Diets, Weight Loss,
and Changing Behavior
from the desk of Erica Joy.

Many diets have emerged lately touting a low-carbohydrate way of eating as a means for quick weight loss. As a student of nutrition, I believe that these diets provide too much cholesterol, protein, and saturated fat for good health, contain too little fiber for proper intestinal function, and are deficient in several nutrients due to the exclusion of so many foods. Rather than concentrating on the nutritional and health effects of these diets, though, I'd like to discuss the thinking that leads to embarking on such a diet, and suggest alternatives.

Many people, when confronted with the necessity of weight loss, feel that they don't know where to begin. The usual reaction is to pick out a "diet" and try to follow that for a while until the weight comes off. The problem is, unless the diet is one that can be sustained for a lifetime, a dieter will inevitably have to go "off" of the diet and, predictably, regain some weight.

I'd like to suggest that, instead of finding a diet and temporarily replacing the foods that we normally eat with "diet" foods, we would get better results by evaluating our present eating habits and making changes. A good place to start in evaluating eating habits is the USDA's Food Guide Pyramid. Write down or think about what you normally eat and how much you eat, and compare that to the recommendations in the pyramid. Most of us will find some variation between our actual diet and the suggested regimen. If being overweight is a problem, it is important to pinpoint what deviations from the Food Pyramid's recommendations are responsible for the problem. Many times, I see that people are eating too many foods from the tip of the pyramid--the sugar, excessive fat, and alcohol. These items, and foods containing these items, should not be included in the diet on a daily basis, contrary to popular American eating habits. I've found that cutting sugary foods out of the daily diet helps immensely in controlling appetite and weight.

As you eliminate the less-nutritious "tip" foods from your daily diet, concentrate on replacing those foods with items from other areas of the pyramid. Example: instead of an afternoon Coke, have a piece of fruit, some yogurt, and a cup of tea. Also, within each category of the pyramid, choose the most wholesome foods possible. In the bottom area, for example, choose brown rice, oatmeal, and other whole grains and whole-grain products rather than white bread and other products made from refined (white) flour. Choose lean meats and fish, and don't eat too much of them! Try to replace some of the meat in your diet with other protein sources like legumes and soy products. Think of other ways to make your diet more conducive to good health.

I know that this is a big chunk of information and suggestions all at once, and following these suggestions may take a major overhaul of your current eating habits. The key is, first, to really want to do this. Weight loss will definitely follow these changes, if that is your goal, but eating in the manner recommended by the pyramid will also bring about a better state of overall health. The other key to success here is to change only one thing at a time and to allow yourself a lot of setbacks. A lot. Changing your eating habits is quite a process, and is not completed overnight or even in a week or two. Actually, changing behaviors takes 3 weeks of performing the new behavior every day, so allow yourself at least that much time each time you decide to make a change. Be consistent and patient. You never know, someday you might be one of those "health nuts" who drinks soy milk and wakes up at five every morning to run for an hour and meditates during her lunch break. It could happen!

For additional info go to the Food Guide Pyramid, and for good, sound nutritional advice, go to the website of the American Dietetic Association.

Use sound judgement and get dependable advice.

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