Watch out for fads and gimmicks. Fad diets often rely on personal testimonials or word-of-mouth advertising and have little or no scientific evidence to back them up. Perhaps the worst of these diets suggest their approach is based on scientific research, when in fact the product or diet has only been tested on rats or on so few people that the results can’t be applied to the entire population. While some of these diets may someday be scientifically proven to have beneficial effects for humans, remember that diets that limit your intake to just one or two food groups do not meet your body’s need for essential nutrients. They may also be difficult to maintain if you become bored with the lack of variety.
While most people trying to lose weight are told to exercise and cut 500 to 1,000 calories a day from their diets, very-low-calorie diets (those that provide less than 1,000 to 1,200 calories a day) are not recommended for most people to try on their own. They tend to leave people hungry, do not have the best track record for long-term weight loss, and may not provide enough of your essential vitamins and minerals. Some experts say that hunger may be an issue for women who consume less than 1,200 calories a day and for men who consume less than 1,400 calories a day.
Use weight-loss pills properly. Prescription weight-loss drugs act by suppressing appetite or altering your metabolism, but they do not work for everyone and are not meant to be used as one’s sole means of weight loss. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s Clinical Guidelines on obesity, weight-loss drugs should only be used as an adjunct to a reduced-calorie diet and exercise by people who are obese or who are overweight and have risk factors for other obesity-related diseases. The Guidelines also note that most of the weight-loss benefit from these drugs occur in the first six months of use. Weight-loss drugs should never be used for cosmetic weight-loss purposes.
Increase fiber to feel full. Restricting your caloric intake has been known to cause cravings or bingeing, which may stem from not feeling full. However, you can reduce the number of calories you eat and still feel full by eating more fiber — in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and dried beans. Most adults are advised to consume between 20 and 35 grams of fiber per day for good health. If your current diet falls short, increase your fiber intake gradually to avoid intestinal discomfort. (People who have gastropathy, or delayed stomach emptying, are not advised to increase their fiber intake).
Eating more fruits and vegetables may help satisfy your hunger in another way, as well. Studies show that people tend to eat the same weight of food every day, regardless of nutritional content. Fruits and vegetables tend to be higher in water and thus lower in calories than other foods of similar size or weight. So you can eat the same weight with fewer calories.
Pay attention to when and why. In addition to watching what you eat, you may need to look at when and why you eat. If you tend to snack while watching television, for example, a lot more food could pass your lips than you realize. If you deal with stress by eating, you could also be taking in a lot of extra calories.
Both of these problems can be addressed by paying more attention to how you feel and whether you are really hungry before you eat. To counter automatic eating while your mind is engaged with other things, try separating eating and other activities. Set aside time for meals. Serve yourself a portion of food rather than eating from a bag, cooking pan, or serving dish. If you feel full before you finish what’s on the plate, stop eating.
If your reaction to stress is to eat, it’s time to learn some new ways to deal with stress. Many people find it helpful to take a short break or go for a brisk walk when the tension builds up. Learning to meditate can also help you deal with stress over the long term. If you’re stumped on how to cope with stress or negative emotions, consider taking a stress-management class or meeting with a behavioral health professional such as a psychologist or social worker certified to do psychotherapy.