If you gained weight while you were quarantined, you’re not alone. When you drop those pounds, look for a way of eating and moving that you can maintain, so you can stay slim for years to come.
Social media is full of complaints about gaining the “quarantine 15” (think “freshman 15”). It’s easy to overeat comfort food when you’re bored or stressed, and on less frequent supermarket trips or online orders you may have stocked up on ice cream or high-calorie frozen meals. The gyms are closed, and you may be glued to your computer in your bedroom, clicking from one Zoom meeting to the next.
Dropping pounds takes some willpower. The real trick is changing your eating habits so you stay slimmer for years to come rather than watch the scale creep up again and falling into a weight loss and gain cycle. You might think of this time as a moment for a lifelong change in how you approach food — to embrace a “live-it” not a “die-it” approach. The ideal program cuts your appetite, provides plenty of nutrition, and feels normal and satisfying to you.
Conquer sugar cravings
Did you indulge a taste for donuts at night while binging TV? You’ll find that any diet that makes you go sugar-free will fight sugar cravings. After 10 days or so, if you do eat something sweet, it will taste sweeter. Eventually you might find you don’t have such a sweet tooth anymore.
To get to that point, you’ll have to read labels, since pre-packaged foods contain all kinds of sweeteners, and avoid foods like white bread that turn quickly into sugar in your body.
People who count calories tend to have an easier time keeping weight off over time. If you embrace that habit, you’ll pinpoint your danger foods and understand the portions you can consume without gaining.
Get more than 7 hours of restful sleep
People eat less healthily when they are tired. In a study of 245 middle-aged women who were either overweight or obese, sleeping more than seven hours a night and reporting good sleep quality increased the chance of meeting weight loss goals by a third after six months. If you weren’t sleeping well or enough at six months, you had a 28 percent lower chance of continuing to lose weight over the next year.
Cut back on carbs
Low-carb diets beat low-fat diets, researchers find. You’ll cut out sugar and starches, including potatoes, bread, and rice. You might try cauliflower or less ripe bananas when you crave a starch.
In the strict “Atkins” approach, created by cardiologist Robert Atkins in the early 1970s, you’ll eat less than 20 percent of your total calories in carbs and cut out even fruit and whole grains.
Cutting carbs should cut your hunger and lower your insulin levels. You might also shed extra salt and water, losing bloat that made you feel fatter. Just don’t load up on saturated fat, since that’s unhealthy in the long run.
Go for low-carb, low-fat, and high protein
The “South Beach Diet,” created in the mid-1990s by cardiologist Arthur Agatston, begins with cutting both carbs and fat and loading your plate with protein. Meals should include a protein, a healthful fat like avocado, and low-carb vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, and kale. You can eat as much of those vegetables as you like. On a salad, you’ll use avocado and olive oil dressings, and add nuts, tofu, chicken, salmon, tuna, sardines, or an egg.
Protein can cut hunger if you eat more than you’re used to, but some research suggests that the effect will wear off within a month. Over time you might add in more good carbs like oats, quinoa, sweet potatoes, and fruit. Just remember that the natural sugars in fruit may cause you to crave sweets. Stick with whole fruit rather than juices. If you must have a smoothie, try blueberries and banana with kale and peanut butter or a protein powder. Experiment with avocado and protein powder in a fruit smoothie along with another vegetable.
Mind your acidophilus
Balancing your microbiome is a great strategy for your overall health. But yogurt isn’t a reliable diet food. Yogurt — including non-dairy yogurts and Greek yogurt — kefir, fermented milk drinks, and other products that tout their probiotics typically contain Lactobacillus acidophilus. Some farmers actually dose animals with Lactobacillus acidophilus and other members of that family to promote weight gain. A review of 17 randomized control trials in humans, 51 studies on farm animals, and 14 experimental models concluded that Lactobacillus acidophilus causes significant weight gain in humans.
Cutting out animal products and sticking to whole foods — grains, nuts, and vegetables — can be a great strategy for losing weight. In one study comparing five diets, it doubled weight loss over six months. In a two-year controlled study, older women who ate a vegan diet lost nearly 11 pounds on average the first year, compared to only four pounds among women who followed a low-fat diet.
If you lose weight, you may lose some muscle as well as fat, but it’s not clear how much.
We do know that many people find that their metabolic rate adjusts to fewer calories over time. After a while, they actually need less food to maintain their current weight. But as soon as they’re stop strictly dieting, the old pounds come back — plus more.
The best way to avoid that trap is to increase your exercise and muscle-building training. You’ll feel better and look firmer and toner even if you’re carrying some fat. If you are apple shaped, aim to cut inches from your waist.
The National Weight Control Registry, established in 1995 by two researchers, tracks more than 10,000 people who have lost big chunks of weight, 66 pounds on average, and kept it off, on average for more than five years. Ninety percent of this group exercise — on average, about an hour a day.
Other tips from the weight loss champs: More than three-quarters of them eat breakfast every day and weigh themselves at least once a week.
Join a group
Support helps. When researchers compared Weight Watchers against a self-help approach (two sessions with a dietician plus printed information), Weight Watchers won hands down. The Weight Watchers group lost almost 10 pounds on average in the first year, seven pounds more than the self-help controls. After two years, the self-helpers had regained any weight loss, but the average Weight Watchers participant had kept off more than six pounds.
The trouble is that these numbers are low. Most of us want to lose and keep off much more than six pounds.
The most successful group program, the Trevose Behavior Modification Program, is tougher: you get kicked out if you don’t meet your weight loss targets. In one study, participants lost an average of 19 percent of their body weight in two years. Even five years into the program, they were still down 17 percent from their original weight.
Enrolling in a program with friends also helps people keep the pounds off.
July 30, 2020
Janet O'Dell, RN