Think lifestyle, not diet when it comes to weight

Having been around for a while, I’ve seen some interesting fad diets. I understand — people want a quick fix to being overweight and think the next trend that comes along might be the answer to all their weight problems.

I’m sympathetic; if you offered me a bracelet to slap on my wrist or a pill that would turn me into a social gazelle, I’d probably fall for that. It would be so much easier than doing the work myself, day after day.

But let’s face it — the only real way to lose weight is through eating less and exercising more, which takes a lot of time, willpower and commitment. Anything that promises results faster with less effort seems very attractive, and it is easy to be seduced by these claims.

But the problem with these trendy diets is that they are unhealthy in the long run. True, you may lose a lot of weight quickly, but that is not a good way to go about it. For one, you are unlikely to keep it off; in this case slow and steady wins the race. Plus, any such dramatic change is not good for your body as it has to adjust to the new status.

I am skeptical of any plan that tells you to cut out an entire food group. The groups that avoid all starches or carbohydrates seem short-sighted and unbalanced. (Don’t get me wrong, I love hanging out with non-carb/gluten-free people; I get all the breadsticks, rolls and biscuits I could ever want.)

For the record, I have advocated a non-animal-product diet, but that is based on ethical and sustainability issues. I would never say to cut out all protein but rather to find plant-based proteins and dairy alternatives.

I have a co-worker who comes in with fast-food BBQ chicken wings. Never mind the fact that the wings are fried and covered in high-calorie sauce; she is convinced this will help her lose weight because she is not eating bread.

But not all carbs are created equally. Brown rice and pastas or multi-grain breads would be good picks. Anything that is highly processed should be avoided. I would think it would be more realistic for a long-range plan to focus on which carbs are the healthiest choices, rather than trying to avoid them entirely.

I like plans in which you have a daily allotment of calories; this makes the most sense to me because it resembles a financial budget. Once you’ve spent it, it’s gone. This seems to allow the most freedom of food choices, although it’s possible to quickly waste all your calories early in the day on junk food. But at least that would get you in the habit of thinking about how much the food item “costs” before you consume it.

I’ve also noticed people would rather try to change what they consume, rather than exercise more. To me, it would be easier to add physical activity — walk frequently, take the stairs, do household tasks manually. That sounds like a lot more fun than severely restricting what I can eat. But there is probably not one single approach that will work for everyone.

The focus needs to be on overall lifestyle change, not temporary measures. If you go back to what you were doing before, then you will end up right back where you were. Don’t be dazzled by fantastical claims of the latest diet trend. You owe it to yourself and your long-term health to take your time and do it right.

Stephanie Haines is a writer from Greenfield who now lives in Bloomington. She can be contacted through her website, stephaniehaines.com.