No Better Health Bargain
Despite the impact of biology and genetics, about half of all weight gain is due to our environment and our increasingly sedentary lifestyle. So the real question may not be, What's the best diet? but: What can I do to manage my weight and improve my health? "The goal of weight loss is supposed to be good health," says Columbia's Rosenbaum, "not some cosmetic standard of beauty. So our focus needs to be on health, not weight." Some nutritional scientists are looking at ways to move Americans toward these healthier alternatives, and some are responding.
Carol Holt, 43, a nurse and management consultant in Tustin, Calif., had given up on diets after she lost 100 pounds--twice--but started to regain. At that point, Holt sought the help of Evelyn Tribole, a registered dietitian and the author of Intuitive Eating, a guide to eating based on biological cues of hunger and satiety. Holt has thus far maintained about 60 pounds of her second 100-pound loss. Supersize portions have made many forget what a comfortable level of fullness feels like, says Tribole, and one has to abandon diets, rules about food, eating while multitasking, and anything else that interferes with recognizing fullness, taste, and satisfaction. If a food doesn't taste good or meet expectations, she says, don't eat it. Figuring out how to eat intuitively takes time, Tribole adds, as should meals. "Savor your eating."
BYU's Hawks switched to intuitive eating several years ago after a lifetime of failed diets. In the past year or so, he has lost 50 pounds. "Learning to recognize biological hunger and respond to it in the most satisfying way," he says, "is the best hope for managing weight long term."
One step. Many scientists believe that breaking each change down into a series of small steps is less overwhelming than a complete lifestyle overhaul. You might decide, for example, to begin eating a large apple every day for an afternoon snack instead of a bag of chips or cookies. An apple is filling; it's lower in calories, higher in fiber, packs many more nutrients, and adds another serving of fruit. Within a week, it's a new habit. Next, you might start dinner with a salad, easy on the dressing. Salad is low in calories and adds fiber and nutrients, and studies show eating a salad before dinner reduces the amount of total calories in the meal by 7 to 12 percent.
One proponent of the small-steps approach is Barbara Rolls, professor and Gutherie chair in nutrition at Pennsylvania State University and author of The Volumetrics Eating Plan, a guide to preparing satisfying meals that are lower in calories. Rolls was among the first to realize that humans eat about the same weight or volume of food every day. So if they can prepare dishes that make them feel satisfied with fewer calories, it's easier to manage weight. The key to satiety with few calories, says Rolls, is to eat foods that are less energy dense, rich in water and nutrients but not high in calories--foods like fruits, vegetables, soups, stews, and salads. Her studies show that when overweight people eat this way, over time they lose weight.