Bad diets are like history – they keep repeating themselves. Ever-popular get-skinny plans, such as Atkins and the Cabbage Soup Diet, originated decades ago. So why are two-thirds of Canadians still overweight? The reasons are many, but clearly fad diets don't work. Very few people who go on a diet keep the pounds off in the long term. Still, even losing five percent of your weight can reduce your risk of diabetes and heart disease.
Today, researchers have revealed what does shed pounds, and their findings don't involve liquid fasts or overloading on bacon. Rather, the golden rules of weight loss involve old-school ideas like portion control and eating real foods in lieu of processed diet treats. "We're overeating and under-exercising," explains Carolanne Nelson, a registered dietitian and assistant professor at the University of Prince Edward Island. "I don't believe in dieting," agrees Robin Evans, a 38-year-old copywriter in Vancouver, who lost 20 pounds in the past year by swapping processed foods for fresh choices, working out three times a week and walking her dog twice a day. "I just have a different attitude about which foods are healthy." So be like Evans and try these proven rules.
Golden Rule # 1
Battle portion distortion
Food today is B-I-G. Those store-bought muffins, Monday's frozen entrée, your favourite fast-food lunch combo – they're anywhere from two to five times the size they were 20 years ago, says Dr. Sue Pedersen, a physician specializing in endocrinology and metabolism at the University of Calgary. While most of us know this intellectually, few of us actually control portions, she adds. In a major 2007 study she led, participants who used a plate with protein, carb and sauce portion dividers (available from thedietplatecanada.com) were six times more likely to lose up to five percent of their body weight over six months than the group that didn't. It works so well because it's easy. "There's no counting calories or weighing food," she says. "All you have to do is portion it out."
Golden Rule # 2
Don't let exercise trick you into overeating
Gary Taubes' controversial book, Good Calories, Bad Calories: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Diet, Weight Control and Disease, revealed that exercise alone doesn't melt pounds. At best, it can maintain weight loss that is shed through healthy eating. But before you ditch your gym membership, try exercise and calorie control. Dr. Neil King, a senior lecturer at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia, and the author of a September 2007 study in the International Journal of Obesity, explains that exercise stimulates our appetite and can trigger psychological yearnings ("I earned this ice cream bar"). Working out will still do you loads of good – for your health and your figure – as long as you don't give in to the urge to compensate for calories burned.
Golden Rule # 3
Enjoy lean proteins – especially if you work out