August 11, 2011. A sizeable percentage of Americans are overweight or obese nowadays. I'll speak of my personal approach to this problem. A Lazy Man's Diet.
I am a single male, in my late 50's, 5'10" in height. I was very skinny growing up; in my 20's I weighed 130 lbs. In my 20's I was also vegetarian ("sattvic diet", including dairy), and I did not own a car, walked a lot. In my 30's I got a steady job, bought a car, adopted the "standard American diet" (also known as the SAD diet), and gained five pounds a year; stabilized at 190 in my 40's. Around age 50 my weight started to creep up again. January 2010 I reached 215 lbs and said "That's too much, gotta do something."
I read some books and decided to use two. THE CHEATERS DIET by Paul Rivas recommended following a diet strictly during the week, and taking weekends off. From 9:00 AM Saturday to 9:00 PM Sunday you are allowed, encouraged, to eat whatever you want (within reason, i.e. don't binge). Diets often fail because they are boring, and because people reach a plateau and get discouraged. Rivas argued that taking weekends off would avoid both of these problems. For 2010 the diet that I followed during the week was based on EAT, DRINK, AND BE HEALTHY by Walter Willett. A summary of his recommendations can be found here:
Eat whole grains, beans, liquid vegetable oils, vegetables and fruit; reduce and avoid refined grains, processed foods, sugars and starches (potatoes, pasta, white bread, sweets.)
I liked this approach because I didn't have to count calories, keep a food journal, or confess before a crowd. I could eat unlimited amounts of leafy greens (salad), non-starchy vegetables, and all fruits except bananas, so I never had to be hungry. The only "measuring" I had to do was to keep my whole grains down to one cup per day.
I lost 15 lbs in five months and settled into a plateau at 200. After seven months steady at 200, in January 2011 I read some more books, and decided to try a particular variant of the Paleo Diet, THE PALEO SOLUTION by Robb Wolf. For web links and info I recommend http://paleodiet.com/
The theory behind Paleo is that for 99% of our history as a species, we were hunter-gatherers, so the food we have evolved to eat is the food that can be gotten by hunting and gathering. So, that is what our bodies are adapted to live on, that should be the healthiest human diet.
The Paleo diet is not vegetarian, but it resembles vegetarianism in one way, that there is a list of foods that are "in" and a list that are "out", and you just eat from list A, you (again) do not count calories, keep a journal, weigh or measure your food, or any of that. Eat meat (including eggs, poultry, seafood), vegetables, fruit, and tree nuts. Abstain from grains, beans, dairy, sugar, and salt.
I continued to "take weekends off", though the bulk of what I ate on weekends was still within the diet; mostly I just had dessert with meals on weekends, a slice of pie, or a bowl of canned fruit packed in syrup. During the week I ate paleo except that I continued to use salt. I was not strict, but I did reduce my use of grains, beans, dairy, and sugar 95% or so.
I lost another 10 lbs and settled into another plateau at 190. (Postscript September: my weight has been declining again, now 185. I've since read that plateaus are not necessarily permanent. Supposedly if you eat a level of calories appropriate for your target weight, your actual weight will approach your target in a stairstep fashion, with longer plateaus as you approach your target.)
The basic idea of CR is that many laboratory experiments, over many decades, on a wide variety of laboratory animals, have consistently shown that animals fed a controlled diet high in all vitamins, minerals, all that good stuff, and seriously low in calories, are healthier and live longer- sometimes 50% longer- than animals allowed to eat as much as they want of the same foods. There are many theories of WHY animals age, the animals fed a calorie-restricted diet show biochemical changes that would fit into aging more slowly in ALL of these theories. The "evolutionary" explanation would be that when food is plentiful, it would be advantageous to breed and raise offspring, and when food is scarce, it would be advantageous to instead put energy and resources into maintenance and repair, so you would survive in good health until the next time that food was plentiful.
I haven't done much with it yet, but I was delighted when I searched the web and found a CR site that listed recommended foods, and all of it was stuff I was already eating. I have read a book THE LONGEVITY DIET by Brian M. Delaney and Lisa Walford. CR folks take a variety of different approaches to this diet; perhaps everyone adapts it their own way. Some count calories and calculate nutrients on spreadsheets. But it seems that is not really necessary... If you just control your portion sizes, and/or fast one or two days a week, so that you are slowly losing weight (one or two pounds a month) then you will be on the "survival" side of the balance, your body will think food is scarce and respond accordingly.
So... Unlimited leafy greens and non-starchy vegetables, controlled portions of all else, maybe fasting on Sundays, Paleo plus portion control... something I'll try. I have another 50 lbs or so to lose, to get to my "ideal weight" according to the standard charts, this approach could last awhile.
Postscript April 2012. I have discovered another book with a very similar approach, and arguably more science behind it. The book is THE SKINNY On Losing Weight Without Being Hungry, by Louis J. Aronne, M.D., with Alisa Bowman. Like the diets above, he also has a list of foods that are "in", and a list that are "out", and you just eat from list A. In his case the two lists are "filling foods" and "fattening foods". The good list is foods that are low in glycemic index (speed at which they digest into glucose), low in total glycemic load (total amount of glucose they digest into, roughly equivalent to calories), and low in calorie density (calories per gram). The list is very similar to other lists I've seen; leafy greens and "salad vegetables", almost all vegetables except potatoes (i.e. all non-starchy veggies), almost all fruits except bananas, and LEAN meats, stress on lean (boneless, skinless chicken breasts, turkey, fish and seafood, particular cuts of beef and pork. He allows small amounts of whole grains, lowfat dairy, and even sugar, now and then (not every day). He argues that the underlying problem that obese people have is "fullness resistance". Your body has a variety of mechanisms, hormones and so forth, that tell your brain that you've eaten enough, you are "full", your appetite is satisfied. These mechanisms have weakened or broken down in many people, which is why they continue to eat more food than they need, the extra being stored as fat. "Fullness resistance" develops for a number of reasons, but most commonly just by overload of high-calorie foods, sugar, starch, and fat. Your mechanisms for detecting fullness can recover over time, if you stick to the list of filling foods and avoid the fattening foods. He adds other tricks; eat high-protein breakfasts, for lunch and dinner eat salad and veggies first and then protein, avoid calories in liquid form. (Thick liquids, like soup, smoothies, and certain commercial protein drinks, ARE detected by your body as containing calories, but thin liquids, like soda and fruit juice and sweetened coffee and tea, are not. They do not stay in the mouth, stomach, or even intestines for very long, they slip past your body's mechanisms for detecting "food".)
The upshot is that this is a similar approach, likely to work just as well, less restrictive than the Paleo diet, so more people may be willing to use it.
Postscript June 2012. In 2010 I lost 15 lbs, in 2011 I lost another 15. I wanted to lose another 15 in 2012, so the first half of the year I was reading assorted books on diet. The problem was that I LIKE the Paleo diet, I didn't want to switch to something radically different. I read about the Atkins diet... Atkins is not Paleo, and owes nothing to Paleo, but the underlying theory of it is fully compatible with Paleo.
Dr. Atkins argued that it is insulin that tells your body to store fat. Your body can use carbohydrates as fuel, it can also use fat as fuel; if you keep your intake of carbohydrates very low, you can force your body to burn fat instead. The Atkins diet is very restrictive at first, starting off with two weeks of a limit of 20 grams "net carbs" per day, which is "one cup of cooked vegetables and three cups of salad", plus whatever protein and fat you care to eat. ("Net carbs" is from reading the nutrition labels on packaged foods in the USA... total grams carbs minus grams of fiber.) You then raise that limit by 5 grams/day per week, so the third week you can eat 25 grams net carbs per day, the fourth week 30 grams/day, and so forth. When you stop losing lbs (or inches of waistline) then that level is your permanent "maintenance diet".
This is stricter than I cared for, and requires "counting grams of carbs", which is just as much trouble as counting calories. But I found that some Paleo writers had already included a "lazy man's Atkins Light" diet as an option. In particular, Mark Sisson, at his website, see
For "effortless weight loss", stay between 50 and 100 grams "net carbs" per day; for maintenance, stay between 100 and 150.
The Paleo diet says to abstain from grains, beans, dairy, sugar, and salt. I was following it "not strictly, but mostly". This summer, after returning from vacation mid-May, I started trying to be stricter about the "no sugar". To move from 95% strictness to 99%. Cut back my already-modest use of fruit juice, abstain from sweetened drinks, any sauces or marinades that contain sugar. Cut back on all fruit other than berries, which have less sugar and more fiber than most fruit. As of mid-June, four weeks in, I've lost five pounds. We shall see how long I can keep this going. I'm glad it is the season for strawberries, prices are down; on the other hand, lots of other fruit is coming into season, tempting me.