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We are a culture obsessed with esthetics. Everyone wants to lose weight and be thin to look like the models in magazines and stars on TV and in movies. The problem is, we as Americans are more concerned with the way we look then how healthy we are. If you treat your nutrition properly however, you can have both.

The amount of “diets” out there today to lose weight are growing on a daily basis. Some are nutritionally sound and some are seriously flawed. Most of them are short-term fixes for rapid weight loss with no concern for overall nutrition. Some purport to be healthy nutritional diets allowing weight loss while increasing nutritional competence. Most of them fail miserably at this.

Nutrition has gone through faddish times. During the early to mid 60’s, which we’ll call the Atkins protein era, the emphasis was on a very high protein diet (usually to the expense of fresh whole vegetables, fruits and grains.) There were many fortified foods that supplied the diet with increased amounts of protein. Not much attention was given to the source of the protein or the completeness of it either.

During the early to mid 70’s the shift was made to carbohydrate-based diets. By the end of the 1970’s the focus of diets were extremely high carbohydrates, most of them complex, more fresh fruits and vegetables. This was a healthier alternative to the high protein situation. However, still not the most healthful diet.

By the mid 1980’s the attention had shifted away from very high carbohydrates, to more moderate carbohydrate levels, complex carbohydrates, and more fresh fruits and vegetables. The USDA for the first time in 30 years changed their attitude of what constituted good nutrition by replacing the “four food groups”, (one of the groups being the dairy group, an absolute absurdity) with the “food pyramid”. Although the food pyramid falls short of absolute good nutrition, it comes a lot closer to what the ideal should be.

Diets towards the end of the 80’s and into early 90’s began again to shift back towards the very high protein situation at the expense of fresh fruits and vegetables. They centered on such diets as the Atkins diet which promotes very high levels of protein with almost no carbohydrate, and on the modification of the Atkins diet, the Zone diet by Dr. Barry Spears, Ph.D. Dr. Sears diet, although not as limiting and absolute as the Atkins diet, falls short nutritionally in many areas. First of all, it’s almost impossible for the average person to follow it, being extremely complicated and relying theoretically on bio-chemical processes that may not actually occur in living humans. Second of all, it’s not centered in fresh fruits and vegetables and low in certain vitamins.

A healthy diet must follow a healthy lifestyle and there are many, many opinions as to what constitutes good nutrition. As a participant in the University of Pittsburgh Medical School Weight Loss Study and having lost and kept off over 50 pounds for eight years now, I feel that I’m an excellent spokesperson for the healthy diet. Diets of whole foods are always preferred over diets that are composed of things that are not whole, or are processed or synthetic. A diet should be based mostly on fresh fruits and vegetables with the most complex carbohydrate coming from vegetable source. The protein component of the diet should be mostly from vegetable source with a minimum of animal protein and that animal protein being from good protein sources such as fin fish, shellfish and certain types of poultry. Occasional red meats can be eaten but they should be limited and small portions should be served.

The basis of healthy weight loss however, centers on one factor and one factor alone, and that is: you must eat a low volume of calories in order to lose weight. This is something that no one who has been on rebound diets or likes fad diets wants to accept. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the weight loss study through the thousands of people who have participated, it’s that eating less calories than your body actually requires to sustain its weight is the only way you can lose weight. Even when exercising sufficiently and burning many calories through exercise, unless you eat less calories than your body is going to expend on a daily basis you will never, ever lose fat.

What is healthy eating and what is a good, balanced nutritional diet? My diet consists of 30% protein, 40% carbohydrate and 30% fat. All of my fats are of vegetable source and either polysaturated or monosaturated. All of my proteins are from plant sources or animal sources that are high in protein and low in fats, such as oily fin fishes, shellfish and poultry. Most of my carbohydrates are fresh vegetables. Although I do have one weakness, which is fresh bread, I try to limit it to very whole grain low fat breads. I rarely eat any simple carbohydrates such as doughnuts, cakes, ice cream or pies.

There is no easy key to weight loss. It takes determination, a healthful diet, regular exercise and basically eating less calories than you actually need. For those interested in learning more about healthy diets and weight loss, we will do a comprehensive diet analysis here at the Center for NO CHARGE if you are a patient!