- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 20, 2009

It happens every year at this time — the resolutions, the yogurt commercials,the tabloid-magazine covers promising details on exactly how the stars stay slim. Newdiet books and plans also enjoy top billing in January. One can, among other choices, go on a lemon-juice fast or eat only raw foods or go back to good, old Weight Watchers. The choices are almost as varied as the excuses and buffet selections that caused your waistband to get too tight in the first place.

Having so many diets to choose from is a good news/bad news situation for nutritionists such as Katherine Tallmadge, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

It is great to see so many people interested in taking control of their health; it is not so great to see them turning to fad diets that can be harmful, though, Ms. Tallmadge says.

“I can’t imagine anyone successfully taking part in a diet that is unhealthy for you, that will only give you temporary results and will make you miserable for a while,” she says. “It doesn’t make any sense if you can’t eat with your family.”

Ms. Tallmadge says to beware if a diet seems incompatible with your lifestyle (for instance, you have to cook your food separately rather than adapt meals) or if it cuts out an entire food group, such as fruit or carbohydrates.

“Those kinds of diets are nutritionally unbalanced,” she says. “Life can become pretty grim on one of those.”

Other things to look at: Is the diet based on science? Who is recommending it — a medical professional or a celebrity? Does it endorse a positive attitude toward food and eating? How quick does it offer results? You won’t be able to maintain losses of more than two or three pounds a week, Ms. Tallmadge says. Also, beware of diets that claim you don’t have to exercise and examine a diet plan’s track record over time.

The Web site of the American Dietetic Association (www.eatright.org) has a list of recommended diet and nutrition books for further reading.

Some new spins in the diet world available for 2009:

• “The Flat Belly Diet,” by Liz Vaccariello, editor-in-chief of Prevention magazine, with registered dietitian Cynthia Sass. This book has sold a million copies since October. Despite the somewhat hokey-sounding name, it is actually a sensible, 1,600-calorie-a-day plan that advocates eating small doses of monounsaturated fats (MUFAs), such as nuts, avocados and olive oil as well as whole grains.

The book explains research showing that eating the monounsaturated fats can have a positive effect on insulin, which in turn can help reduce belly fat, a leading risk factor for heart disease.

“The MUFAs are also extremely filling foods,” Ms. Vaccariello says. “Many people don’t feel like they are on a diet.”

• Weight Watchers’ new Momentum program. Weight Watchers has been helping people lose weight for 45 years. Part of the reason for its longevity is that it is not gimmicky.

“It is not rocket science,” says Jami Bailey, a Weight Watchers leader in Northern Virginia and a spokeswoman for the organization. “Losing weight is about eating less and exercising more.”

The Momentum plan, the first new plan offered by Weight Watchers in four years, teaches members how to make more-filling food choices.

“We want to teach them to steer clear of empty calories,” Ms. Bailey says. “To fill up on whole grains, lean meats, soups, and fruits and vegetables and not 100-calorie cookie packs. ”

The Momentum plan combines the point system of another Weight Watchers plan with the filling foods idea of the Core plan, which the company recently discontinued.

“We’ve altered it because many people said the Core plan did not tell them when to stop [eating],” Ms. Bailey says.

• “Size 2 for Life,” by Ashley Marriott and Dr. Marc L. Paulsen. This just-published book maintains that most women can be a size 2, because a size 2 isn’t that small these days and negative thinking is what stands in the way of weight loss.

While the book advocates lots of exercise (morning and evening workouts), it also has a Spartan 21-day eating plan (For lunch? 4 ounces of skinless chicken breast and one cup of steamed vegetables. Repeat.), making it tough and boring for anyone looking for a long-term plan.

Sometimes it is better to have a few more choices and shoot for the size 6.

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