Weight loss that works: A true story – Harvard Health Blog

This story combines science and a physician’s personal experience to shed light on the basics of how to really lose weight.

Read the full article at: www.health.harvard.edu


Pretty amazing that Harvard is still publishing articles suggesting that weight loss is all about counting calories and chasing them with exercise.  The astonishing growth in the numbers of obese and overweight Americans over the last 30 years is all the evidence necessary to prove beyond any doubt that this approach, which has been sold over and over to Americans in the form of the latest diet bestseller, doesn’t work.  If it did, those millions of books sold would translate into millions of pounds lost.


The new science of weight loss that actually works for the long term is about 3 ideas that have nothing to do with counting calories or “burning” them off.  These 3 concepts are so simple that you can discover them yourself, in your daily life, without having to buy any apps, books, videos, devices, or prepared food.  They are:

  1. Hunger Management
  2. Metabolism Change
  3. Mindless Eating

Hunger Management

Your Own Research Laboratory

You definitely don’t need to read a bunch of books or scientific studies to figure out a simple fact that we all know to be true from our own experience – some foods make you hungry and some fill you up.  This is easy enough to research in the laboratory of your own body.  Eat a bowl of steel-cut oats with coconut milk, coconut flakes, cinnamon and fresh or frozen berries for breakfast one day.  The next day eat cereal from a box or go to a drive-thru and order pancakes with maple syrup, or grab a sack of your favorite donuts or pastries.  Each day look at your watch when you first start feeling hungry, and then again when you’re so famished that you can think of nothing but food.  I notice that I salivate more when I first start feeling hungry and I get a hollowed-out achy feeling behind my eyes when I’m starving.  You’ll be amazed at how much longer the whole grains and healthy fats will keep you satisfied versus the flour and sugar of the processed breakfast foods.  The hunger spike will be less sudden and less intense, and your craving for sweets will be noticeably reduced.

Why Some Diets Seem to Work

Diets that seem to “work” don’t consist of magic ingredients or special timing, they simply replace some of your empty, hunger-stimulating calories (alcohol, sugar, refined carbs) with more wholesome, hunger-suppressing calories (whole grains, protein, healthy fats).  The result is less intense, less frequent hunger spikes with reduced sweet cravings.  You will naturally eat less throughout the day and you will be much less prone to overeat.  Try whole grains without added sugar for breakfast and 2 palm-sized portions of protein with lunch and dinner.  Anyone can do this right now and start losing weight immediately without counting a single calorie, setting foot in a gym or stepping onto a scale.


Metabolism Change

It’s a Scary Word

Metabolism is a scary word because most people believe (falsely) that they are destined to be fat forever because they can’t change their metabolism.  At the same time, most people don’t even know the meaning of the word.

What Does it Mean?

Metabolism is the way your body acquires, stores, and burns the energy you need to live, and there are some very simple steps you can take to modify and control it.  The simplest and most effective way is through the macronutrient ratio of your diet.  “Macronutrient” is another scary word that most people don’t understand – it simply means whether a food is a protein, carb, or fat (or combination).  New research shows that the macronutrient ratio of your diet is an important determinant of how your body stores fat.

How to Store Less Body Fat

if you are overweight or obese, it’s very likely that your diet consists of a lot sugar (anything that tastes sweet) or refined carbohydrates (anything that comes in a box, package, or bag).  These foods are mainly metabolized (broken down and stored as energy) in the liver, and they cause the buildup of the most harmful type of fat, known as “visceral” or deep belly fat.  Over time, your body stores more and more of the calories you eat as this deep fat, regardless of how many calories you count or try to reduce.  This is why simply cutting calories and eating only cake and ice cream won’t work – your body will just keep storing more fat.  On the other hand, if you replace some of your sugar and refined carbs with protein and healthy fats (see above) you will begin storing less body fat without counting or cutting a single calorie.


A Palm of Protein, A Fist of Veggies

The way to do this is by planning and preparing healthy meals in advance.  Every meal should have at least a palm-sized portion of protein and a fist-sized portion of veggies.  This is simple to eyeball when you’re preparing meals in bulk.  Reducing the ratio of sugar and refined carbs in your diet and replacing those calories with protein and healthy fats will control your hunger better and make you less prone to mindless snacking and overeating.


Stop Chasing Calories With Exercise

Do you think you should exercise to burn calories?  Think again. Research shows that the calories burned by exercise are quickly replaced by more calories, but that doesn’t mean that exercise is useless for weight loss.  On the contrary, exercise can increase your resting metabolism, known by the scientific acronym “NEAT” (non-exercise activity thermogenesis), which means you will burn more calories while sitting at your desk, driving your car, even while sleeping!  If you have a busy life you’re in luck – new research has revealed that tiny micro-workouts of as little as 1 minute of intense exercise a few times a week can give you the same benefit as suffering through hours of soul-crushing boredom at the gym.


Mindless Eating

Eating Over The Sink

Do you eat standing in front of an open fridge? Or over the kitchen sink?  Do you stuff the last few fries from the bottom of the bag into your mouth regardless of how soggy, greasy, and unappetizing they look?  Do you eat cookies, cereal, or ice cream out of the bags, boxes, or buckets they were packaged in?


These are all mindless eating practices and according to researcher Brian Wansink, we can all very easily reduce our calorie intake by 20-40% with a few simple practices that make us more mindful of what and how much we are eating.


Bag It Up

The first simple step is to buy some small sandwich-sized clear slider-zipper baggies.  The ones with the actual slider (not the ziplock type) work best because they are quick to open and close and you can always tell when they’re fully closed so your food stays fresher.  When you get home from shopping take all snack foods, including fruits and nuts out of their original packaging and divide them into the small baggies.  It doesn’t really matter how full you make them because research demonstrates that we eat less when we dispense food from smaller containers.  Also when you’re eating from a small baggie, the extra work and motivation required to get up and grab another one serves to inhibit bingeing on the whole box, which – let’s face it – we’ve all done.

What You See Is What You Eat

The Next step is to carefully position these baggies of snacks – healthy snacks like nuts and fruits in front of the shelf and at eye level, and put cookies and chocolates in the back and high up or low down.  When you store leftovers in the fridge, cover the healthy ones like tuna, veggies, and salads with clear plastic wrap and place them at eye level.  Cakes and pies get wrapped in foil and placed in the back.

Small Plate – Lose Weight

Instead of standing up and noshing in front of the fridge or over the sink, put your snack on a small plate and sit down to eat it, preferably with utensils.   Research also shows that you will eat less from a small plate, especially one whose color contrasts sharply to the food on it.

Hunger Game

We’ve all had the experience of eating until we are full, only to feel uncomfortably stuffed 20 minutes later.  This is because there is a 20-minute delay in communication between the stomach and the brain.  The way to overcome this obstacle is by teaching yourself the Japanese art of “Hara Hachi Bu” which means eating until you are 80% full.  This might sound difficult at first but here is a simple step-by-step:


  • Sit down to a meal when you’re hungry
  • Eat as slowly as possible (remember the 20-minute stomach-to-brain delay)
  • Notice when you are still enjoying the meal but the hunger is gone
  • Notice when you are just starting to feel stomach pressure (imagine another bite, will it make you feel better or worse?) this is the 80% full threshold
  • Notice when you are stuffed (another bite and you will explode)

Woo-Hoo!  You are now a Hara Hachi Bu Master!  You have established 3 thresholds: hunger-gone, stomach pressure, and stuffed.  It may take you 20 meals or so to get used to these sensations but try finding a sweet spot somewhere between hunger-gone and first stomach pressure.  This can translate into a weight loss of a pound a week or more, again without counting a single calorie or setting foot in a gym or on a scale.


What are you waiting for?  Get Started!




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