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Spotlight on Diets

separator Here’s the best way to lose weight, according to the American Dietetic Association (ADA):

  • Make small changes over time
  • Eat a variety of foods
  • Balance what you eat over several days
  • Enjoy all types of foods, but don’t overdo it
  • Be active 

Now think about the hugely popular “fad” diets that make the rounds every decade. Many of the ones that are currently popular push the idea that carbohydrates or “carbs” (rice, potatoes, pasta) are the cause of obesity and that a high-protein diet is the way to go (the Zone and the Atkins diets are examples of these). Before the high protein diets were such a hit, there was the idea that strictly limiting fat and eating unlimited amounts of anything else was the way to go. Before those diets were popular, high protein diets were all the rage (do you notice a recycling thing going on here?)

Neither extreme works. When the low fat diets were popular, people overdid it with pasta and rice (not to mention fat-free desserts). Gigantic plates of pasta were considered fine, because pasta contains little or no fat. But there’s no way you’re going to lose a lot of weight if you consume huge amounts of pasta calories. You can’t blame weight gain on “carbs,” but on the people who ate the carbs like there was no tomorrow.

The thing about these diets is that they don’t emphasize balance. They don’t provide you with the kind of eating plan you can learn to live with for life. They also don’t take your long-term nutritional and health needs into account either. High protein diets tend to be hard on the liver and the kidneys eventually. Diets that let you eat anything but fat allow you to eat unlimited amounts of things like fat-free cakes. So you end up consuming a lot of calories and sugar, which is no better than too much fat.

Tips from those who’ve kept it off
There’s not a one-size-fits-all recipe for keeping your weight at a healthy level. But some common traits emerge if you look at people who’ve lost weight and kept it off:

  • They no longer embark on one extreme diet after another.
  • They make exercise a part of their daily life.
  • They aim to keep things in control day-by-day and meal-by-meal. (In other words, they don’t wait until they’ve gained a lot of weight, then panic, then go on a “diet.” They make an effort to keep each meal in the healthy range.)
  • They allow themselves to eat their favorite foods now and then.
  • They’ve learned to recognize the difference between eating when you’re truly hungry and eating for emotional reasons.

If you take a look at people you know who’ve never seemed to have a problem with weight, you’ll probably notice that they have a pretty balanced attitude about food. They’re not constantly obsessing about what their next meal will be, what they can and can’t eat, how big the servings are at the local All You Can Stuff Yourself With buffet. You probably never hear them say things like, “Well, I paid my taxes today, and I hate paying my taxes, so I got an ice cream cone afterwards to reward myself.”

Now, think about the people you know who are always trying new diets (include yourself if you fit the description). Do they know how to eat in ways that keeps them from gaining weight when they go off the diets? Do they exercise almost every day? Is food a frequent conversation topic?

Education: part of the solution
Here’s the simple truth: there’s always going to be an “it” diet that will help you lose weight in the short term. But the deeper issue is this: do you want to stay in that go on a diet/go off the diet/gain the weight back cycle? Wouldn’t you rather learn how to make healthy eating a lifetime habit? Wouldn’t you rather eat food that can help you reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer instead of food that probably doesn’t? Wouldn’t you rather figure out why you obsess about food? Wouldn’t you rather learn how to stop that kind of thinking, instead of trying one out-of-balance-diet after another?

If you really want to find a way to eat that keeps you looking and feeling good, you need to understand what’s healthy eating and what isn’t. This isn’t something we automatically know. You may know that you should avoid saturated and hydrogenated fats, but that doesn’t mean you know which foods to avoid, for example. It’s a good idea to talk with a nutritionist or dietitian about this kind of thing. They can also recommend a good book that will provide healthy recipes and explain exactly what you should and shouldn’t eat.

Learn about acceptable portion sizes. Read the labels when you buy snack foods. Ask yourself why you’re eating when you’re not hungry. Consider not being a member of the Clean Plate Club. Expanding your awareness about your attitude towards food might help you find a new way to look at food altogether.

American Dietetic Association; Center for Science in the Public Interest; A.M. Fletcher, J. Brody. Eating Thin for Life, Houghton Mifflin 1998;
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