 1 cup of raw fruits or vegetables.
Gabe Mirkin, M.D., has been a practicing physician for over 50 years. He is board-certified in sports medicine, allergy and immunology, pediatrics, and pediatric immunology. This article was originally published on DrMirkin.com. Subscribe to his free weekly Fitness & Health newsletter.