As a nutritionist, one of the questions I get asked the most around this time of year is how to lose those few extra pounds (or, in some cases, kilograms) put on over the holidays. And this year, as with every year, the perpetual discussion about fad diets and quick weight loss programs is back in full force. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had friends ask me about the cabbage soup diet, the South Beach diet, the HCG diet, and the Hollywood diet. Some of these are simply strange and unsustainable – no one can (or should) eat just cabbage soup for any prolonged period of time – while others, like the HCG (Human Chorionic Gonadotropin hormone) diet are unproven and even quite possibly dangerous.
Unless your physician says otherwise, it’s never recommended to take any type of weight loss supplement or hormone, especially those that promise results that seem too good to be true. The combination of moderate calorie restrictions to about 1,200-1,500 calories per day (depending on your current and target weights) and limiting the intake of simple carbohydrates while increasing exercise is one of the best ways to lose weight in a healthy and sustainable way. Foods that are high in simple carbohydrates, such as potato chips, cookies, cake, and white rice, are often very low in fiber and easily digestible – which means quick calories that can be easily stored as glucose and eventually turned into fat.
Following an Atkins-style high-protein diet is also inadvisable; by merely counting carbohydrates, it’s very easy to take in too many fatty foods that can be bad for your heart and cholesterol levels. When restricting carbohydrate intake, try eating more lean proteins, such as chicken, fish, and turkey, and increasing your daily intake of vegetables that are low in sugar (such as celery, cabbage, and broccoli) without eating too much fruit. In terms of exercise, even finding 20-30 minutes every day to go for a brisk walk can have myriad health benefits. Even better, if you find your children are spending too much time in front of the TV or computer, encourage them to go with you for an after-dinner stroll, and turn it into a daily family ritual that will help you spend quality time together and improve your family’s health.
To sum things up, the best way to lose weight is to follow the “two lows” and “two highs” program: low calories, low carbs, high protein, and high exercise. One way to keep you motivated and on track is to keep a daily record of everything you eat. Studies show that individuals who keep food journals tend to lose more weight and lose it more quickly than those who don’t. For snack time, try to think like this: If you wouldn’t want your children eating what you’re about to eat, then you probably shouldn’t either. Unshelled sunflower seeds and a bit of cheese or fresh celery are great ways to keep your mouth busy and your body healthy.
Once you reach your target weight, you can gradually begin increasing your daily calorie intake and reintroducing small portions of simple carbohydrates back into your diet until the weight loss subsides and you reach equilibrium. Good luck, and stay healthy!
Dr. An Jing is a nutritionist at OASIS Healthcare, a new full-service private hospital based in the Dashanzi area of Beijing.