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Given the thousands of diet schemes, diet experts, and weight loss products marketed to Americans daily, it’s easy to believe that if you could just identify the right approach for your body type, you could lose weight quickly and for good. But is it really that simple? Yes—and no.
Depriving yourself of your favorite foods is a powerful trigger for overeating. “Humans naturally want what they can’t have,” says May. In order to avoid certain foods you tend to focus on them more, increasing the risk of bingeing. Plus, a diet of low-calorie foods simply isn’t satisfying, says May, so it’s easy to eat too much. A new study in Appetite found that people ate about 35 percent more of a snack they perceived as healthy rather than unhealthy. Another, in the Journal of Consumer Research, found that when people go to “healthy” fast-food restaurants such as Subway they choose sides (such as chips), beverages, and desserts containing up to 131 percent more calories than they would have consumed if they’d gone to a restaurant they perceived as less healthy.
Follow a plant-based diet of whole foods. “It’s a diet you can live with,” says Susan Levin, RD, director of nutrition education at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). She points to a PCRM study of diabetics that found that those who followed a plant-based diet stuck to it better and lost more weight than those on a standard diabetic diet. A plant-based diet is full of high-fiber foods, which are naturally low-calorie and very filling. “You won’t be deprived,” says Levin. Focus on fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains, and eat healthy but calorie-dense choices such as nuts in moderation.
Don’t completely eliminate certain foods. There’s no such thing as good food and bad food, says May, even when you want to lose weight. Any food, including chocolate or butter, can have a place in a balanced diet. To reintroduce foods you’ve come to think you shouldn’t eat, experiment with them mindfully. “Pay attention to every single bite,” says Fikkan, and you may surprise yourself by not wanting as much as you thought you would.
Branch out. Enjoying other parts of your life can help you feel fulfilled, and not deprived, while trying to lose weight, says Dallman. Activities like fun exercise, walks in nature, or taking a class to learn a new skill can center you, she says.