Extreme Dieting Not Necessary for Weight Loss

You can lose weight without going to extremes

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You might think that in order to lose weight, you must live a rigid, inflexible life, and push yourself to constant extremes. That's what reality TV shows like The Biggest Loser might have you believe.

But that's not reality. Fact is: You can enjoy your life and keep your weight in check, too. And that's a much more positive message to broadcast. Especially for those of us whose lives—and health—don't allow for extremes. Consider:

• The salesman who must regularly wine and dine clients

• The nurse who pulls double shifts in the intensive care unit

• The single mom working two jobs to make ends meet

• The depressed patient whose medication piles on weight

• The cardiac patient who's scared to push her heart rate—and whose medication leaves her tired all the time

• The chronic pain sufferer whose movement is restricted

I propose we take a more flexible approach to weight management—one that doesn't trap us in an endless cycle of successes and failures; one that appreciates that each of our life circumstances is unique. It's something I've termed "best weight"—i.e., whatever weight you can reach while living the healthiest life you can honestly enjoy.

It's important to remember that our "bests" will vary. That sometimes your "best" will include tremendously indulgent foods and little to no exercise—or quite the opposite.

I'm not suggesting you let yourself off the hook entirely—doing your best does require thought and dedication. But I am suggesting you let common sense be your guide, as opposed to some extreme regimen that's bound to fail.

Let's put this more flexible approach into practice. When faced with a dietary indulgence, here's an incredibly simple, two-step strategy for determining whether to take a bite (or sip). Ask yourself:

1. "Is it worth the calories?" Before you can answer that, you must of course actually know how many calories "it" contains. If you're considering the "Gotta Have It" sized PB&C shake at Coldstone Creamery, note that it packs nearly a day's worth of calories (1,750 to be exact).

Once you've asked yourself this question, follow up with:

2. "How much do I need to be happily satisfied?" In the case of the PB&C shake, you might decide that you'd be happily satisfied if you shared their 1,110-calorie "Like It" size with your friend, instead. Sure, it's still an indulgence, but you'll spare yourself hundreds of calories!

Ultimately, this approach is about knowing what you're getting yourself into. Food isn't simply fuel. We use food for comfort and celebration, and if you try to deny food those roles, well that's not a life, that's a diet, and we all know how long those last. Instead, try to live your life free of wrist-slaps. Make thoughtful, informed reductions rather than blind restrictions. Master this, and you'll be on your way to achieving your best weight—while still living the best life you can manage.

Hungry for more? Write to eatandrun@usnews.com with your questions, concerns, and feedback.

Yoni Freedhoff, MD, is an assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Ottawa, where he's the founder and medical director of the Bariatric Medical Institute—dedicated to non-surgical weight management since 2004. Dr. Freedhoff sounds off daily on his award-winning blog, Weighty Matters, and is also easily reachable on Twitter. Dr. Freedhoff's latest book Why Diets Fail and How to Make Yours Work will be published by Simon & Schuster's Free Press in April 2013.