Mindful Eating

Diets – How to Spot a Fad

Diets have been around forever. Whether you’re trying to lose a few pounds or a lot, you’d like to do it easily and as quickly as possible. The diet industry is ready and waiting – there are hundreds of “quick fix” and “miracle” diets claiming to be the best approach to weight loss. All you have to do is…

Here’s where it gets tricky. It’s tempting to try something new and different. Or to buy special food, supplements and books that promise quick, easy weight loss. But before you do, here’s what to look out for:

1. Is the diet based on drastically reducing calories? Starvation-type diets rely on a simple trick: When deprived of food, the body’s natural reaction is to dump water. So most of the weight you lose on a very low-calorie diet is water. After you start eating normally, the body acts like a sponge and sucks up the lost water and you regain the weight.

2. Does the diet require you to buy pills, herbs, nutrition bars or supplements? There’s no such thing as a magic pill. Herbs and supplements will not speed up your metabolism, suppress your appetite or block the absorption of food, as they might promise. Besides, most supplements are not regulated. Many of them don’t contain what they say they do, and some have even been found to contain contaminants. Prescription weight-loss drugs are another matter, but require the supervision of your health-care provider.

3. A diet that eliminates meals or whole food groups is likely to lack essential nutrients. Likewise, a diet that focuses on eating just one particular food may come up short in important vitamins and minerals. While high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets may be safe and effective, it’s best to use them for short periods of time under medical supervision.

How else can you spot a fad diet?

It promises a quick fix

The claims sound too good to be true

It draws simplistic conclusions from complex data

It’s based on studies that are not peer-reviewed or are too small to draw conclusions

It’s selling you a specific product

Successful weight-loss involves good nutrition, portion-control, mindful eating and exercise. These long-term life style changes are much more reliable and healthy than the latest fad diet.

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“Healthy” or “Tasty”?

Do you buy foods because they claim to be “Low Fat”? What about “All Natural” and “Trans-Fat-Free”? These popular health claims are everywhere. I’ve always thought that they were helpful in making good food choices.

Apparently, I’m wrong. Numerous studies have shown that people (especially if they’re already overweight) actually underestimate calories and eat more when they think that what they’re eating is good for them.

What’s going on? It could be that people mistakenly believe that low-fat means low calorie. Maybe they feel less guilty about eating something that sounds healthy. Researchers think that a low-fat label gives people the mental permission to eat more. It reminds me of my mother’s logic: Using artificial sweetener in her coffee allowed her to eat a cookie (or two) with it.

There’s more. A recent study found that just by calling a food “healthy” may make you feel hungrier. Two groups of college students were given the same snack bar to eat. Half of the group was told that they were eating a “health” bar high in nutrients. The other half were told that the snack bar contained chocolate and raspberry and was “tasty.” Afterwards, those in the “healthy” group rated themselves as hungrier than those in the “tasty” group.

In another experiment, researchers offered students a choice of snack bars randomly described as either “healthy” or “tasty”. When given a choice, there was no difference in the hunger level of the students afterwards. Free-choice seems to lead to a higher commitment to eating healthy food.

When people feel obligated to eat healthy foods, they tend to eat more. So much for nutrition education and food labeling. Those healthy food messages may be having the opposite effect!

What should you do?

These findings lead me back to some very basic advice. Eat real food. Be aware of what you eat and how much you’re eating. And most important, enjoy what you eat. Savor a piece of high quality dark chocolate and skip the sugar-free candies. Toss your salad with olive oil and vinegar and pass up the fat-free salad dressing. Enjoy a small piece of cake made with real butter rather than eating half a bag of low-fat cookies.

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Mindful Eating

Are you trying to lose weight? Or just trying to improve your eating habits?

Paying attention to how you eat is just as important as choosing what you eat.

Here are some tips to help you eat mindfully:

Eat in one place, sitting down, without distractions.

Focus on what you’re eating and how it tastes.

Do you feel hungry between meals? Don’t wait until you feel ravenous before eating. Keep a healthy snack with you to tide you over until the next meal.

Put your food on a plate or a bowl. Don’t eat straight out of a package.

Slow down. It takes 20 minutes for your stomach to signal your brain that you’ve had enough. If you eat too fast, you’ll overeat before the signal arrives.

Taste each bite and enjoy your food. After all, eating is more than just nutrition. It should be pleasurable as well!

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Chana Rubin, RD

Food for the Soul

Traditional Jewish Wisdom for Healthy Eating
By Chana Rubin, RD

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