Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight isn't about depriving yourself.
Photo by Peggy Greb
Many of my patients ask me to give them a diet. I repeatedly explain to them that there is no magic diet guide written that will change their lives. Lifelong changes that will significantly, positively affect their health only result from true lifestyle changes. Those changes can only occur by incorporating "how" in addition to "what."
The question of "what" is simple; 99 percent of readers will make the right choices when they ask themselves if a certain food selection is healthy. We know that chocolate cake, pork chops, and hamburgers and French fries are all unhealthy. But we have to make a conscious commitment to change our "what" to healthy decisions.
The "how" of a successful dietary lifestyle change involves increasing the frequency and decreasing the caloric intake of individual meals. A fascinating article on medicinenet.com titled "3 hour diet or 3 meals a day" by Elaine Magee focuses on the benefits of eating small, frequent meals, one every three hours.
Many of my patients tell me that they skip meals (mainly breakfast) to lose weight, but that's not a successful strategy. I ask patients to imagine an individual who eats dinner at 7 p.m., goes to bed at 11 p.m. The next morning she gets up at 7 a.m. but does not eat breakfast. She eats lunch at noon. From 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. is 12 hours, and from 7 a.m. to noon is an additional five hours. The result is a total of 17 hours without food.
This is a common pattern that results in three physiologic consequences that combine to keep her from losing weight. First, her metabolism slows down; second, her body stores more fat; and third, she is likely to overeat at lunch. A salad after 17 hours without food just isn't satisfying.
While researching dietary concepts on the Internet, I found that popular weight-loss programs—Slim-Fast, Optifast, Jenny Craig and Nutrisystem—all had the same basic concept: Eat small, low-calorie meals more often.
Every morning within 30 minutes of waking up, I have something light and quick such as healthy cereal with fat-free milk, a Lean Pocket or a Smart One breakfast meal. Three hours later, I have a snack, such as a piece of fruit or a cereal bar. For lunch, I might have half a sandwich and soup. For my next snack, three hours later, I go for another piece of fruit or a cereal bar, or eat the other half of my sandwich from lunch.
For dinner, I eat a light meal such as a salad or a Lean Cuisine. For cooked foods, I use a saucer instead of a dinner plate to keep my portions small.
As a physician, I witness countless patients who make the decision to get healthier. I advise patients to start an exercise program to supplement their healthier eating habits. I see these patients' blood pressure and diabetes come under control. In some cases, I am able to decrease the patients' medications. Some highly motivated patients who are very successful in their healthier lifestyle changes are able to taper off medication altogether with the help of strategic monitoring and follow-ups.