Let’s be realistic: you aren’t going to trade in your beloved Ghost Pops for kale chips overnight. And that’s why most diets fail you. So many of them deprive your body of the food it’s accustomed to – a move that sets you up for a weight-gain relapse.
And determination doesn’t matter. Your brain will literally go through withdrawal – and you’ll feel hungry all the time. In a study published by the US National Academy of Sciences, when rats with access to sugar and chocolate-flavoured food had those treats withheld, their brains pumped out five times the normal levels of corticotropinreleasing factor (CRF) – the same stress hormone unleashed in junkies trying to kick a drug habit.
So instead of going cold turkey, transition from bad eats to better ones in small steps. This will teach your body to enjoy healthy food that satisfies hunger and you’ll shed centimetres. Get ready to welcome the end of yo-yo dieting – for good.
Baby steps are the best way to reform your palate. Here are examples of how to wean yourself off bad-for-you food. Spend two to four weeks at each stage – the reward system in your brain needs time to adapt and adjust…
Bad: fried chicken – with the crunchy coating, it can contain up to nine grams of saturated fat per serving. Good: oven-baked chicken with barbecue sauce – gone is much of the saturated fat, but the finger-licking sauce is mostly sugar and salt. Better: chicken Parmesan – little or no sugar here. Use no more than four teaspoons of grated cheese to control the fat and kilojoules. Best: grilled or baked herb-crusted chicken – can save you about seven grams of saturated fat and more than 800kJ compared to its fried counterpart.
Bad: iceberg lettuce with two tablespoons of creamy dressing – these greens have few phytonutrients and the dressing adds about 15g of fat. Good: cos with one tablespoon of creamy dressing – cos contains antioxidants and using less dressing slashes nearly 300kJ. Better: cos with one tablespoon of balsamic vinaigrette – the dressing’s olive oil is a healthy fat that’s super-satisfying. Best: baby spinach with one tablespoon of balsamic vinaigrette – the leaves are full of B vitamins, which may help lower your risk for certain cancers.
Bad: regular chips – frying adds fat and produces acrylamide, a chemical that’s been identified as a possible carcinogen. Good: veggie chips – about half the total fat of regular chips, with added fibre, although not much difference kilojoule for kilojoule. Better: roasted corn – nearly double the fibre of veggie chips and less fat and sodium per serving, but again kilojoule count is similar. Best: kale chips – fibre and vitamin A, plus calcium for bone strength, vitamin C to grow cells and vitamin K, which may help bone growth. Bake with a dash of olive oil, salt and pepper.
Bad: typical shop-bought breakfast muffin – packaged muffins are often made with white flour and an overload of sugar. A large one has approximately 2 300kJ! Good: homemade blueberry yoghurt muffin with wheat germ – wheat germ is a good source of fibre and protein, and home baking lets you control the sugar content. Better: two scrambled eggs, one package of plain instant oats – eggs are a complete protein and may kick-start your metabolism. Healthy carbs stave off hunger until lunch. Best: omelette wrap – use one egg and one egg white to save about 170kJ, veggies for low-kJ fibre, one tablespoon of cheese to make it a little indulgent and a wholewheat wrap.
Adapted from The Hunger Fix: The Three-Stage Detox And Recovery Plan For Overeating And Food Addiction by Dr Pam Peeke, Rodale 2012.