No food is taboo
If you're torn between embracing your inner cave-person with the Paleo diet or piling on the protein with the Dukan, the solution is simple: neither. Just don't diet. Studies show it doesn't work (at least one- to two-thirds of dieters wind up gaining back more than they lost), which means that it's actually easier to maintain a healthy weight by going diet-free.
Of course, before you break out the ice cream, you should know that shaking a diet mentality isn't always easy and it doesn't mean you can eat your way through the fridge. But it does mean you don't have to deprive yourself of the foods you love most.
1. No food is taboo
"People are fed up with diets, but they still think they need to deny themselves the pleasure of food," says Robert Ferguson, a California-based nutritionist and weight-loss expert and the creator of the Diet Free Life System. He finds that the biggest challenge to giving up diets is that people believe they have to label certain foods off limits to lose weight. "We're told to 'eat for energy' and to look at food as fuel, which sounds good but isn't realistic. We eat because we like to eat, which is why I say if you want pizza, then eat pizza, and you can do it without gaining weight." Ferguson bases his unique program largely on how foods we eat impact blood sugar.
At The University of Sydney in Australia, the glycemic index (GI) is explained as a measure of the power of foods to raise blood-sugar levels after being eaten. Some foods spike your blood sugar faster than others, such as many heavily processed carbs and sugary treats.
A study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that focusing on foods with a lower GI (minimally processed grains, vegetables, legumes, fruit and healthy fats) is the best way to increase metabolism and keep weight off because it's nutritionally balanced and an easy lifestyle to sustain.
So you don't have to eliminate any foods from your diet, even fats or carbs; you just have to strike a balance, meaning eat low-glycemic foods most often and indulge in sugary or high-glycemic foods in moderation and small amounts. The goal is to keep your blood sugar steady throughout the day, which brings us to point two: eating regularly.
2. Timing is everything
Often, when you eat is as important as what you eat because it helps sustain steady blood-sugar levels, which is why Ferguson recommends doing the opposite of what sumo wrestlers do. ("They get more money the bigger they are, so they know how to gain weight," he says.) Sumo wrestlers only eat two meals a day. They also don't drink much water and make skipping breakfast a weight-gain must. So, Ferguson says, do the reverse: eat three small meals with healthy snacks in between to boost your metabolism, drink plenty of water and start your day with breakfast.
It's actually a bad sign if you wake up and don't want breakfast, says Emily Burt, an Edmonton-based registered dietitian and the owner of Food First Nutrition Consulting. "After you've fasted for several hours, if you don't feel hungry, it's a sign your metabolism is in a lull and isn't burning calories as efficiently as it could."
If you don't feel hungry enough for a full breakfast, Burt recommends starting small. "Pick two small items such as a half-cup serving of fruit and a low-fat yogurt to get your body kick-started," she says. "In a short while, you should feel a sense of hunger. Then, you can have more food to round out your morning meal, such as a small handful of almonds and a boiled egg. Making sure you eat in the morning increases your metabolism. Soon, you'll start waking up feeling ready for breakfast."
Photography, Ryan Brook.