I don’t need to look at a calendar or feel Jack Frost nipping at my fingertips to know that the first of the year is fast approaching. My mailbox gives it away, loaded as it is with review copies of new and reissued diet books.
Publishers consider January the ideal time for these works, figuring that many already overweight Americans will have added more centimeters and kilograms since Thanksgiving and will resolve once more to shed them when they usher in the new year.
But I’m happy to say there has been a tremendous improvement in recent years in the crop of weight-loss guides. Most have been written by research scientists who avoid gimmicks and boring, overly restrictive or quick weight-loss schemes that are bound to fail. Instead, their recommendations are based on sound studies and clinical trials that have yielded a better understanding of what prompts us to eat more calories than we need and, in particular, more calories from the wrong kinds of foods.
These authors are not miracle workers who can get you bikini-ready for a midwinter vacation, but their approaches can work wonders for those determined to lose weight permanently, even with limits on time or budget, or with a social or occupational need to dine out often.
TREATING BODY AND MIND
Science-based improvements in the diet-book genre began about five years ago with the publication of The Volumetrics Weight-Control Plan: Feel Full on Fewer Calories, by Barbara Rolls and Robert Barnett (HarperCollins). Rolls, chairwoman of the Department of Nutritional Sciences at Penn State University, shunned specific diet plans and instead developed an approach to eating based on her findings from numerous clinical studies that people need a certain volume or weight of food to feel satisfied.
Accordingly, the “volumetrics” plan, spelled out in a follow-up book, The Volumetrics Eating Plan: Techniques and Recipes for Feeling Full on Fewer Calories, emphasizes getting more for less — meals that include filling foods like soups, salads, vegetables and fruits that on a volume basis are naturally low in calorie density because they have a high water content.
But as most dieters know, eating habits that lead to weight gain, a failure to lose weight or an inability to maintain weight loss are as much a matter of mind as of body. If physical hunger were the only thing driving overeating, it is unlikely that 60 percent of Americans would be overweight. Rather, many of us have lost touch with natural hunger and satiety signals, and we overeat in response to emotional and external cues.
Judith Beck, a psychologist and the director of the Beck Institute for Cognitive Therapy and Research in Philadelphia, had spent many years helping patients achieve their weight-loss goals, not through particular diets but by learning how to think and behave differently with regard to food and eating. Her two recent books, The Beck Diet Solution and The Beck Diet Weight Loss Workbook (Oxmoor House), aim to retrain the brain. Beck teaches someone who is overweight how to think like a thin person, with practical strategies to reduce eating prompted by emotions and stress.
Readers seeking a more lighthearted though still science-based approach might consider the 2006 book, You On a Diet: The Owner’s Manual for Waist Management, by Michael Roizen of the Cleveland Clinic and Mehmet Oz of Columbia University (Free Press).