Fad diets tend to have loads of restrictive or complex guidelines, which give the feeling that they convey scientific heft, when, in reality, the reason they often work (at least in the short term) is that they essentially kill whole food groups, so you consequently cut out calories. In addition, the principles are quite often difficult to adhere to and, when you stop, you regain the lost weight.
Keep an eye on portions.
You can try all the broccoli and spinach you want, but for higher-calorie foods, portion control is the key. Check serving sizes on food labels—some relatively small packages contain more than one serving, so you have to double or triple the calories, fat, and sugar if you plan to eat the whole thing. Popular “100-calorie” food packages do the portion controlling for you (though they won’t help much if you eat several packages at once).
Don’t rely on willpower.
Instead, control your “food environment” so that you don’t unconsciously overfill your plate and eat when you’re not hungry. That means, for example, not having junk foods at home or at least keeping them out of sight (such as on a top shelf or in the back of the fridge)—and changing your routines so you don’t regularly encounter temptations (such as avoiding the office pantry between meals if it has enticing foods and driving a route that doesn’t take you past your favorite food places). Use smaller plates, bowls, cups, and utensils—you may even want to invest in portion-controlled plates (that delineate what reasonable serving sizes are) or portion-control devices (that allow you to measure your food directly on the plate); many different kinds are available online. Portion out snacks into small bowls or bags; don’t eat from large bags or boxes. You may not have control over everything in your food environment, but being aware of hidden food triggers and traps may be enough to keep you from overeating.
Eat slowly, chew well.
A component of mindful eating, this allows more time for satiety signals to reach the brain (it takes about 20 minutes), so slow eaters tend to feel more full and eat less. The process of chewing itself may also stimulate satiety signals. In addition, eating slowly makes you more aware of the smell, taste, and texture of the foods, which can lead to greater satisfaction with fewer calories. Keep in mind also that the most pleasure often comes from the first few bites of a food; after that, it’s the law of diminishing returns. Thus, you should focus on those first few tastes of chocolate, cake, or other indulgences, as this may be enough to satisfy.
Get adequate protein (and include some with all meals).
There’s evidence that protein increases satiety more than carbohydrates do. Protein also helps limit muscle loss during weight loss. Look for sources of lean protein (such as beans and other legumes, white-meat poultry, and low-fat or nonfat dairy) or those also rich in healthy fats (such as fish, nuts, and soy foods). Some research suggests that distributing your protein throughout the day also helps in weight loss, rather than eating the bulk of it at, say, dinnertime. According to a 2015 paper in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, higher-protein diets that include at least 25 grams of protein at each meal may reduce appetite and thus body weight, compared with lower-protein diets. However, people with or at high risk for kidney disease—and that includes many older people—should be careful not to consume excessive amounts of protein.
Cook at home often.
That allows you to eat more whole foods and control how much oil, sugar, and other high-calorie ingredients you use. Studies have shown that people tend to eat more when they eat out—though you must still be careful to limit portion sizes at home. If cooking from recipes, look for healthy lower-calorie ones that include nutrition analyses, and stick to the serving sizes. Be aware also that just as restaurant portions have ballooned in recent years, recipe serving sizes have also been on the increase.
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