Slim Choices

Now that the feasting season is over, it's time to get back down to size. Here's a menu of the latest diets.

January 08, 2003|By Ellen Uzelac | Ellen Uzelac,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

With the holidays over, we all might be carrying a few extra pounds. The sugar highs, the second helpings, the snacking. What were we thinking?

For six weeks, all we heard was: "Eat! Eat! Eat!" Now, there's a new message, "Lose! Lose! Lose!" But with dozens of diets out there, the question becomes: How?

There's God's diet and a diet for dummies. There's low-carb and low-fat. Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig. There's the anti-inflammatory diet (lose weight and your wrinkles) and there's the blood-type diet. And how about this? A weight-loss plan that builds in McDonald's fries, Hostess Twinkies and Nestle Crunch Bars.

Low-carbohydrate and low-fat diets continue to be the most talked about - and researchers say both can be effective. The anti-inflammatory diet (think salmon) popularized by Dr. Nicholas Perricone in the best seller The Perricone Prescription and on public television has become something of a national phenomenon.

A companion book, The Perricone Prescription Personal Journal, just came out days ago. And the blood-type diet, first introduced in Peter D'Adamo's Eat Right 4 Your Type, has achieved almost cultlike status in health-food stores and at naturopathic clinics.

But before you decide what diet to follow, dietitians, nutrition experts and researchers suggest first figuring out why you eat - and, most important, what it is you like.

"What works depends on the individual. Basically, lower your calories and pick your foods to suit your own taste," says diet researcher Roberta Reed, a biochemist and associate director of the Bassett Research Institute in Cooperstown, N.Y.

"Someone who's a pasta freak and [couldn't] care less if they ever touched meat again would do better on a low-fat diet. Someone who likes cheese and dairy products and eggs for breakfast instead of cereal is more suited for low-carb. Just remember: There are no magic foods to melt the pounds away. The only way to do that is eat less, burn more."

The experts also remind us that losing weight isn't just about what we put in our mouths but the behavior surrounding our eating. Ask yourself: How hungry was I when I began to eat? At what point was I satisfied with the meal? Did I continue to eat anyway? And keep a daily food journal, logging what you eat, how you felt when you ate and your all-important physical activity.

"Many people have lost their ability to know when they are full or even when they are hungry. People eat mindlessly. Before running off to the vending machine, ask yourself: What does hunger feel like? A lot of people need to relearn to eat when they're hungry - to become natural eaters again," says Cynthia Finley, a clinical dietitian specialist at the Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center.

Finally, keep your goals realistic. Joy Short, director of St. Louis University's undergraduate programs in nutrition and dietetics, says a loss of one to two pounds a week is optimum. And it is best not to let your calorie intake dip too low. Her advice? At least 1,200 calories for women, 1,500 for men.

Here are the highlights of today's most talked-about diets:

Low-carbohydrate

The low-carb diet has been popularized by Dr. Robert Atkins but there are less-restrictive plans, too - Protein Power and Sugar Busters, among them.

Under the Atkins approach, after a highly restrictive two-week introductory phase, the program generally allows 60 grams of carbohydrates a day, about half the daily minimum set by the National Academy of Sciences.

Favored foods include most meats, chicken, fish and dairy as well as leafy green vegetables, nuts, strawberries, blueberries, asparagus and broccoli. To be avoided: Just about anything white - sugar, potatoes, corn, bread, pasta, rice, flour.

Low-fat proponents have maligned the low-carb diet for years, but new research from Duke University and the University of Cincinnati has the Atkins camp feeling vindicated. Both studies found that the Atkins diet actually trimmed more pounds and body fat off of overweight people than a low-fat menu. (The Duke study was funded by the Atkins Foundation, the University of Cincinnati by the American Heart Association.)

Low-fat

For years, esteemed groups such as the American Heart Association and American Dietetics Association have been pushing a low-fat diet, which focuses on products that are fat-free or reduced in fat.

Lately, it's come under some heat. "The ADA and all of the medical associations are going to still say you need to lower your fat," says Bonnie Brehm, the University of Cincinnati researcher who conducted the low-fat vs. low-carb study made public last fall. "But I think Americans became so obsessed with lowering their fat that they forgot you have to lower your calories, too."

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