The Do’s and Don’ts of Streamlining Your Weight-Loss Plan

Jessica Migala
by Jessica Migala
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The Do’s and Don’ts of Streamlining Your Weight-Loss Plan

“There are so many diets out there that you might forget that the basics — a balanced diet and exercise you enjoy — actually work. You don’t need anything fancy to lose weight,” says Amy Gorin, MS, RD, owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in the New York City area. The basics include watching calories, adding movement and eating healthy fats, whole grains, lean protein and plenty of produce she says.

This summer, don’t just commit to cleaning up your kitchen, but also focus on deleting extraneous dieting rules. Loosen the reins a bit and you’ll have an even better chance at success and making weight loss a sustainable and enjoyable process.

Here, the rules you should skip and those you should keep:

Many people follow self-imposed diet rules that make them unhappy, whether it’s eating eggs for breakfast to avoid carbohydrate-rich toast or cutting out dessert entirely. “I see people who are miserable during the weight-loss process all the time,” says Gorin. But “lasting weight loss teaches sustainable habits you can keep for a lifetime — and that means being kind toward yourself,” she says. “If you’re following a rule that feels too strict and makes you feel unhappy, let it go.”

New research shows people who were the most successful in weight loss spent less than 15 minutes a day logging what they ate. “Logging what you eat makes you more aware of what you’re consuming and how you feel during those eating occasions,” says Gorin. For example, the cookie you had for a snack may have been tasty, but did it help you feel full the way an apple and some nut butter might? Over time, you can see patterns in your eating habits and make smarter choices.

“There’s nothing positive you can associate with the word cheat and no food should be completely off limits,” says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RD, author of “Read It Before You Eat It – Taking You from Label to Table.” Cheat days often backfire, causing you to overeat and this can harm your metabolism. “Your diet should feel satisfying so you can maintain it long-term, and that includes beloved soul-nourishing foods,” adds Taub-Dix.

“No matter what the food, portions matter,” says Taub-Dix. The thing is, the number of portions listed on a nutrition label might not be right for you — it’s an external bit of data that has no idea how hungry you are or what you ate earlier that day. She recommends using it as a reality check to understand the calorie and macronutrient breakdown and make smart decisions from there.

You might be tempted to substitute traditional pasta or grains with cauliflower or sweet potato or use almond flour in lieu of whole-wheat flour when baking. “Cauliflower and sweet potatoes are great, nutrient-packed foods, but know that these subs don’t often save on calories,” says Taub-Dix. Eat them to add variety and because you can make a killer cauliflower pizza crust — not because you’re afraid of the classic variety.

Front-of-package claims have long been problematic, relying on of-the-moment buzzwords to prompt you to purchase “Just the other day, I had a client who was excited to find ‘dark chocolate-covered pomegranates’ at the store because both dark chocolate and pomegranate arils are rich in antioxidants,” says Annessa Chumbley, an Indianapolis-based registered dietitian. That’s true, in general, but the ingredient label told a different story. “The product had just a little bit of pomegranate juice and a ton of added sugar. The dark chocolate was filled with processed oils and sugar,” she explains. Let this be a reminder to read between the lines and look beyond whatever the front package is telling you — instead, make decisions based on the ingredients within.

Every diet plan comes with its own promises — and those can be big. As such, many have steep fees to join or ask you to purchase expensive foods or supplements. It can be tempting, then, to bounce from diet to diet just because your friend, coworker or favorite celebrity did it, and spend a lot of money in the process. “Abruptly starting and stopping diets wreaks havoc on our bodies and minds. It takes a lot of courage, confidence and time to make sustained changes,” says Chumbley.

Likewise, personal success stories are enticing, but you shouldn’t blindly follow a diet just because it worked for someone else — particularly if it sounds restrictive. “Each person is different and there isn’t one weight-loss solution for everyone. What works for one person might not work for another,” says Chumbley. Keeping this in mind can help you choose to eat in a way that better aligns with your food tastes, preferences and goals — and thus find success. Chumbley calls this doing your own “hunt for health.”

“We love to hate carbs, and yet, it’s such an important food group for energy, B vitamins, fiber and your sanity,” says Taub-Dix. That last one (sanity) is critical: Carbohydrates raise levels of serotonin in your body, a feel-good hormone that plays a key role in mood regulation, she explains.

“I think when we villainize macronutrients, we’re thinking about the worst of the group,” says Taub-Dix. It’s certainly not a bad thing to commit to decreasing your intake of the ultra-processed carbs that are also rich in unhealthy fats and sugar (packaged cookies, for instance), but it doesn’t mean you also need to give up whole-grain toast. Unless you have a medical condition that dictates otherwise, Gorin does not recommend eliminating entire food groups from your diet.

A nightcap will make you drowsy, and it may even make it easier to fall asleep, but the overall quality and quantity of your sleep takes a dive when you’ve been drinking. While you may actually sleep harder in the first half of the night, alcohol consumption is disruptive to the second half, leading to middle-of-the-night awakenings, according to a study in the journal Alcohol. What’s more, other research finds insufficient sleep is associated with greater booze intake and a higher BMI. Poor sleep plus alcohol decreases your inhibitions, making it more likely you’ll overeat, leading to weight gain.

While eating late at night generally isn’t recommended, having the right kind of evening snack can help with weight loss. Going to bed hungry can lead to poor sleep and the urge to raid the kitchen fridge. Instead, RDs recommend opting for a bedtime snack rich in complex carbs and proteins containing tryptophan, an amino acid that helps promote sleep. Examples include Greek yogurt with berries, cheese and crackers or a banana with peanut butter.

Remember food is not your enemy — even when you’re trying to lose weight. “Food brings people together and has historically been at the center of life’s most important celebrations,” says Chumbley. There is room for all of the foods you love. “If you are going to eat something that is technically off ‘the diet plan’ then do it, enjoy it and move on with your life. Ditching food guilt and practicing gratitude with food instead will set you up for success.”.

Research shows when you eat without distractions and slow down, you eat less overall. A study in the journal Nutrients showed when people (who had a normal BMI) were challenged to eat meals at a normal (6-minute) or slow (24-minute) rate, those who ate at a slow rate were fuller 2 hours after eating, had a greater suppression of the appetite-stimulating hormone ghrelin and remembered what they ate previously better than the group who fed themselves fast. That may all account for why, 3 hours after eating, the slow group ate 25% fewer calories from snacks. Chewing slowly and leaving your phone off the table are just a few of the mindful eating techniques that can amp up your weight loss.

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About the Author

Jessica Migala
Jessica Migala

Jessica Migala is a health and fitness freelancer based in the Chicago suburbs. She spends her days writing with her beagle mix by her side and her free time with her two young sons. Jessica also writes for O, The Oprah magazine, Woman’s Day, Real Simple and others. Find her at jessicamigala.com.

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21 responses to “The Do’s and Don’ts of Streamlining Your Weight-Loss Plan”

  1. Avatar Jessica says:

    Yes! One of the simplest articles I’ve seen on MFP! Absolutely cuts through the rubbish that’s out there. Thank you!!!

  2. Avatar Bart says:

    Got to admit, whoever is pushing so hard for processed food and worthless carbs, and promoting the bogus excuse for science via calorie counting is remarkably consistent. BTW, anyone eating a bowl full of fruit and oats as big as their head ought to be in top physical condition and planning on a five mile jog afterwards. Otherwise, it’s literally insane to tell people they will lose weight eating that way. Not if you fatten easily at all.

    • Avatar Nick Fergadis Giannakopoulos says:

      Because calories don’t matter anymore, right?

      • Avatar Bart says:

        I didn’t say that. They are worthless to count. About as informative as blaming a plane crash on “too much gravity”. It’s far more important to know or track what macros you eat, rather than just all calories if you’re trying to lose. A calorie is not just a calorie, that is an excuse for sugar and grain promotion, basically. The truth is, eating sugar and carbs makes weight loss nearly impossible, especially long term. Even if you cut way back on calories, your body will fight the caloric reduction, AND you will not be able to access fat stores if insulin is high all the time as you eat fruit, grain, and sugar snacks. Fat metabolism won’t work at all until those toxins are eliminated.

        • Avatar Nick Fergadis Giannakopoulos says:

          Well, I hope you know that the bulk of scientific literature on weight loss disagrees with what you say. With your logic, we could feed starving kids in Africa a few sugar cubes and they wouldn’t starve to death. But hey, to each his own.

          • Avatar Bart says:

            That’s insane, again not even remotely related to anything I said, and you’re a very confused little troll.

          • Avatar Nick Fergadis Giannakopoulos says:

            I assure you I am not.
            You said : “eating sugar and carbs makes weight loss nearly impossible, especially long term.”.
            This is flat out wrong. if you are in a caloric deficit, you can eat a high sugar high carb diet and still lose weight. Sure, if you’re getting your calories from sugar most of the times, long term, your health will most probably go south. But ‘fat metabolism’ always works when you’re in a deficit. Do you want me to post the evidence for all this, or are scientists trolls as well?

          • Avatar Bart says:

            Are we talking about achieving weight loss or some extreme scenario, troll boy? I’m talking about a rational approach to weight loss, not some extreme starvation scenario.

          • Avatar Nick Fergadis Giannakopoulos says:

            I am talking any caloric deficit, from reasonable to extreme. And thus, we conclude this little talk, as I will not be tolerating any further insults from a keto/paleo/whatever fanatic stranger.

          • Avatar Bart says:

            LOL, sure. Learn how to read, all my comments were related to “wanting to lose weight” and qualified—“if insulin is high all the time”. That doesn’t happen in starvation, duh. Great that you are going to stop posting, but you should also really stop using bogus straw man arguments.

            If you ever want to understand metabolism beyond the overly simplistic calorie in/out maxims you learned in kindergarten, you could always read a book. Maybe watch a video. I’d suggest anything from Gary Taubes, Dr. Eric Westman, Dr. Jason Fung, or Nina Teicholz.

          • Avatar Nick Fergadis Giannakopoulos says:

            Gary Taubes, Dr. Eric Westman, Dr. Jason Fung, Nina Teicholz. Lol. You’re hitting all the quack names with pinpoint accuracy. What’s next, Thomas DeLauer, Dr Eric Berg and snake oil? And you’re saying I am in kindergarten. How about some real research instead?
            Hey let me guess, someone said you should do keto or paleo and it worked for you, also you watched a few youtube videos and now you’re the low-carb expert and you’re nothing like the slaves of big sugar and big grain like the naive and ignorant folks, like me. How am I doing?
            Don’t bother to answer, I am done with you.

          • Avatar Bart says:

            Are you reall y that ignorant, or are you trolling on behalf of the corporate interests? You said you were done before, but you are a supreme liar. I don’t expect any truth form you.

          • Avatar Nick Fergadis Giannakopoulos says:

            Yay, throw some conspiracy into the mix. Bye Felicia, don’t forget your tin foil hat.

          • Avatar Bart says:

            Fact, not conspiracy, that you’re an uninformed troll boy with rudimentary knowledge of the subject at best. Go ahead, prove again what a troll you are. Tell us all that eating sugar is the same as eating anything else, because a “calorie is just a calorie”.

          • Avatar Nick Fergadis Giannakopoulos says:

            You’ve been rude and insulting from the start, also you’re worshiping all the quack “doctors” in the industry. Yet I am the troll. Right.
            No, I will not be discussing the effects of different macros on the human body, their thermic effects and the hormonal responses with a person who is calling me names in every single comment. Your name must be an anagram, come to think about it. You’re a comment away from getting blocked.

          • Avatar Bart says:

            Yes, Doctors of the medical variety. Tops in their respective fields. And you have what??? I thought you were done? No? What is your point?

          • Avatar Nick Fergadis Giannakopoulos says:

            I wonder what this “Block delusional weirdo” button does. Click.

          • Avatar Bart says:

            That’s too bad you have to run away and stop trolling me with your vapid nonsense. Have a good cry, but then remember to enjoy counting your calories, troll-boy.

          • Avatar GeoM says:

            Hey don’t want to jump in to pick sides, but why are you mocking counting calories on a website that does just that? Genuinely curious, not trying to be mean or anything. I mean, it’s been proven that caloric deficit equals weight loss.

    • Avatar John Lyles says:

      I would say that everyone’s body is much different as well as their goals as far as weight loss, weight gain, muscle gain or even muscle loss(maybe a long time bodybuilder trying to transform to more of a fitness physique). Also everyone’s Fitness starting point is different. So I would agree with you if someone is obese and say 60lbs overweight and is diabetic or pre diabetic. That person would obviously have severe insulin resistance and would need to fix that in order to be able to lose Fat weight consistently beyond water weight, and eating alot of carbs will only make it worse. They would probably have to use Keto Diet and Intermittent Fasting to reverse their insulin resistance first and become fat adapted which could take a very long time. However if you have someone who is not diabetic or insulin resistant and works out with weights 2 or 3 times a week and does cardio 4 or 5 times a week on top of the weight workouts, that person could eat a high amount of carbs and be ok. Also a person who is not insulin resistant and works out with weights twice a week coupled with walking a few miles day 5 to 7 days per week could eat carbs and be fine. The problem comes when someone who isnt or is Insulin Resistant eats all day long over the course of like 10 to 14 hrs and eats lots of carbs. Their body will only burn carbs as they are readily available all the time and insulin levels are elevated all day long making it hard to burn fat.

  3. Avatar maria says:

    vorrei chiedere e mi scuso se la domanda per molti è sciocca; la porzione di pasta e ceci o fagioli ,ad esempio, cucinata da me con ingredienti freschi e che viene indicata 150 g, la deve intendere a crudo oppure dopo la cottura? perchè c’è una bella differenza di peso, se cucinati i fagioli li peso e poi per raggiungere i 150 g, aggiungo pasta cruda. Se cucino fagioli e pasta e peso il tutto fino a formare una porzione di 150 g …. beh, sono due cucchiaiate e mi sembrano troppo pochi, visto che poi non aggiungo null’altro, per conservare le calorie per la cena. Grazie della risposta

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