As anyone who's ever been on a diet knows: taking the pounds off can be hard, but keeping the pounds off can be even harder. The main reason for this simply seems to be that it's just easier to keep up with a new exercise and diet program over the short term than it is over the long-term. While we may be willing to sustain ourselves on some wild, restrictive diet for a few months, especially if the pounds start to melt away, over time it gets harder and harder to keep it up, and eventually our old habits, our old ways of doing things, slowly bubble back to the surface, and we find ourselves putting the weight back on.
This is why most experts suggest making a small number of small changes when it comes to weight loss. Taking baby steps gives us time to get our footing with a new behavior, with a new approach to eating, and helps it to actually become part of our lifestyle rather than a strange restriction that needs to be endured and then eventually discarded after three months because its so unpleasant.
In this vein of small changes breeding long term success is a Danish study in the latest issue of the New England Journal of Medicine that shows that small differences in the make-up of what eat can help maintain real weight loss over time.
In this study, about 800 overweight participants who had recently lost weight were randomly assigned to one of five diet groups - each group had a varied combination of protein level and glycemic load, a measure of how quickly the carbohydrates in the diet are converted to glucose in the blood (study). Diets with high glycemic loads (such as those with a lot of white bread, potatoes, and white rice) have been shown in some studies to increase the risk of weight gain as well as heart disease and diabetes. Diets with a low glycemic load (such as those with a lot of whole grains or low amount of carbohydrates) may help keep calorie intake in check and promote feelings of fullness.
The researchers found that the group who ate a high protein, low glycemic load diet had the most success keeping weight off over time. Those who ate a low protein, high glycemic load diet did the worst. Worth noting: those who ate the high protein, low glycemic load diet not only had the most weight loss success but also had the highest rate of adherence of any group, meaning more people in this group were more likely to keep up with that way of eating than in any other group.
While the weight benefits were pretty modest, with participants in the high protein, low glycemic group weighing an average of about 4.5 pounds less over six months than those in the low protein, high glycemic group, it is a real difference that if sustained over time could have a big impact on health, both for the person, and on a broader scale, the nation.
Although this is just a single study, what's most heartening from these results is that maintaining the new weight after weight loss, and even continuing to lose weight, seems possible over the long term with a diet that isn't that radical and that's enjoyable enough to continue over the long term.
A healthy high protein diet with a low glycemic load would include foods like skinless chicken, fish, beans, low fat dairy as well as whole grains and brown/wild rice. Healthy fats, like canola oil and olive oil, also help keep glycemic load down because they slow down digestion. Red meat, high-fat dairy, and refined grains should always be kept to a minimum.
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