The Canyon Ranch Guide to Weight Loss: The Role Food Plays In How We Perceive Losing Weight
Learn how delicious, enjoyable, and balanced meals serve as a successful part of your weight loss and maintenance journey.
In an excerpt from his new book, The Canyon Ranch Guide to Weight Loss: A Scientifically Based Approach to Achieving and Maintaining Your Ideal Weight ($24.95), Stephen Brewer, MD, Medical Director Canyon Ranch and Stephanie Miezin, MS, RD, CSSD, Director of Nutrition at Canyon Ranch, highlight the role food plays in our weight loss journey.
Weight loss for many can seem like a dreadful journey—full of restrictions and a lack of satisfaction—and filled with anxiousness around “falling off the wagon” because common weight loss tactics are simply unsustainable. The image of “diet” foods seems to be particularly loathsome: half a grapefruit with black coffee for breakfast, a no-frills salad with low-calorie dressing for lunch, maybe a solitary rice cake for a snack, the stand-by plain chicken breast with steamed broccoli for dinner, and definitely no dessert.
Of course, that level of restriction and one unappetizing meal after another is hardly sustainable. When it comes to eating, the great news is that losing weight and keeping it off can (and should!) be achieved through delicious, enjoyable foods. This strategy better plays into our natural biology, allowing you to use biology to your advantage rather than trying to fight it constantly. Understanding a little more about two major biological factors at play puts you in better control of your food and shifts eating from a negative to a positive light.
In 2011, psychology researchers from Yale University and Arizona State University conducted a fascinating study centered on milkshakes. Participants consumed a moderate calorie (380 calories) milkshake followed by measurement of their ghrelin, a hormone that produces the sensation of hunger and motivates food consumption. When the participants were told that the milkshake was higher calorie and “indulgent,” their ghrelin levels were significantly lower after consumption, in contrast to participants who were told that the same milkshake was lower calorie and “sensible.” This introduces the idea that perception of food can influence how satisfied we are after eating: thinking food is “lighter or healthier” leads to decreased satiety, while thinking of food as “indulgent or bountiful” leads to better satiety after eating.
Use this insight to your advantage. Think about how you can switch the perspective on a meal from one of restriction to one of indulgence or nourishment. That mental shift can lead to you feeling more satisfied after eating, making healthful eating more sustainable. For example, let’s think of a meal that contains moderate portions of lemony roasted chicken, olive oil sautéed peppers and spinach with garlic, and caramelized sweet potato wedges. In a restriction mindset, thoughts about this meal might focus on the fact that there’s no cheese topping the vegetables, feeling like chicken is boring diet food, or feeling the portions are too small compared to what may have been consumed previously. Instead, a mindset about nourishment would focus on the rich, varied flavors and textures of the meal and gratitude for the benefit that this nutritionally balanced plate will provide the body. Some knowledge about the many nourishing nutrients of foods strengthens this strategy of honing a mindset of valuing nutrition.
The human body requires energy to live and thrive. The process of turning food into that essential energy is what we call metabolism. Dieting commonly neglects the reality that adequate energy is non-negotiable. Instead of falling into a less-is-more mentality for weight loss, let’s dig a little into how a few key food components can nourish us with essential energy and more.
Protein is found in fish, poultry, dairy, eggs, soy, beans, and more foods. Dietary protein is vital to support a strong, healthy body. Without enough protein, muscle mass can decline. Losing muscle is usually not a good idea as muscle supports a healthy metabolic rate, physical functionality, and plays a big role in achieving desired appearances for many people. Protein takes a while to be digested, which slows down the digestion of other foods in a meal, like carbs. This insight is foundational when building balanced meals and snacks for great health and good blood glucose control.
Carbohydrates are found in grains, beans, fruits, vegetables, and other sources. Carbohydrates are the preferred fuel source of the brain and body. Consuming too few carbs can lead to low energy, irritability, inability to focus, and decreased physical performance. Low to no-carb diets often promise weight loss. Weight loss may result, but it’s not because carbohydrates are inherently “fattening.” It’s because reducing carbohydrates is a way to decrease energy consumed, potentially leading to an energy deficit, therefore weight loss. Including carbohydrates can, and almost always should, be part of a sustainable and enjoyable diet that supports optimal health.
Fat is found in nuts, seeds, oils, avocado, oily fish, and other sources. Fats help absorb fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E & K), support hormone production and provide long-lasting energy, among other essential functions. Just like carbohydrates, fats themselves do not make people fat. (Too much fat, or any energy source for that matter, is what can lead to weight gain.) Fats, like protein, take a while to be metabolized. This results in important satisfaction after eating, as well as modulation of blood glucose response.
Fiber is found in plant foods such as fruits, whole grains, vegetables, beans, nuts, and other foods. While the body does not really rely on fiber for energy, it does need it for good gut health. Many types of fiber act as food for the microbiota, making it essential for supporting a strong and diverse gut microbial community. Similar to protein and fat, fiber can slow digestion and contribute to increased satisfaction after eating and even better blood glucose control.
So, what are the implications of these biological insights for your weight loss goals, and how do we start to translate this to real food choices? Given the body’s basic requirements for day-to-day life, extreme dieting or removing whole macronutrients or food groups is not necessary and realistically not sustainable. It can also lead to a restriction mentality and never feeling satisfied.
Instead, healthy and sustainable weight loss should be achieved with enjoyable meals that feel indulgent. An attitude of indulgence, our feeling that we treat ourselves to desirable meals, can be built by learning simple techniques that develop flavor at each step of cooking, creating irresistible flavor combinations and a meal composition that makes you feel great after eating.
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This was excerpted from The Canyon Ranch Guide to Weight Loss: A Scientifically Based Approach to Achieving and Maintaining Your Ideal Weight by Dr. Stephen Brewer. Reprinted with Permission by the publisher, SelectBooks, Inc. Find it here.