Celeb Trainer Harley Pasternak: Diets Won't Help You Lose Weight, but This Tip Will

Turns out the answer is no -- but you're not stuck at one weight forever, either

Harley Pasternak

Harley Pasternak is a celebrity trainer and nutrition expert who has worked with stars from Halle Berry and Lady Gaga to Robert Pattinson and Robert Downey Jr. He’s also aNew York Times best-selling author, with titles including The Body Reset Diet and The 5-Factor Diet. His new book 5 Pounds is out now. Tweet him @harleypasternak.

Diets don’t work.

I know, I know, as the author of books called The Body Reset Diet and The 5 Factor Diet, this may sound a little contradictory, so allow me to explain: Diets in the traditional sense — a short-term or special course of restricted eating (whether it be calories, carbs, whatever) for the purpose of weight loss — don’t work. In order to lose weight and keep it off, the way we understand what ‘diet’ means needs to change. (If you’ve read any of my books you’ll probably know what I’m talking about already.)

As neuroscientist Dr. Sandra Aamodt explains in a fascinating Ted Talk, weight-loss ‘diets’ aren’t just ineffective — most people gain the weight back within five years — they are often counterproductive. In fact, 40 percent of dieters gain back more than they lost. Quite simply, the net result of dieting is often weight gain.

Goodbye Diets, Hello Mindfulness
Dr. Aamodt offers a reason for this, based on her research into how the brain signals messages to other parts of the body to “determine” your ideal weight.

Most people assume that weight loss reflects a simple mathematical formula based on how much they eat and how much of that energy they burn. It’s Metabolism 101: burn more calories than you take in and you should shed pounds, right? And once you reach your weight goal, simply balance the two sides of the equation and you should be able to maintain that weight, right? Wrong on both counts.

As Dr. Aamodt explains, your brain’s hypothalamus, which regulates weight, has its own agenda. It acts like a thermostat, making every effort to maintain what is called your set point — it’s actually a range of roughly 10 to 15 lbs. —much as once you set the desired temperature, the furnace cycles on and off to maintain a constant comfortable heat in response to the outdoor temperature and other factors.

Mixed Signals
When you lose a significant amount of weight, your hypothalamus interprets it as a signal that you’re starving, so it beams out hunger signals that can be hard to resist. Meanwhile, it slows your metabolism to conserve calories. To maintain a 10- or 15-lb. weight loss you’ll have to eat considerably less for the foreseeable future. And get this: If you’re now the same weight (and height) as your best buddy who has maintained her weight for years, you can’t eat as much as she does. Your hypothalamus is always working against you, trying to get your weight back to where it senses you belong, at that higher set point. Even more unfair, if you gain some weight and stay at that higher weight for a while, say a few years after giving birth, your hypothalamus may establish that higher weight as your new ‘set point’ — or your new normal.

Before you throw in the towel and say ‘I knew it! My body wants me to be fat!’ let me stop you there.

Is it hopeless to even try to change your weight and your set point range? Absolutely not. But it does involve time and a commitment to shifting your focus from a short-term ‘diet’ to long-term lifestyle changes. This involves making healthy behaviors habits. For every healthy habit you embrace, the healthier you become.

I based a whole book called 5 Pounds: The Breakthrough 5-Day Plan to Jump-Start Rapid Weight Loss (and Never Gain It Back!) around this theory. By making five crucial behaviors everyday habits, namely eating the right foods in the right amounts, taking at least 10,000 steps a day, doing five minutes of weight-resistance exercise a day, getting enough sleep and (surprise) detaching yourself from your electronic devices for at least an hour a day, you can reset your body to a ‘new normal’ that’s healthier, happier, and slimmer.

What Kind of Eater Are You?
If you’ve become frustrated with hopping on and off the diet merry-go-round, ask yourself the following questions:

1. Are you an intuitive eater or a controlled eater? The former is someone who relies on hunger to tell him/her when and what to eat. The latter depends on willpower to control what he/she eats. Intuitive eaters are less likely to be overweight, less apt to obsess about food, and not as prone to binges.

2. Do you recognize your body’s signals for hunger and satiety? Mindfulness enabled Aamodt to give herself permission to eat as much as she wanted but to recognize when she had had enough — her body felt good — as opposed to when she had overeaten — it felt bad. After all, eating when you’re not truly hungry out of boredom, habit or depression is a key reason so many people are overweight.

3. Do you eat regular meals? Dining at roughly the same time day after day eliminates the risk of extreme hunger when if you go for more than four or five hours without eating or when you eat erratically. A regular schedule also helps you build healthy eating habits, rather than just grabbing the closest thing when your stomach is screaming to be filled.

4. Do you give your full attention to your meals? All too many of us eat on the run, or in front of the television or another screen. Eat slowly and you’ll likely feel the need to eat less because it can take some time for the satiety message to go from your tummy to your brain.

5. Do you deal with weight gain quickly? I’m sure you’ve heard the expression ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,’ and it’s true. It’s way easier to avoid weight gain then to lose it once it’s happened. And rather than thinking about your diet as an ‘on the wagon’/ ‘off the wagon’ scenario, focus on the process — the lifestyle habits — that build a healthy lifestyle. Although I don’t recommend daily or even weekly weigh-ins, the moment you realize that you’re feeling bloated or your waistband feels snug, don’t panic! Instead, take a look at which habits you’ve let slide and re-commit to your healthy ones.

So take it from a ‘diet’ book author: the diet that works isn’t one of short-term starvation; it’s one of sustainable long-term solutions.

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