After the cornucopia of food you consumed this holiday season, you're probably wondering how best to slim down in 2015.
But trendy diets that sound too good to be true won't help your waistline or lower your risk for diseases like cancer, says Stephanie Maxson, senior clinical dietitian in MD Anderson's Integrative Medicine Center. When it comes to weight loss, her advice is:
- Avoid diets that eliminate entire food groups. Whether the diet calls for no carbs, no grains or no fruit, any plan that cuts out entire food groups is nutritionally incomplete. You'll miss out on nutrients your body needs, and you may end up overcompensating by eating too much of something else that isn't healthy.
- Don't focus on pills or supplements. "I've yet to see a diet pill or weight loss supplement that has been proven safe and effective," Maxson says. "Also, these diets just aren't sustainable."
- Stay away from diets that limit you to one or two foods. Not only does this cut important nutrients out of your diet, but these plans won't help you keep the weight off once you return to your usual diet.
- Steer clear of diets that restrict you to liquids. These diets typically feature heavily processed, pre-made drinks loaded with artificial ingredients and preservatives. They may provide adequate vitamins, but they lack some plant nutrients that help keep us healthy, reduce inflammation and fight cancer.
- Pass up any plan that requires you to buy a company's prepared meals. These are often too small to be satisfying and come loaded with unhealthy additives, including artificial preservatives. Also, once you return to your normal diet, you'll likely regain your old weight in a hurry.
Shed pounds the healthy way
Get your mind off the idea of "diets" altogether, Maxson suggests.
She recommends that you focus on changing your eating habits and behaviors in ways that you can stick with in the long term. This way, you'll be more likely to lose weight without hurting yourself – and keep it off for good.
"Lifestyle changes take longer, and you'll probably lose weight more gradually," Maxson says. "But you'll also learn how to eat and live for long-term weight control, and that will lower your risk for diseases like cancer."
What does your weight have to do with your cancer risk? Fat cells produce hormones and other chemicals that alter your immune system and hurt your body's ability to stop or slow the spread of cancer.
Lifestyle tweaks lead to success
When it comes to healthy ways to lose weight and keep it off, Maxson suggests several habits for lasting success.
- Fill three-quarters of your plate with plant foods. Try to keep whole grains and starchy vegetables (like potatoes) to no more than a quarter of your plate.
- Include a fruit or vegetable with every snack. Try these healthy snack options.
- Eliminate sweetened beverages like soda or sports drinks. If you can't give them up entirely, aim for 12 ounces or fewer per week. Drink more water throughout the day to replenish your body without adding calories.
- Try to avoid high-calorie, low-nutrient foods such as chips, candy, fast food and crackers.
- Prepare your own meals using whole foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables. Fresh ingredients allow you to get the vitamins and nutrients your body needs to fight off diseases like cancer. And they're loaded with fiber, which can help you keep off extra pounds.
"Some people don't like to cook, but it's really difficult to improve your nutrition if you're always eating out or heating up pre-made meals," Maxson explains.
- Exercise most days. "You can't expect to lose and maintain weight if you're not getting physical activity," Maxson says. She and other MD Anderson experts recommend that each week you aim for two-and-a-half hours of moderate physical activity (like fast walking or easy swimming) or an hour and 15 minutes of more vigorous physical activity (such as running). Not only will exercise help you burn fat and maintain a healthy weight, it also can fight stress and help protect you from cancer.
Drastic measures may seem easier when it comes to dieting. But if you want to keep the weight off for good and keep your body in fighting shape, your best bet is to change your eating habits.
"And, remember, you don't necessarily have to make big changes to notice a big difference," Maxson says.