American Univesity of Beirut

What’s the scoop on fad diets?

​​​Feb​. 1, 2022​

After consulting with patients for over twenty years, how do you view dieting? ​ 

I don’t think in terms of diets. I think about how to fuel our bodies so they will operate at their utmost state of health. Like a car engine, our bodies need the best fuel available to work well. 

How do you work with people looking to lose weight?   

Do you really need to lose the pounds? Is your BMI normal, is your fat percentage normal? Is it important for your health that you lose pounds, or is your concern cosmetic?  Maybe you should think in terms of nutritional patterns instead of restrictive diets.  

Look objectively at your food and lifestyle choices. Identify behaviors that need improvement such as skipping meals or having too many sugary drinks. Make small goals like adding two fruits or a cup of yogurt a day. Give it time and be tolerant of yourself. Most dieters say, “I’ll start on Monday, or at the New Year.” You can start any day, and sometimes y​ou must start again. Tackle one habit at a time and start with an easy one such as drinking eight cups of water a day.   

What do you think about the current popular diets, KETO, PALEO, etc.?  

Most of these diets eliminate whole food groups.  Maybe you can eat veggies, berries, meat, and fish, but not grains, dairy, legumes, sugar, or salt. Or you can eat fat, but not cereals or dairy. It is too harsh to sustain, and when you eventually indulge in what you have been denying yourself, you can binge and then feel guilty that you don’t have will power. Harsh restrictions can lead to disordered eating.  

What do you think of using apps to help reach your goals?  

I recommend simple exercise apps that keep track of your steps, for instance, or when it’s time to stand up and move around.  Some people like to keep track of their food intake, but in the extreme, that kind of tracking can lead to restriction and disordered eating.   

What helps with making successful nutritional changes? ​ 

People should eat regularly throughout the day from all the food groups. My P​late is a simple, helpful guide. Most overeating comes from being too hungry or from not getting enough fiber, for instance. Having a treat like a piece of chocolate is fine, but make sure you have it after a meal. Make sure to stay hydrated. Sometimes you think you’re hungry, but you’re thirsty. The basic, intuitive principle works--eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full.   

Exercise is critical. Thirty minutes a day of walking or moderate activity is key to maintaining your health. Losing weight is actually easy. Keeping it off is hard, and exercise must be part of your maintenance.   

People often laugh at me when I say success is losing 5% of your weight and maintaining it for one year, decreasing from 100 kilos to 95 kilos, for instance. People are often too harsh on themselves, which doesn’t work in the long term. Improving your nutrition is not a sprint but a marathon. Rather than dieting, improve your eating habits. It’s not about what you don’t eat, but what you do eat. That’s a healthier perspective. ​

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