In the diet world, the secret to losing weight has always sounded so simple. Eat less and exercise more. But many Americans who have tried to consume less and burn more don’t always seem that successful in long-term weight loss.
In the Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan discussed the idea of the French paradox—how can people who eat so much cheese and drink so much wine be slimmer than many Americans who are constantly on a diet?
“I wonder if it doesn’t make more sense to speak in terms of an American paradox—that is, a notably unhealthy people obsessed by the idea of eating healthily,” wrote Pollan.
National surveys show that 67 percent of Americans are overweight or obese, despite consumers spending $61 billion on weight loss, according to the report, “The U.S. Weight Loss & Diet Control Market.”
Harvard researchers may have found the answer—it’s the quality of the food you eat that matters more than simple calorie counts.
It makes sense if you think about it. A small bag of potato chips has about 155 calories, according to caloriecount.com. With that same amount of calories you could eat a cup of kale, a cup of broccoli, a cup of strawberries, and 2 vine ripe tomatoes. It’s not hard to see which foods have more nutrient bang for their buck.
In fact, researchers found that potato chips led to more weight gain per serving than any other food. Surprisingly, yogurt was the best food to keep waistlines slim.
"It matters, of course, how many total calories you take in each day, but the authors say the age-old advice simply to 'eat less and exercise more' may be naïve,” wrote Sora Song in Time Magazine. “To control weight over the long term—adults gain about a pound a year on average -- the study suggests that people benefit more by focusing on eating right, rather than less."
The research data comes from three large, long-term government-funded trials examining diet, lifestyle and health in adults: the Nurses' Health Study, which has tracked 121,701 women since 1976; the Nurses' Health Study II, which has followed 116,686 women since 1989; and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, which includes 51,529 men enrolled since 1986.
“For diet, conventional wisdom often recommends 'everything in moderation,' with a focus only on total calories consumed,” said Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, an associate professor of medicine and epidemiology at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital, and lead author of the study. “Our results demonstrate that the quality of the diet—the types of food and beverages that one consumes—is strongly linked to weight gain.”
Jena La Flamme, owner of the Jena Wellness Center in Manhattan and creator of Pleasurable Weight Loss, takes a feminine approach to weight loss.
“I see it all the time,” wrote La Flamme on her site. “Women trying so hard to lose weight through restrictive eating plans, calorie-counting and punishing workouts, and all kinds of no-fun rules and regulations. Yet still they get no results, all because they are using the wrong strategies. I call these common strategies the “masculine strategies for weight loss” and they are failing women far and wide and we’re told it’s our fault, but it’s not.”
Some of La Flamme’s tips for women include learning to listen to your body, learning to relax and finding pleasure in food and life. She helps women look at food choices, exercise preferences and other lifestyle factors that affect metabolism and lead to more natural weight loss.
Suzanne Boothby is a Brooklyn-based wellness writer, certified health coach and co-founder of New York Family Wellness. Visit www.suzanneboothby.com to learn more.
Reviewed July 12, 2011
By Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Alison Stanton