“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, RDN, 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 spring, 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.
“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.