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Wellness - Jan 09, 2019

How to Find a Diet Plan That Works

Dr. Jerry Saliman
How to Find a Diet Plan that Works - PJCC Connections Magazine

When it comes to self-improvement, a common New Year’s resolution is to eat healthier and/or lose weight. For starters, there’s diet. If you’re anything like many of the PJCC Members I’ve spoken to, you are likely to ask yourself: where do I even begin to select a diet plan?”

One excellent resource is the U.S. News and World Reports ranking of diets. Their rankings are based on recommendations from a nation-wide panel of expert physicians, nutritionists, and specialists in the fields of diabetes, heart health, and weight loss. After examining more than 40 diets, their 2019 recommendations include:

  • Best diet overall: Mediterranean diet
  • Best heart healthy diet: Mediterranean diet tied with Ornish diet
  • Best commercial and/or weight loss diet: Weight Watchers
  • Best fast weight loss-diet: HMR (Health Management Resource program)

For the complete list of diets, read the full report and determine which best suits your lifestyle and needs.

Low-Fat Versus Low-Carb Diets

For many years, people have debated the merits of low-fat versus low-carb diets but comparing the two approaches has been challenging because of two important factors: variation in individual weight loss and inconsistent compliance.
In 2018, an excellent clinical trial from Stanford University, called the DIETFITS study (Diet Intervention Examining the Factors Interacting with Treatment Success), compared healthy low-fat and healthy-low carb diets. Genetics and insulin sensitivity were not factors in who would respond best.
The findings? Over one year, both diets were equally successful in producing moderate weight loss.

“I Hardly Eat Anything—But I Still Gain Weight!”

A common complaint I hear from patients is, “I hardly eat anything, but I still gain weight.” The implied concern is that there must be something wrong with their metabolism or hormones. My response is twofold:
1. Have a thyroid blood test
2. Keep a detailed food and beverage diary

I remind my patient that they must document all calories, including food that people conveniently ignore such as food consumed while standing, nibbling on muffin or cookie crumbs, movie snacks, and food swiped from other people’s plates (yes, that French fry counts!). Beverages such as alcohol, fruit juices, and even minute amounts of coffee creamers must be tabulated, too.

Not surprisingly, patients universally discover they are ingesting far more calories than they thought.

Move It or Gain It: Exercise and Weight Loss

You knew it was coming. Any discussion about wellness has to include exercise. While exercise alone won’t shed pounds, what it does is reduce the risk of diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, certain cancers, and hypertension. Exercise also improves cardiovascular and metabolic health, both key elements of brain health. Plus, people who exercise live longer. A recent CNN article cited various studies confirming that people who exercised lived an average of 5.5 years longer than their sedentary counterparts.

A bit rusty in the workout arena? Try a gentle, low impact class at the PJCC such as Stretch & Move, Pilates, yoga, or Indoor Cycling. Take advantage of their indoor/outdoor pools open year-round or, if you’re up for a more challenging workout, try Zumba, TRX, Cardio Kickboxing or Body Sculpting.

Because there’s no dodging one simple fact: exercise is good for your body, mind, and spirit.

Other Factors that Impact Weight Gain

Of course, there are medical conditions such as hypothyroidism, sleep apnea, alcoholism, and certain medications that can make weight loss an additional challenge, so I address these issues if applicable. More often than not, people are simply stressed out from daily work demands, family duties, financial responsibilities, and social commitments, and overeating becomes an automatic coping mechanism. Is it a coincidence that rearranging the letters of the word stressed spells out desserts?

Recalling the sixteenth century English proverb, “You can’t have your cake and eat it, too,” try approaching the New Year with a new attitude toward healthy eating; maybe you can have your cake—just make it a smaller slice… and don’t forget to exercise.

Jerry “Dr. J” Saliman, MD, is a contributing wellness writer for the Peninsula Jewish Community Center in Foster City, CA. He retired from Kaiser South San Francisco after a successful 30-year career and is now a volunteer internist at Samaritan House Medical Clinic in San Mateo, CA.