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By Samantha Cassetty, RD
A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that almost half of Americans tried to lose weight within the past year — up from 43 percent when people were last surveyed between 2007 and 2008. But deciding how to go about it can be confusing, especially since there’s wild variation in advice from popular dietary approaches, like intermittent fasting, the ketogenic diet, or even a non-diet approach.
So how do you choose the best plan of attack to finally shed the extra weight? Instead of committing to just one plan, steal the best advice from all the popular diets to piece together a routine that will deliver the best results. Here’s some healthy eating advice you can borrow from the most popular programs.
Takeaway: Focus on whole foods.
The Whole30 program focuses on eating real food, which is solid advice. Specifically, it calls for piling your plate with veggies, lean proteins, natural fats, some fruits and lots of herbs and spices. Here’s why it works: A trip down the manufacturing process makes ultra-processed foods easily digestible so your body doesn’t have to work as hard to break them down and take what it needs. While some find the diet plan restrictive since it eliminates staples like legumes and whole grains, you can still apply the philosophy to your diet (and reap the benefits) without giving up these foods completely. Case in point: One study illustrated this by comparing the post-meal calorie burn of two cheese sandwiches — one made with whole-grain bread and cheddar cheese; the other made with pillowy white bread and American cheese. The sandwiches were matched for calories and comparable in terms of protein, fat and carb levels. Study subjects were given each version of the sandwich on different days. After eating the whole-food sandwich, participants experienced a 50 percent boost in post-meal calorie burn compared to when they ate the processed cheese sandwich. As this study (and others) demonstrate, whole grains help you burn more calories and are linked with healthier body weights. Setting grains aside, multiple studies have linked heavily processed foods with being overweight and obese, so choosing more whole foods over highly processed ones is one of the best things you can do for your waistline.
Takeaway: Get your fiber from diverse sources.
The Paleo Diet is meant to mimic the way our hunger-gatherer ancestors lived and they apparently ate loads of fiber from non-starchy veggies and lower-carb fruits. The latest survey suggests that modern Americans take in just 16 grams of fiber per day — about half the recommended amounts. Yet eating fiber from diverse fruit and veggie sources can lead to healthful changes in your microbiome that may promote a healthier body weight. It might be that certain bacteria strains make it easier to store fat or that some strains are more likely to promote feeling full, thereby reducing the tendency to overeat. Or it may be that shifts in your microbiome impact the chronic, body-wide inflammation that can play a role in insulin resistance, which in turn, prompts more fat storage. We’re still learning just how this intricate species of bacteria impacts our health, but it’s pretty clear that more fiber is needed to promote gut wellness and diversity. Aim for 25 to 38 grams per day — an amount that’s much easier to achieve if you’re piling fruits and veggies on your plate.
WW (Weight Watchers)
Takeaway: Add a mindfulness practice like meditation to your wellness routine.
In case you haven’t heard, Weight Watchers has updated its name and its philosophy. WW, as its now known, has a newer focus on overall wellness and with that comes a new emphasis on mindset via a partnership with the meditation app, Headspace. A meditation practice can support weight loss in a number of ways. Let’s start with sleep. Poor sleep disrupts your hormones and can lead to increased hunger and cravings for sugary and carb-rich fare. Meditation can help you fall asleep faster as well as improve sleep quality and duration, which may help you reach for healthier food when you’re awake. Meditation can also put you in better control of impulses, so if you’re prone to making last-minute purchases at the checkout counter or unplanned snacking, it can help give you more control over your food choices. And if you’re the type to turn to a bag of chips after a bad day at the office, a mindfulness practice can reduce this type of emotional eating. Though you can make a big difference in your healthfulness by eating better, the impact can be amplified if you adopt other practices, such as meditation.
Takeaway: Add non-starchy veggies to every meal.
Sure, the keto diet is known for next-to-nothing carb levels, along with heaps of protein, but it also includes non-starchy veggies at every meal. That means you might have spinach with your eggs at breakfast, a bed of greens with tuna or salmon for lunch, and a cup of cauliflower with your steak dinner. Ninety percent of Americans aren’t meeting produce needs, so eating them throughout the day is a smart strategy and a good way to fill this gap.