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For a Kinder, Gentler Approach to Weight Loss

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You have heard it all before: Crash diets – the ones that promise you to shed lots of weight in no time – don’t work, at least not in the long run. And yet, they continue to rank among the most popular plans because people want to see results pronto.

This year’s resolution season will be no different. Advertisements for quick fixes get the most attention. For some it will do the trick. But for many, it will be another round of disappointments. Initially pounds will come off, mostly through loss of water, and then they will come back with a vengeance, and in all likelihood even more will be added. It’s a vicious circle that can be devastating.

Weight loss, at least the intentional kind, is an unnatural event. Our bodies cannot readily be willed into deprivation. In evolutionary terms, we are programmed to ingest as many calories as possible when food is plentiful, so we can survive when scarcity sets in, which inevitably happened to our ancestors of yore. But those days are thankfully over for most of today’s population and perpetual overeating with all its detrimental health effects is the more likely scenario.

Some experts say that instead of attempting to cheat our genetic make-up, a better approach would be to take a good look at the lifestyle we adhere to now and navigate our present food environment to the best of our ability.

For example, people like Tom Rath, bestselling author of “Eat Move Sleep – How Small Choices Lead to Big Changes” (Missionday, 2013), propose taking small steps that are within our immediate reach, rather than trying to follow some grand strategy like a complex diet plan or other regimen that interferes with our established routines and makes it thereby so much harder to maintain.

Most of us are not cut out to look at the “big picture” when we make choices concerning our diet and lifestyle habits. Instead of torturing yourself over which foods to eat and which to avoid, recognize that sitting too much and moving too little is considerably more detrimental to your health than the occasional dietary lapse, says Rath. So make inactivity your primary enemy. The same goes for chronic sleep deprivation, a serious health concern that afflicts millions.

When it comes to weight loss, most people are too fixated on counting calories. Yes, those numbers matter, especially when they stack up. But it also matters where those calories come from. Contrary to what you may have heard from some “experts,” a calorie is not a calorie, regardless of its source. Some calories are loaded with important nutrients and others are empty and have little or no nutritional value. Regrettably, the latter are richly present in (mostly processed) foods that dominate the Western diet. Just by limiting your choices to more nutrient-dense items like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein sources, you can vastly improve your chances for successful weight management right away and with lasting results.

Good health is always a work in progress. You will never arrive at a point where you achieve perfection. Not even professional athletes and fitness fanatics can do that. But abiding by a few simple rules and sticking with them for the long haul can create a good foundation you can keep building on.

In my own life, I have also included other categories that go beyond the physical part of my well-being. In addition, I try to work on the emotional, intellectual, and also social and relational aspects, and check where things stand every day. It’s nothing fancy or complicated. But I know that if I allow myself getting off course too far or for too long in one area, all others will suffer as well.

Most of all, I try to be as kind, gentle and patient with myself as I am (hopefully) with my clients. I know that harshness and self-flagellation won’t get me anywhere. And I rather take another small but achievable step in the right direction than live in a fantasy that will never come to pass.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com. For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

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