Going after weight gain by going on a diet is like walking into a gunfight with a sharp stick. You might make a little dent, but in the end, you’ll do yourself more harm than good.
Here’s why: Typical diets restrict calories, and that means lowering your metabolism—the calorie furnace in your body that determines longterm weight loss. Going on a diet sends a signal to your body that says “I’m starving here!” And your body responds by slowing your metabolic rate in order to hold on to existing energy stores.
Want proof that you can lose substantial amounts of weight—and keep it off for good—without ever dieting? Cutting-edge research that I pulled together to write The Lean Belly Prescription points the way to quick and easy weight loss. For example:
Quite simply, metabolism is the rate at which our bodies burn the energy from food calories. During your skinny teens, your body was a raging, hormonally fed inferno. But your burn rate falls by 2 percent every 10 years from your twenties onward, and you know what happens to energy that isn’t used: It’s stored as fat.
Muscle is several times more metabolically active than fat. The more muscle you have, the hotter your fire burns. And if you activate those muscles throughphysical activity, the potential fat burn can last for up to 24 hours. Any light exercise that maintains muscle mass will attack fat at the same time.
One of the more fascinating pieces of obesity-related research I’ve read came out in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2007. Researchers looked at data on 12,000 people—many of them related to one another—who’d been tracked in the Framingham Heart Study. Their conclusion: A person was at greater risk for being obese if others in his or her social network were obese. The stats: If a friend became obese, risk climbed by 57 percent; if a sibling became obese, risk went up by 40 percent; a spouse, plus 37 percent.
The same study concluded that the benefits of weight loss may radiate through social networks as well. And think about how cool it will be around the Thanksgiving table next year, when you all look awesome! Pass the brussels sprouts!
A study from the University of Massachusetts Medical School determined that people who skip breakfast are 4 1/2 times more likely to be obese than people who make time for it. An expert from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center estimated that going without breakfast can slow your metabolism by up to 10 percent.
Build breakfast out of protein and healthy fat. Eggs. Greek yogurt. Peanut butter. Milk. The more protein you eat, the more satisfied you’ll be: A 2008 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition noted that the protein can lead to feelings of fullness that last all day long.
You’re made out of water—over 60 percent, by most reckonings. So you need to drink plenty of it. But talk about Trojan horses: In the past 30 years, we’ve more than doubled the number of calories we drink, raising it to 450 on average today. Why? Because we stopped drinking water, and started drinking sugar water!
If you take only one thing from this chapter, make it this: If a drink has added sugar, it’s liquid fat. Bottled blubber. Fizzy flab. Drinkable derriere. Caboose in a can. Phase it out of your drinking diet, and you’ll make huge strides toward shedding unwelcome, unnecessary weight.
A study from Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity found that 50 percent of kids said the food in a box with Shrek’s green mug on it tasted better than the very same food in a Shrekless box. And what kinds of food most often have cartoon characters on them? Right: sugar-laden ones. Adults fall prey to similar marketing techniques on their foods’ packaging as well. But guess what? An apple doesn’t come with a label.
Beware packaged foods that present you with meaningless buzz-words like “natural,” “fat free,” “diet,” and “a smart choice”—and ingredient lists longer than Al Capone’s rap sheet. When you buy whole foods as they grew in nature—a salmon fillet, green beans, an orange—each has only one ingredient: the food itself. All of your grocery store transactions should be so simple.
I kid you not. Brian Wansink, Ph.D., a food visionary who runs the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab, has devoted extraordinary attention to the effects that the containers that carry our food and drink have on how much we consume. His rule of thumb: The larger the plate or bowl or glass, the more you will eat or slurp or drink from it. The bad news: We’re on the wrong side of a century-long expansion in the sizes of our dinner plates and the volumes of our drink- ing glasses. As go your portion sizes, so goes your personal size.
Instead of 1 cup of chocolate ice cream, enjoy 1⁄2 cup of chocolate ice cream with 1⁄2 cup of sliced strawberries. The fruit tastes great, adds tons of antioxidants, and saves you 115 calories.