Don't Think Diet, Think Thin

Change your lifestyle, not just your diet plan.

By Jeanie Lerche Davis
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Charlotte Grayson, MD

America has reached a crossroad.

We've tried the quick-fix diet plans. We've tried low-fat, low-cal, low-carb -- with low satisfaction. We've jumped from Jazzercise to spinning to yoga to tai chi.

So we're back on the couch, with the remote control and Rocky Road. Our weight problem is still a big problem. We've all been there. We feel our pain.

Pull up a cushion, America. It's time to meditate, tune into your natural tendencies. Then figure out a life path -- a lifestyle -- that will keep you healthy. For guidance, WebMD contacted two health and nutrition gurus.

Meditate on Your Motivators

On this path, one size doesn't fit all. This is all about you.

"It's important to understand yourself, what motivates you, what works for you," says Cindy Moore, MS, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association and director of nutrition therapy at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. "This is not about trying to change yourself. You're just working with who you are."

Are you a patient person? Do you need instant gratification? Are you adventurous, or does familiar and stable ring true? Are you a loner or a joiner? Do decisions come easily, or is structure better? These are questions you need to ask yourself, says Moore. "Be honest with yourself. There's no right or wrong answer. There's no need to change your basic nature."

Here's a happy note: That old harbinger -- willpower -- won't be part of your new path. "If you're relying on willpower every day, then you've made an error. Willpower should be used only on special occasions. Biology will defeat willpower every time," says Lisa Sanders, MD, professor at Yale University and author of the book, The Perfect Fit Diet.

However, you will need support, Sanders tells WebMD. "Women especially need encouragement. Women don't feel comfortable imposing their needs on other people. They find it difficult to make their home or workplace a 'safe' place to be -- to get rid of stuff they shouldn't be eating. They say, 'My husband, my kids, my niece, wants the cookies, the potato chips, the cake in the house."

But there's one basic fact that can't be denied: Healthy living is good for everyone. When you take a stand against junk food, everyone benefits. "You know it's the right thing to do," says Sanders.

Take the Lifestyle Personality Quiz

To reveal your inner tendencies -- and your best approach to lifestyle changes -- Moore has developed this simple quiz:

1. Tortoise or Hare?

Are you patient and process-oriented, like the fabled tortoise? Or does instant gratification sound better?

Tortoises are comfortable losing weight the prudent way, notes Moore. You make one or two diet changes at a time. For example, you will eat two servings of fruit every day for two weeks instead of other snacks. Then you'll add another goal -- to get two servings of low-fat dairy every day. "It's a gradual, long-term focus on changing habits, not a quick fix," explains Moore.

But the craving for instant gratification is what sells diet plan books. "If your goal is to lose weight quickly, you'll try any high-protein, low-carb, or very low-calorie diet," says Moore. "I'm not endorsing that kind of diet plan, but that's what people gravitate to."

The hitch: "Any fad diet will let you lose weight," she says. "But those diet plans don't let you maintain weight loss. You need be mindful that, unless you go to a transition diet plan, you will regain the weight."

2. Scheduler or Spontaneous?

If you're a planner, then grab your calendar. You prefer a more structured approach to meals -- even snacks -- as well as physical activity. Every week, map out the foods, meals, and workout schedule that work best for you. Make a grocery list at the same time, Moore suggests.

Spontaneous people must deal with their impulses. "They need discipline," she advises. "They need to make a healthful decision spontaneously. They must be judicious at every turn. They can have a small piece of cake, but have it less frequently."

3. Adventure or Tried and True?

The adventuresome soul loves to try new foods, new diet plans, new ways of eating, Moore says. "They need to select foods with fewer calories. It means eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat protein. It can also mean eating foods they didn't grow up with, like bulgar [wheat], couscous, barley, sushi. It can mean adding more legumes and beans. The key isn't to try just anything -- try something healthy."

Adventurous types also like trying new physical activities, new sports. Build on that love of diversity, advises Moore. If you normally take an aerobics or spinning class, try something else -- rebounding [using a mini trampoline] or Pilates or yoga -- or lift weights. "It will keep you from getting bored. And it will give balance to your physical activity," she says.