The No. 1 Rule for Safe and Effective Weight Loss

Memorial Day weekend is upon us, which brings one thing… Dozens of weight-loss ads.

It’s hard to listen to the radio or read the paper without seeing an ad promising a “beach-ready body” in just a few weeks.

Most of these promos are pure B.S. If you do drop a lot of weight quickly, studies show you won’t keep it off for long.

But it’s hard to resist the temptation to lose weight before hitting the beach. Even folks in our office signed up for a weight-loss challenge to try to shed a few pounds before summer.

So instead of trying a risky diet or overdoing it at the gym, which can lead to kidney shutdown, there’s a much easier way to lose weight and keep it off. It’s so easy, you might laugh when you hear it.

Here it is: Pay attention.

What I mean is, many of us don’t pay careful attention to our meals or our bodies. If you stay mindful, you’ll eat less and lose weight. There are a few ways to keep yourself focused…

1. Eat slowly. A large study out of Japan this year found that folks who reported eating slowly (instead of moderately or quickly) had a 42% lower risk of obesity in a five-year period.

It makes sense. Taking your time to eat allows you to produce the hormones needed to trigger the feeling of fullness before you overeat. It takes about 20 minutes for all the chemicals in your stomach to tell your brain you are at full satiety. So, meals should last at least 20 minutes.

Now, there’s no good measure for timing a meal to see if you’re eating slowly or quickly. But a good trick is to pay attention to your chewing.

I’m not talking about a few chews and then swallowing, as many of us do. I’m talking about chewing each bite 20, 30, even 40 times before swallowing.

Dutch researchers found that chewing small bites of food for nine seconds sends a signal to your brain to feel full sooner. People who take large bites of food and only chew for three seconds consume 52% more food than people who take smaller bites and chew longer.

Chewing mindfully means taking your time. Try setting down your utensils in between bites and pay attention to how you feel and how the meal tastes. And take breaks between bites. A good conversation or a beverage will help – I love to have wine with my dinners out with friends.

2. Cut the distractions. It’s easy to watch television or surf the Internet as we eat, but it sets us up to overeat. When we aren’t paying attention to our food, we’re more likely to consume extra calories.

In fact, one study from Sweden looked at calorie intake based on types of television programs versus reading. Those who watched television ate more food. Worse, if the show wasn’t engaging, they ate even more. So turning on the television for some background noise or to combat loneliness will only encourage more calorie intake.

A good solution… listen to music instead. Its calming effect will boost mood levels, which also helps you eat a healthier portion.

3. Stop at 80%. Natives of the Japanese island Okinawa follow a rule for dining called “hara hachi bu.” It translates to “eat until you’re 80% full.”

What people who practice this philosophy do is limit their caloric intake.

Our bodies need calories for energy. But eating too many calories (more than your body burns) leads to weight gain. Excess body weight limits your mobility and puts unnecessary strain on your joints and organs. Becoming overweight isn’t the only danger… Consuming too many calories can also lead to an increased risk of diabetes and heart disease.

And since it takes time before your brain registers that you’re full, if you stop at 80% full, in 20 minutes you’re likely to feel 100% full.

And while you’re at it, don’t snack later on, either. The Japanese study on eating slowly also noted that avoiding snacks after dinner as well as not eating within two hours of your bedtime also reduced the risk of obesity.

4. Try the “5:2 diet. A study in the American Journal of Cardiology found fasting just one day a month can cut your risk of heart disease by 58%. The belief is that fasting shrinks fat cells and prevents insulin resistance. This helps lower your risk of heart disease and even diabetes.

A few of my friends have tried the 5:2 fasting diet. That’s where you eat a regular diet five days a week and then on two non-consecutive days, you cut your calorie intake to about 25% of what you normally consume.

Personally, I fast a few times a month. I like to sip water and hot herbal teas on these days. I also make sure to cut back on vigorous activity those days and instead read, walk, and meditate.

5. Try a calorie tracker or timer. If you’re a numbers sort of person, tracking what you eat might help you lose weight more effectively. Paying attention to calorie counts and setting a rough goal for yourself could be the step you need. There are plenty of free apps out there for your smartphone or tablet, but my researcher uses and recommends Noom. It’s free and easy to find calorie counts for popular meals. You can also add exercise for a better picture of how you’re doing.

And as for a timer, start by trying to stretch your meal to 20 minutes. If that’s easy, increase it little by little. Remember, it takes about 20 minutes before you realize you’re full.

So, don’t waste time with diets that will stress you out. Start using these five steps today to see real improvements in your diet.

What We’re Reading…

Here’s to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
May 22, 2018