5 Ways to Go from Crash Diet to Healthy, Long-Term Habit
Heather Hoch This pork belly from Crudo fits into Atkins -- save the tomato on top and polenta underneath.
What good is losing 20 pounds in two weeks just to gain it all back once you return to a steady diet of cheesy French fries and pints of ice cream? But that's what you can expect from crash diets, which instruct weight-loss hopefuls to shock both body and mind with over-the-top restrictions and an overwhelming number of changes at once. When it comes to developing your healthy lifestyle, don't expect to make a complete 180 overnight. Instead, focus your efforts on one habit at a time to create lasting change and see real long-term results.
THE INFAMOUS ATKINS
The appeal: You eat too much dessert, cereal, and pastries and are starting to think you'd be better off without carbs altogether.
The risk: There's a reason the term "balanced diet" gets thrown around a lot, and the theory of Atkins runs counter to it. The balance in your food choices should be among protein, fat, and carbs. All three can be used as fuel for the body, but carbohydrates get converted to glucose quickly, giving you the energy you need to keep going immediately. They'll get burned off before the fat you eat, sure, but they also protect muscle tissue from being broken down for energy in case of a calorie deficit, like after a heavy workout. Carbs also help maintain digestive health, assist in calcium absorption, and regulate blood pressure.
One-step wonder: The best ratio of the three macronutrients varies from person to person, but a good place to start is 20 percent protein, 30 percent fat, and 50 percent carbs. A food journaling app like MyFitnessPal will create these charts for you, but you have to be on top of listing everything you eat. The smart first step is to focus on what's lacking from a lot of diets: the protein. By increasing protein intake, you'll be decreasing carbs and fats. When you do consume carbs, stick to high-fiber foods like fruits and whole grains.
PALEO (A.K.A. CAVEMAN) DIET
The appeal: You can still eat all the meat you want -- just without the side of potatoes. Anyone with doctor's orders to go gluten-free may also be drawn to this diet plan.
The risk: This is a difficult diet to stick to if you aren't used to restricting your food intake. While eating nothing but whole foods might feel good for a few days, it takes only one sandwich or side of beans to undo your diligent dieting. And the truth is, your body needs those carbs for energy, especially if you're trying to get fit by working out on a regular basis.
One-step wonder: Instead of thinking "all whole foods all the time," simply start looking at ingredient lists and nutrition labels on everything you pick up at the grocery store. Saying "I want to eat more whole foods" won't help you make a change, but gaining awareness of what you're eating will. Once you hone that habit, you can move onto eliminating your worst guilty pleasure foods and eventually integrating whole foods into your diet on a regular basis. But, of course, you need to know what you're looking at on the label first.