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Clean Eating Do’s and Don’ts

Clean eating may be the buzziest health term on the Internet. But what does it mean? Unfortunately, that’s not always clear.

At the core of this credo is the advice author Michael Pollan famously gave a decade ago in his best-selling book In Defense of Food: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

And research shows that this kind of eating pattern can indeed improve health and help maintain a healthy weight. In 2014 David L. Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Public Health, published a study that compared some of the most popular diets. Katz says that there’s not enough evidence to determine the best specific diet — and there likely never will be.

But Katz was able to determine which general eating pattern is best for health. That would be a “diet of minimally processed foods close to nature, predominantly plants.” And this pattern turns out to be compatible with any evidence-based diet plan, from paleo to Mediterranean to vegan.

Choosing fresh foods over packaged and processed foods improves your health because processed foods are more likely to have added sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats, as well as fewer quality nutrients. And eating mostly plant-based foods ensures a rich assortment of nutrients while reducing those harmful ones.

So why not fully embrace clean eating?

For one, there are a growing number of unsubstantiated fad diets touting the benefits of eating clean. “Most fad diets are untested,” says Traci Mann, professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota and the author of Secrets from the Eating Lab. “They’re just things people think up and put in books. They should probably go in the fiction section.”

“The term has been co-opted to mean things like cleanses and detoxes and a whole potpourri of dietary restrictions that are unfounded, unsubstantiated, and unlikely to do anyone any good,” Katz says. “As it’s currently used, the term means next to nothing.”

“But I think it could mean something,” adds Katz. It could be used to describe a diet of “minimally processed foods without added chemicals. Food close to nature, from sources that are raised well.” This concept of clean eating would be a helpful one, he says.

How to Make Clean Eating Work for You

Choose more fresh whole foods, especially plant-based. Plan your meals around lots of fresh fruits and vegetables; legumes (like beans and lentils); nuts; seeds; and whole grains. If you eat meat, choose high-quality lean meat, poultry, or fish. “I recommend strategies to eat more healthy food, rather than trying to focus on resisting unhealthy food,” says Mann. “Eat a vegetable before you have any other food on your plate. Once you put a vegetable in head-to-head competition with any other food, it tends to lose that contest.”

You’ll probably eat less of the other stuff if you start by eating more vegetables. Mann also recommends reducing barriers to healthy foods and adding barriers to unhealthy ones. For example, have a snack of carrot sticks peeled and ready to eat, and keep cookies or candy out of sight and out of mind.

Trade up your packaged foods. Try to avoid packaged and processed foods and meats, as much as possible. However, most of us do rely on at least some convenience foods, like cereal or a frozen meal now and then. So try to select versions with as little processing as you can, made with healthier ingredients.

“Start by trading up individual foods,” Katz says. “There’s a massive spectrum of quality in every aisle of the supermarket.” Look for those that use whole grains. Try to avoid items with ingredients that you can’t pronounce or that you haven’t heard of. Look for options with lower sugar, salt, and fat. And if you choose to eat meat, pick foods closer to their natural state, such as a heat-and-eat chicken breast, instead of frozen chicken nuggets. Likewise, bread made by your local baker is likely healthier than industrially packaged bread.

Cook at home. Restaurants aim to please and load their foods with sugar, fat, and salt. But when people cook for themselves, they often use fresh, wholesome ingredients and keep it simple. Research shows that people who cook most of their meals at home consume less fat and sugar and fewer total calories than those who don’t. They also make better choices when they do go out.

Enjoy your food and eat mindfully. Think about the food you eat and prepare for yourself. Consider where it comes from and how it makes you feel. Notice the color, texture, taste, and smell of your food. These mindfulness strategies can help you slow down your meal and eat less, while enjoying healthful food more. Mann’s lab found that drinking coffee mindfully helped subjects enjoy the natural flavors more, which in turn helped them cut way back on sugar.

Read-Nutrition-Labels

Skip These Unhelpful Clean Eating Fads

Avoid overly restrictive diets. Some of the most popular “clean eating” diets you’ll find online are extremely exclusive. The 30 Clean diet starts by banning all sweeteners, soy, dairy, grains, gluten, and corn, along with all processed foods. (It does allow for three small squares of dark chocolate and two alcoholic beverages a week — unless you opt for the Super Clean.) The Whole 30 allows you corn but eliminates the rest of those foods along with legumes. In practice, that means no fat-free yogurt, no brown rice, no sugar substitutes, no tofu — nary even a lentil. “The foods that are excluded are some of the most nutritious there are,” Katz says.

Research tells us that strict diets like this are difficult to keep. “They make your body think you’re starving to death,” says Mann. “And that leads to all these changes that make it hard to keep the weight off. Your metabolism changes. Suddenly you have to eat fewer calories to continue losing weight. Your hormones change, so you’re hungrier all the time,” she says. “And then there are the neurological effects where your attention becomes very focused on food.” This is why most people who do restrictive diets gain the weight back, and often more.

The Eat Clean Diet and Clean Eating Magazine guidelines are comparatively less restrictive, but they still eliminate flour, sugar, preservatives, and many other ingredients.

Stay clear of cleanses and detox diets. Clean Eating Magazine, 30 Clean, and The Eat Clean Diet’s author Tosca Reno all give tips for juice detoxes or cleanses, though there is no scientific evidence suggesting juice diets have any benefit. “Almost every claim I’ve ever seen about a cleanse or a detox is just confabulated nonsense,” says Katz. “The body is marvelously endowed with detox organs. They will take care of detoxing you better than you could hope to do out of a book by whoever the self-proclaimed guru du jour happens to be.”

Don’t do a diet that makes you feel guilty. Obsessing over the purest, cleanest foods, can make all other foods seem dirty. And that can be unhelpful. “Once you dichotomize your food into good/bad, virtuous/non-virtuous, that is problematic because that leads people to feel guilt or shame when they eat the bad category,” says Mann. That, she says, “can make you feel bad about yourself as a whole.” Clean eating diets tend to push for purity. The Whole 30 diet, for example, makes you start your 30-day challenge over if you cheat once.

We all want to eat better, but complicated fad diets may do more harm than good. Look for ways to make lasting improvements to your lifestyle, rather than temporary fixes. When it comes to clean eating, it might pay to remember Pollan’s words: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Selected references:
D.L. Katz and S. Meller, “Can We Say What Diet Is Best for Health?”,  Annual Review of Public Health, March, 2014.
Julia A. Wolfson and Sara N. Bleich, “Is cooking at home associated with better diet quality or weight-loss intention?,” Public Health Nutrition, June, 2015.

By Kevin McCarthy | March 13, 2017  

source: www.rallyhealth.com

 

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6 Easy Ways To Get Healthier That Have Nothing To Do With Exercise

When it comes to getting healthy, it’s not all about working up a sweat. In fact, there are tons of practical and beneficial habits you can work into your day-to-day that have nothing to do with hitting the gym or making rounds on the ClassPass circuit.

Some of these lifestyle adjustments involve eating more mindfully, which includes techniques like slowing down as you eat and paying attention to signals that let you know when you’re full. But getting enough sleep, reducing stress and cutting back on alcohol are all important too.

“Our environment, our habits and our mindset are almost just as important as what it is we are putting in our mouths. And we have to realize that,” said Lisa Young, a registered dietitian and adjunct professor of nutrition at New York University.

Here are some tips for boosting your health that have nothing to do with burning calories, but are almost guaranteed to leave you feeling better:

1. Slow down at meal time.

These days, everything we do ― eating included ― tends to happen at hyper speed. And it’s simply not good for your health. Nutritionists advise slowing down and chewing each bite of food somewhere between 20 and 30 times, which makes it easier to digest and absorb. In fact, the more you break down the food in your mouth, the more you’re going to absorb in the intestine, said Kelly Johnston, a registered dietitian and health coach at Parsley Health.

For the sake of digestion, try setting aside a bit more time so you can eat your meals in a less hasty way, even if it’s not 20 to 30 chews per bite of food.

“I always say the first line of digestion is your mouth, and chewing is such an important part of that,” Johnston said. “The less work you do in your mouth, the more work you have to do in your stomach and intestine, which can cause bloating downstream, constipation and just more work for the intestine.”

Eating at a slower pace also gives you more time to register fullness, which can lower your chances of overeating.

“Challenge yourself to take at least 15 to 20 minutes to finish a meal, because that is how long it takes for your gut to tell your brain it’s full,” said Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, a registered dietitian in New York City.

2. Limit your distractions while eating.

Despite the fact that more than half of Americans eat lunch at their desks each day, nutritionists say this isn’t the best choice for your health. For one, the body has trouble prioritizing digestion when you’re stressed.

“The uptick of the stress hormone cortisol may cause nutrients to become poorly digested and disrupt the normal digestion process,” Beckerman said.

We get it though: Sometimes you have no option other than to work through lunch. In these situations, Young suggested planning exactly what you’re going to eat. This can help you avoid overeating, which seems to happen way too easily when you’re focused on your screen rather than the food you’re putting in your mouth.

“The problem when you eat mindlessly is that you don’t even realize that you’ve eaten,” Young said.

3. Eat whole rather than processed foods.

Ultra-processed foods are often high in sodium and added sugars and come with long lists of ingredients, many of which do little in terms of benefiting your overall health. Making a real effort to swap processed for whole foods is a great way to get healthier. Consider focusing on foods that exist in nature like vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, healthy fats and high-quality proteins like beans, fish and meat.

Processed foods have fillers, stabilizers and thickeners that can disrupt your body’s ability to soak in essential vitamins and nutrients from real foods,” Beckerman said. “You’ll be able to deliver and maximize the purest forms of nutrients to your body when you can eat whole foods.”

4. Get enough sleep.

When you’re trying to squeeze in time for everything possible in life ― work, social commitments, family, exercise, cooking healthy meals and more ― maintaining a healthy sleep schedule is often pushed aside. But getting enough sleep probably deserves a higher spot on your list of priorities. After all, this is the time of day where your body relaxes and repairs.

The exact amount of sleep varies from person to person, but somewhere around seven to eight hours a night is a good target, Johnston said. You surely know this from experience, but when you don’t get enough sleep, your body struggles the next day.

“Research shows that if you don’t get enough sleep, you automatically usually have an elevated blood sugar the following day because you haven’t metabolized well,” Johnston said.

Meanwhile, sleep deprivation disrupts the balance of the body’s hunger and satiety hormones, which can lead you toward that bottomless-pit feeling where you eat and eat but don’t feel full, Beckerman explained. Not getting enough sleep also leads to low levels of leptin, a hormone that helps regulate the body’s energy balance by inhibiting hunger. The result? Increased cravings of sugary and sweet foods, Beckerman said.

5. Find a way to let go of stress.

Some stress is good for you, especially the type that appears when you’re excited. But chronic stress, the kind that feels inescapable, can have a ton of negative effects on the body, from depression and anxiety to gastrointestinal problems and cardiovascular disease. For the sake of your health, it’s important to find a stress-relieving habit you can turn to regularly to balance the daily demands that drain you.

For some, this release can have to do with exercise, like going for a walk or going to a yoga class. For others, it might mean journaling, meditating or talking to a close friend. Really, the method is up to you as long as you take some time to yourself to let some of the stress fade away.

“Just recharging your battery is so important,” Johnston said.

6. Cut back on alcohol.

Besides contributing to those dreaded hangovers, drinking more than the recommended amount (up to one drink a day for women and two for men) can increase your risk of cancer and high blood pressure, as well as contribute to poor sleep, overeating, impaired cognitive function even after the alcohol leaves your system and earlier signs of aging, like wrinkles and broken blood vessels.
Many types of alcohol are also super sugary, which can lead to weight gain and problems with blood sugar levels. Additionally, alcohol and sugar can both negatively impact “the health of our gut and our microbiome,” Johnston said.

Alcohol also impairs the efficacy of the hormone leptin, which as mentioned earlier, plays a role in keeping you full.

“This imbalance influences our powerful brains towards convincing us that we want more carbohydrate heavy and greasy meals,” Beckerman said. So, while there’s usually nothing wrong with a drink here and there, it’s best to keep it to a minimum.

By Beth Krietsch,   10/25/2018   HuffPost US


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Easy Tricks To Teach Kids How To Deal With Stress Through Mindfulness

But experts say if you want to teach your children to be mindful, you have to be mindful, too.

The back-to-school season brings its own unique stressors to just about everyone: young children starting school for the first time, older kids dealing with longer days and social pressures, teenagers who have to make decisions about their futures, and of course to parents who might also feel overwhelmed. But researchers at Vancouver’s Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre have suggested strategies to deal with back-to-school stress.

“Mindfulness” has become a bit of a buzzword recently, along the lines of “radical wellness” and “living your best life.” But beyond the context of GOOP, there’s a lot of value in the idea that we could all focus more on the present moment.

The basic tenet of mindfulness is the idea that stress and pain is often the result of thinking about past regrets or worrying about the future, and that can be combated by coming up with strategies that focus on remaining in the present moment. HuffPost Canada spoke to Dr. Dzung Vo, an adolescent medicine specialist and pediatrician at British Columbia’s Children’s Hospital, about how kids can implement those strategies.

“I define mindfulness as paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and with unconditional love,” Dr. Vo says. “It’s not meant to be something that you succeed or fail at, it’s more of an intention and an attitude that we orient ourselves to when we practice being in the present moment.”

Studies have shown that mindfulness can reduces stress and anxiety, improve attention and memory, and encourage empathy and monitor your emotions. It’s also been shown to be beneficial physically by lowering blood pressure and heart rate. And new research is currently underway to determine whether it can be a helpful tool to fight against depression.

Vo’s pediatric practice focuses primarily on teenagers, but he says there are effective strategies that can help just about every age group understand their feelings, process their reactions, and live a healthier emotional life.

Babies and toddlers
By far the most important factor in teaching very young children to be mindful is to have a parent or caregiver who is mindful themselves.

“What we know from neuroscience is that the parent’s own mental and neurologic state has a profound influence on regulating the child,” Vo told HuffPost Canada. “If the parent or caregiver can be mindful, present, attentive, and attuned with unconditional love and presence, then that will affect the child in very deep and healthy ways.”

One of the principles of mindfulness is approaching a subject with “beginner’s mind” — a sense of curiosity and presence you might use if you were trying something for the first time. This is something young children generally do anyways. “Kids are actually pretty naturally in the moment, so it’s not too hard to do,” Vo says.

Studies have shown that mindfulness can reduces stress and anxiety

School-age kids
Vo suggests adding brief mindfulness exercises into the routine of slightly older children, maybe at bedtime or when they get home from school. One idea is to get them to lie with a teddy bear on top of their belly and ask them to slowly breathe in and out, he says. Watching the teddy bear go up and down with their breath will put them in tune with their bodies, and put them in a state of calm.

Another useful activity can be to sing songs with lyrics that remind kids to think about where they are and how they feel — he suggests “Planting Seeds” by Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh. “As kids go through their day, when they need a mindful moment, they just sing the song,” he says. “Singing it actually is a practice, because it cultivates that mindful attitude.”

Crafts and artwork, approached with the “beginner’s mind,” are another helpful way to practice mindfulness. Vo suggests gently guiding children to be curious and really focus on their surroundings and what they might be engaging in.

“Maybe they’re drawing a flower in front of them,” he says. “Encourage the child to really pay attention to it by asking them: What are you seeing there? What are you noticing? What are the colours? What are the shapes?”

It isn’t particularly important that children understand the idea of mindfulness, he says.

“It’s more important to have experiences than to talk too much about the concepts.” And again, he stresses that the most important way to teach mindfulness to kids is the mindful presence of the parent or caregiver.

Teenagers
In his sessions with teens, Vo will often get them to try out their “beginner’s mind” by slowly eating one single raisin. “That might seem very simple and boring, but when you bring curious attention to it, you find experiences that seem tedious or boring may be quite interesting, or quite relaxing, or quite enjoyable in ways that we hadn’t considered when we go through them in autopilot mode.”

Many teenagers will bring what Vo calls “informal meditation” to a wide variety of day-to-day activities: breathing deeply and considering their senses while walking the dog, or waiting for the bus, or washing dishes. It can particularly help before a stressful situation at school — right before writing an exam, for instance.

There isn’t a lot of research on the benefits of mindfulness for teens, but Vo says that he believes that’s the time of life when those practices would be most beneficial.

Studies of adults have demonstrated that mindful practices can actually change the parts of the brain linked to memory, self-image, and emotional regulation. Because adolescent brains are changing quickly and profoundly, Vo says he thinks the effects would be even more significant. One of the biggest adolescent brain changes involves the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for emotional regulation and executive functioning, which develops throughout the teenage years up until the early 20s. It develops through focused attention and concentration, he says, which suggests that the more that they use these neurologic pathways to help regulate their brains, the stronger those connections will get.

By Maija Kappler                 08/22/2018


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The Neuroscience of Bad Habits and Why It’s Not About Will Power

Why are bad habits so hard to break? What if the bumper sticker “Just Say No!” actually works against us? If willpower were the answer to breaking bad habits then we  decisionswouldn’t have drug addiction or obesity. There’s something going on in our brains where we literally lose the ability for self-control, but all hope isn’t lost.

Nora Volkow, head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse calls the phrase “Just Say No!” “magical thinking.”

It appears that dopamine is one of the main chemicals regulating the pleasure center of the brain. At the most basic level, it regulates motivation — it sends signals to receptors in the brain saying, “This feels good!”

Whether you’re a heroin addict and you see an association to heroin, you’re a caffeine addict and you see a cup of coffee, you’re a Smartphone addict and you see another person pick up their phone, or if you’re hungry and you see some good-looking food, your brain rushes with dopamine and that is now caught on brain-scanning machines.

The fascinating thing is that Volkow has found that  the images alone affect the rise of dopamine in our brains. So if we pass a McDonald’s and see the arches, our brain associates that with a tasty hamburger (for some) and shoots up dopamine. That good feeling will unconsciously drive the motivation to go in and get a Big Mac. It’s a conditioned response. The same goes for anything including most likely our relationships to our phones.

A blue button with the word Change on it

What can we do?

It makes sense why more and more addiction centers are integrating mindfulness into their curriculum. Mindfulness practice has been shown to activate the prefrontal cortex and cool down the amygdala. This gives us the ability to widen the space between stimulus and response where choice lies and access possibilities and opportunities we didn’t know were there before. This is crucial when it comes to our addictive behaviors to take a step back, “think through the drink” and recognize the various options that lie before us.

We can learn to step into the pause, notice the sensation of the urge that’s there and as the late Alan Marlatt, Ph.D. said, “surf the urge” as it peaks, crests and falls back down like a wave in the ocean.

One place to start is to just get curious about the pull you feel to whatever you think you’re compulsive with. An easy one besides some of the arguably more destructive habits (drugs, alcohol) is our phones.

Today, be on the lookout for what cues you to check your app. Do you see someone else doing it? Are you waiting somewhere and there’s something uncomfortable about waiting? Is it a certain time of day or place?

Training your brain to recognize this cue can help you get some space from it to ask, “What do I really want to pay attention to right now? What matters?” As we get better at recognizing that space between stimulus and response and making the choices that run alongside our values, like riding a bike, it will start to come more naturally.

Just because our brains have been altered by our compulsive behaviors, doesn’t mean we’re destined to fall into the same habits. With the right skills, community and support we can learn how to break out of routine and into a life worth living.

By Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. 
 


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How To Sleep Well: Fill Your Life With Purpose, Study Says

Though we may constantly feel tired, sleeping isn’t always easy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2016 found that one in three Americans doesn’t get enough sleep. This can lead to a host of health problems, and more and more Americans are resorting to sleeping pills to ensure they’re able to get a good night’s rest. The American College of Physicians has recommended against using prescription drugs to treat insomnia, if possible, and now there may be hope for sleeping well without popping a pill. According to a new study, the best way to get through the night in peace may be to simply have a solid sense of purpose in your life outside of bed.

The study, conducted by Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, found that people who felt their lives had purpose experienced better sleep quality than those who didn’t. They were also 63 percent less likely to suffer from sleep apnea, and 52 percent less likely to suffer from restless leg syndrome. The aim of the study, published Monday in the journal Sleep Science and Practice, was to examine the relationship between purpose in life, overall sleep quality and the presence of sleep disorders in a bi-racial sample of older adults: people who are more likely to have problems sleeping.

“Helping people cultivate a purpose in life could be an effective drug-free strategy to improve sleep quality, particularly for a population that is facing more insomnia,” said Dr. Jason Ong, one of the study’s authors and an associate professor of neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Purpose in life is something that can be cultivated and enhanced through mindfulness therapies.”

To conduct the study, the Feinberg School’s team of researchers gathered 825 people between the ages of 60 and 100. Participants were given surveys on their purpose in life and their sleep. The average age of the participants, 79, was high because people have more trouble sleeping as they get older (almost 40 percent of older adults suffer from a sleeping disorder). Trouble sleeping is also more common among African Americans, which made up more than half of of the pool of participants. None of the study’s participants suffered from dementia.

Through establishing a link between purpose in life and sleep quality, researchers found that the idea of purpose in life may be applied in a clinical setting, and recommended further research into the connection between positive psychology and sleep health. The more this is studied, the more effectively treatments like mindfulness therapy can be used to curb issues like sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome, which means fewer people will have to rely on prescription pills to make it through the night undisturbed.

BY RYAN BORT                   7/10/17


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Just 10 Minutes of Meditation Boosts Mood and Focus for People With Anxiety

It also prompted a shift away from future-oriented worrying and helped people focus on the present. 

People who suffer from anxiety are often plagued by repetitive thoughts, which can distract from the task at hand and affect mood and productivity. But a new study suggests that just 10 minutes of daily meditation can help reduce episodes of mind wandering, especially for people who report high levels of emotional stress.

Previous research has found that meditation can help prevent “off-task thinking” in healthy individuals, but this study, published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition, aimed to determine the benefits of mindfulness specifically as they relate to anxiety.

Researchers from the University of Waterloo asked 82 college students, all of whom met the clinical criteria for anxiety, to perform a monotonous computer task that measured their ability to stay focused. At random points throughout, the participants were asked to reveal their thoughts “just prior to this moment.”

Then they divided the participants into two groups: One listened to an excerpt from The Hobbit, and the other listened to a 10-minute meditation that instructed them to focus on breathing and “remain open-minded to their experience.” (You can listen to the same recording, called Mindfulness of Body and Breath, here.)

The groups then repeated the computer task. This time, 43 percent of thoughts in the meditation group were considered “mind wandering,” meaning they weren’t related to the task or to things going on around them, down slightly from 44 percent in the pre-test.

In the group that listened to the audio story, the percentage of mind-wandering thoughts actually increased—from 35 percent in the pre-test to 55 percent in the post-test.

The meditation group also reported a significant decrease in “future-oriented thoughts,” from 35 percent before the mindfulness exercise to 25 percent after. This could indicate a shift in thinking from internal worries (about tomorrow’s exam, for example) to things going on around them in the moment (say, a dirty computer monitor or a flickering light), the authors say. That’s important, because stressing about future events is a hallmark of anxiety.

And while meditation didn’t reduce all forms of off-task thinking in the study (like being distracted by external stimuli), it did appear to lessen performance disruptions associated with those thoughts. Both groups also experienced a decrease in negative emotions between the pre-test and the post-test.

“In short, meditation is beneficial in both improving mood and helping people stay focused in their thoughts and also behaviors,” says lead author and PhD student Mengran Xu. “The two do go together.”

Mind wandering accounts for almost half of humans’ daily stream of consciousness, Xu adds. It can cause us to make errors on everyday tasks, like mailing an envelope without its contents, but it’s also been associated with an increased risk of injury and death while driving, difficulties in school, and impaired performance in everyday life.

By Amanda MacMillan        May 3, 2017


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Want to Lose Weight? You Should Stop Counting Calories

No more meal math: Eating high-quality foods—including plenty of fat—is the new golden rule of weight loss.

Keri Rabe, a 41-year-old elementary school librarian in Austin, Texas, used to be a hard-core calorie counter. Each day for a year, she logged everything she ate, squeezing in caloric space for twice-baked potatoes and tater tot casseroles by making them with low-fat dairy, believing fat would make her fat. She studied the menu before eating out at restaurants, choosing a dish by how many calories she had left for the day. “I thought for sure that was the only way to consistently lose weight,” she says. “I thought I’d have to do it for the rest of my life.”

By one measure, it worked; Rabe lost 10 pounds that year. But even though she met her goal, she was frustrated. She hated doing math before and after every meal, and even though she got away with eating low-quality food while losing weight, she still didn’t feel good—and she wasn’t satisfied.

So one day, Rabe stopped logging and went searching for a better path, not just to lose weight but to keep it off. “I was looking for a way I could eat for the rest of my life,” she says.

Rabe was about to learn what experts are now discovering: The quality of calories is what matters most for staying healthy, losing weight, and maintaining those results.

“When you eat the right quality and balance of foods, your body can do the rest on its own,” says David Ludwig, MD, an endocrinologist, researcher, and professor at Harvard Medical School, who wrote the 2016 weight-loss book Always Hungry? “You don’t have to count calories or go by the numbers.”

Outsmart your metabolism

The problem with foods that make people fat isn’t that they have too many calories, says Dr. Ludwig. It’s that they cause a cascade of reactions in the body that promote fat storage and make people overeat. Processed carbohydrates—foods like chips, soda, crackers, and even white rice—digest quickly into sugar and increase levels of the hormone insulin.

“Insulin is like Miracle-Gro for your fat cells,” explains Dr. Ludwig. It directs cells to snap up calories in the blood and store them as fat, leaving the body feeling hungry in a hurry. This is why it’s so easy to devour a big bag of chips and still feel famished.

Repeat this cycle too many times and your metabolism will start working against you. What’s more, “when humans try to reduce their calorie balance, the body fights back,” says Dr. Ludwig. This happens in two ways: Metabolism slows in order to keep calories around longer, and you begin to feel hungrier. “This combination of rising hunger and slowing metabolism is a battle that we’re destined to lose over the long term,” he adds. In a dramatic study last year, researchers followed 14 contestants who had all lost big (most about 100 pounds) on The Biggest Loser, and they found this to be the case. Within six years, all but one of them had regained much or all of the weight they had lost because their metabolism stalled and their levels of the hunger-regulating hormone leptin plummeted.

Put fat back on your plate

The best way to break this fattening cycle is to replace processed carbs with healthy fats, argues Dr. Ludwig: “Fats don’t raise insulin at all, so they can be a key ally for weight loss.”

That idea, of course, contradicts decades of dietary advice. Americans have long been warned about the dangers of fat, since the nutrient contains more than twice as many calories as carbohydrates and proteins. By the math alone, replacing fat with carbs seems like a good idea—but it’s not. Studies have shown that people on a low-fat diet tend to lose less weight than people on a low-carbohydrate diet.

In another twist, eating healthy fats—the types that actually support the heart, like the omega-3s in tuna and the monounsaturated fat in olive oil—does not seem to cause weight gain. A trial published last year in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology showed that people who followed a Mediterranean diet rich in vegetables and fat for five years lost more weight than those who were told to eat low-fat. A related study showed that folks who followed a high-fat diet reduced their risk of cardiovascular disease by about 30 percent, while those instructed to eat a low-fat diet did not.

“After hearing for 40 years how eating fat makes you fat and how we have to count calories to control our weight, people are afraid of foods that humans have enjoyed and viewed as healthy for hundreds of years, like olive oil, nuts, avocado, fatty fish, even dark chocolate,” says Dr. Ludwig. “These foods are among the most healthful foods in existence, even though they are loaded with calories.”

Real, natural foods with fiber, protein, and fat are so satisfying, you’ll naturally eat less of them, the new thinking goes. “If the meal contains all three, then the food will move more slowly through the GI tract,” says Mira Ilic, a clinical dietitian at Cleveland Clinic. When a food takes its time passing through the body, you feel fuller longer.

Instead of choosing a meal based on calories, Ilic advises picking foods from all three categories: one high in fiber, like a vegetable or whole grain; a protein source (think: chicken or salmon); and a healthy fat, like a salad with olive oil and chopped avocado.

Listen to your body’s cues

But it’s still possible to overdo it, even on healthy foods. The biggest temptations are typically peanut butter and almond butter—when you eat them by the spoonful—and whole avocados, says Ilic. She likes the “healthy plate” method of foolproof portion control: assembling half a plate of nonstarchy vegetables, which are automatically healthy; a quarter plate of protein; and a quarter plate of quality carbs, like whole grains or legumes. Foods with healthy fats will pop up in the protein and carb parts of the plate, and if you stick to that formula, you’ll be less likely to overeat them. After creating so well-rounded a meal, you’ll find it easier to keep the amount of good fat you add to it in check.

Another way to guard against overeating healthy-but-rich foods is to slow down at the table. “A lot of people are eating way too fast,” says Ilic. “It takes a minimum of 20 minutes for the brain to pick up on satiety, the fullness of the stomach, and you miss the cue of being full if you’re eating too quickly.”

Be present to shed pounds

Recent research found that when people did a short mindfulness exercise called a body scan meditation—in which you take stock of how you feel inside—they were better able to pick up on internal cues that signal hunger and fullness. People who are more mindful have also been shown to experience fewer weight fluctuations over time.

Even though eating quality calories will help you crave treats less, there’s still room for the occasional indulgence. Dr. Ludwig is a fan of dark chocolate, which has heart, brain, and satiety benefits. If that doesn’t do it for you, you can keep the occasional cookie in the mix. “After cleaning the metabolic slate and lowering their insulin, people may be able to enjoy pastries, pasta, etcetera in moderation,” says Dr. Ludwig. If you miss these foods, he recommends experimenting to see what you can handle before cravings are triggered. “For others whose metabolism doesn’t tolerate that as much, the benefits of being in control of hunger and not having to fight cravings will be much greater than the fleeting pleasures of those processed carbohydrates.”

As for Rabe, she ended her year of dodging calories by embarking on a new one in which she embraced fat and reduced sugar. She lost about as much weight while gaining leanness, strength, and a steadier stream of energy.

“I feel so much freer to not be restricted and obsessed over calories,” she says. “I’ve made some really major changes in the quality of my diet, and I feel I can sustain them.”

Best of all, ditching the meal math renewed her love for food, so much so that she started her own cooking blog.

Rabe says she’ll never go back to counting calories. “I’m internally motivated to eat the way I do, because I enjoy it,” she says. “I like the way I feel now.”

 

By Mandy Oaklander             May 26, 2017