You've struggled with various diets and just can't seem to lose weight. Or, you lose a few pounds and gain them back. Why is dieting so hard?
Maybe your instincts are keeping you from losing weight, say Susan B. Roberts and Betty Kelly Sargent, the authors of "The Instinct Diet."
Roberts, a professor of nutrition and psychology at Tufts University who has studied weight loss and obesity for 17 years, says her research has found that by understanding "what pushes your buttons and causes you to feel hungry," you can cut calories and lose weight without feeling like you're starving.
"With this book, I'm trying to make weight loss easier. It's hard to lose it and it's hard to keep it off. If you've really struggled to lose weight, (the Instinct Diet) should make it possible and easier."
Sort of like a covert plan to trick your hunger instinct, "The Instinct Diet" advises dieters will have more success if they eat certain foods and combine them in specific ways to help stave off feelings of hunger.
You know that feeling when you just have to eat that whole pint of ice cream right out of the fridge? By following the Instinct Diet, you're less likely to have those kinds of cravings and be better equipped to deal with them when you do, Roberts says.
Eating a menu of foods that have high-protein/low-carbohydrate combinations, a mixture of high- and low-Glycemic Index carbohydrates, high volume and high fiber can help keep hunger at bay and steer you away from your neighborhood Dunkin' Donuts.
And to assist with your quest to lose weight, Roberts combines psychological techniques with nutrition research to identify five basic biological food instincts that are responsible for the way we eat: hunger, availability, calorie density, familiarity and variety.
Finding out which of these instincts challenge you most is key to understanding what might be standing in your way of losing weight.
"These food instincts are basic to who we are. We can't change the fact that we have them, but we can learn how to manage them," Roberts says.
Variety, for instance, isn't always a good thing. Limiting your food choices has an effect on the way you experience food and hunger.
"Variety is a double-edged sword," Roberts says. "If you put all 25 things at the salad bar on your plate day after day, eventually it will seem boring."
The U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Service's "Dietary Guidelines for Americans" recommends eating five fruits and vegetables a day, Roberts says. "But there are only so many vegetables. If you put them all on the table today, there's nothing interesting left for tomorrow."
The Instinct Diet is different than other weight loss plans like the Atkins Diet, Weight Watchers, South Beach Diet and Jenny Craig, Roberts says. "The (Instinct) program is more satisfying. Previous diet books tell you to bulk up, eat high protein, low carb, but none of those things optimize hunger control. This packages it all together."
In the book, Roberts outlines three stages for following the Instinct Diet. Stage I, which lasts for two weeks, is designed to suppress hunger and restrict the variety of foods. Stage II lasts six weeks in which dieters can eat a greater variety of foods designed to develop good food habits and routines. Stage III "is the rest of your life," Roberts writes in the book. "You'll learn skills that you need to keep your weight down permanently."
Exercise alone, while important to health and preventing weight gain, doesn't have that much effect on weight loss, Roberts says. It can even "keep you from accepting responsibility for what you put in your mouth." Normally sedentary people who add an hour of daily exercise to their routine will probably lose only about six pounds of body fat.
Roberts knows how tough it can be to lose weight. Born in Canada, she grew up as a chubby kid in England, but lost weight after contracting mononucleosis.
She moved to the Boston area in 1986 and lived in Brookline, Newton and now Weston, where she makes her home with her husband, John Flanagan, a professor of cell biology at Harvard Medical School, and their teenage daughter. After a difficult pregnancy, she was in her 30s and 55 pounds overweight. She's been at a stable weight for 15 years "with the help of things I've learned in my research program..." she writes in her blog for Psychology Today (blogs.psychologytoday.com/the-instinct-diet). "Researching weight has been my way to bring all the pieces of my life together."
At Tufts, one of Roberts' recent group studies tracked 47 Instinct dieters. Eighty-five percent of the dieters lost 10 to 50 pounds and 90 percent kept the weight off for at least a year.
One of the biggest roadblocks for the dieters she's studied, she said, is that many of them have never cooked before. "Maybe they've cooked pasta," she said. A former chef in a French bistro, Roberts provides menus and recipes in "The Instinct Diet" that are healthy and easy to follow.
To eat a healthy diet, people also need to learn to read food labels. The pervasiveness of food additives like hidden trans fats and high-fructose corn syrup is rampant in many prepared food and should be avoided.
And don't be afraid to look at the bathroom scale, Roberts also says. In the "The Instinct Diet," Roberts advises weighing yourself often, even every day, quite the opposite advice of other plans like Weight Watchers.
"Weight can go up and down by two to three pounds per day, and for women, their menstrual cycle can cause weight gain. Weighing yourself every day and creating a chart will show that you're still on track despite a few pounds up or down here and there."
The 5 food instincts
In "The Instinct Diet" Susan B. Roberts writes that there are five basic food instincts that "can be our downfall unless we take a close look at them and decide to work with them."
HUNGER: Do you get really hungry when you try to lose weight?
We need to satisfy our hunger. We like feeling full. We see this instinct in newborn infants, and we know this is not something they have learned; it is an innate need that will help to ensure their survival.
AVAILABILITY: Do you eat more when portions are large or food is free?
We eat just because the food is there. And - here's the thing to watch out for - we want to eat more when more food is there for the taking.
CALORIE DENSITY: Do you love high-calorie foods like chocolate, salty snacks, french fries or mac and cheese?
We love to eat and we love food, especially when it's loaded with calories. This is true in every culture around the world.
FAMILIARITY: Do you still crave the foods your mother used to cook, or lose control and overeat when you're happy, upset or stressed?
We enjoy eating foods that are familiar to us. We associate these foods with feeling safe and comforted, and we have triggers that can drive us to eat them again...and again.
VARIETY: Do you buy different kinds of chocolate, chips, cookies or ice cream (rather than just one kind of each)?
We are instinctively attracted to a variety of foods, and we eat considerably more when we're presented with more choices.
SOURCE: Excerpted from "The Instinct Diet," by Susan B. Robert, Ph.D., Workman Publishing
Eat well and lose weight too
To be satisfying, a meal has to have great taste, even if you're on a diet, Weston nutritionist and psychologist Susan B. Roberts says in "The Instinct Diet."
"My theory is that if food isn't good enough to share, it isn't good enough to recommend to dieters. These recipes are so good that I often use them when cooking for my friends and family, whether anyone is dieting or not."
"We eat all the stuff in the book," Roberts says of her family of three, including Arista Chicken, below. "That's one of the best out there."
Recipe from "The Instinct Diet," by Susan B. Roberts, Ph.D., Workman Publishing.
4 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves, or 4 teaspoons dried rosemary (see Note)
4 large cloves garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons very coarse freshly ground black pepper
2 large chicken breasts with skin and bones (about 3 pounds total)
Mix the fresh or dried rosemary, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper together in a small bowl.
Using your hands (there is no other way to do this), work most of the rosemary mixture under the skin of the chicken breasts. Rub the remaining rosemary mixture over the skin and bones. Cover the chicken breasts with plastic wrap and refrigerate them for 4 to 10 hours to let the flavors infuse well.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Bake the chicken until the skin is golden brown and the juices run clear when you stick a fork in the thickest part, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. (An instant-read thermometer should register 165 degrees when inserted in the thickest part of a breast but not touching the bone.) You can baste the chicken a few times as it bakes, but it will come out fine if you don't.
Remove and discard the skin and bones from the chicken before serving.
Note: To rehydrate dried rosemary, place it in a microwave-safe dish with 1 teaspoon of water and microwave on high power for 10 seconds.
Makes eight servings of about 4 ounces each.
Nutrition information per 4-ounce serving: 180 calories; 26.2 g protein; 4.5 g total fat (1.5 g saturated); 8.9 g total carbohydrates; 3 g dietary fiber.
author: Nancy Olesin