Chances are you’re eating a diet full of CRAP — an acronym for “calorie-rich and processed” foods — that’s making weight loss impossible and health problems worse.
Dr. Michael Greger wants people to know there’s a better way.
The physician, who specializes in clinical nutrition, hates diet books, so he’s titled his new volume “How Not to Diet: The Groundbreaking Science of Healthy, Permanent Weight Loss.” It’s a follow-up to his previous bestseller, “How Not to Die,” about foods that can help prevent and reverse disease.
Greger’s prescription for healthy weight loss is simple: Eat a whole-food, plant-based diet. It’s naturally high in fiber and low in calorie density, allowing people to eat as much as they want — no calorie counting or portion control required.
“It’s a diet that minimizes the intake of meat, eggs, dairy and processed junk, and maximizes the intake of fruits, vegetables, legumes like beans, whole grains, nuts and seeds, mushrooms — basically, real food that grows out of the ground. Those are our healthiest choices,” Greger told TODAY.
“The strategy is to improve the quality of food rather than restricting the quantity of food, so it doesn’t leave you hungry. That’s a diet you can stick with. You get a boost of energy, better digestion, better sleep.”
Greger, who’s been eating a plant-based diet since 1990, said it doesn’t matter what people eat on their birthday, the holidays or other special occasions. It’s the day-to-day decisions that really add up, so it’s important to eat as many these whole plant foods as possible consistently.
He listed these eight “weight-loss boosters” to make slimming down easier:
1. Front-load calories earlier in the day
Weight loss may be easier if you eat more in the morning than in the evening. That’s because food can have a different impact based on the body’s circadian rhythms.
“The fact that 2,000 calories eaten in the morning is less fattening than eating the exact same 2,000 calories — same amount of food, same foods — at night, that’s just mind-blowing to me,” Greger said.
Making breakfast the main meal of the day is optimal, but many people don’t wake up hungry, he noted. The second-best option is to make lunch the main meal of the day, a pattern that many Mediterranean cultures follow.
2. Fast after 7 p.m.
The one type of intermittent fasting that really seems to work is time-restricted feeding, Greger said — or squeezing a person’s daily food intake into a certain time window, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., for example.
Make it early time-restricted feeding: “If anything, skip supper and have breakfast. Unfortunately, people do it the other way around,” he noted.
3. Pre-load with water and “negative calorie” foods before meals
Greger advised drinking two cups of cold unflavored water before each meal. It’ll fill up the stomach, making a person feel more satiated. Plus, drinking cold water on an empty stomach may ramp up metabolism for the next few hours.
“We start burning body fat. But it only works with cold water. It does not work with fruit juice or tea,” he said.
Meanwhile, eating an apple, salad or soup — foods that contain less than 100 calories per cup — before a big meal can cause people to feel fuller and eat less overall, Greger noted.
So a 50-calorie apple eaten before dinner can lead to a person consuming 200 fewer calories during that dinner, saving 150 calories. That’s why certain fruits, vegetables and soups are called “negative calorie” foods.
4. Become a fan of vinegar
Consume two teaspoons of vinegar with each meal — it ramps up an enzyme that tells your body you’re low on energy, so you burn more fat to “recharge your batteries,” Greger said. It has to be vinegar — acetic acid — not lemon juice or any other acid.
Never drink vinegar straight to avoid damage to your esophagus and tooth enamel, he warned. Instead, dilute it in water or drizzle it on a salad. Any kind of vinegar will do, though Greger prefers apple cider or balsamic because it has other beneficial nutrients in it.
5. Let fiber work for you
It’s not what you eat, it’s what you absorb. Fiber, which is indigestible by the body, can trap sugars and block fat and starch as it moves through your system.
“Fiber… can trap calories and flush them out the other end. A calorie may still be a calorie circling your toilet bowl, but it’s not going to end up on your hips,” Greger said.
People who eat a lot of fiber weigh less, a recent study found.
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6. Feel full with water-rich foods
It seems counterintuitive, but foods that naturally contain a lot of water — cucumbers, tomatoes, strawberries, grapes and so on — are more satiating than other options even though they have fewer calories. These “higher-volume” options take longer to eat, which seems to signal the brain that you’re filling up.
7. Put away the soda
“If you could only make one dietary change, getting rid of sugary beverages would be a good choice,” Greger writes in his book. That means soda, sports and energy drinks. It’s a simple way to cut down on added sugar.
Drinking 240 calories of a soft drink takes just a minute, while eating 240 calories of carrots would take more than two hours of constant chewing, he noted.
8. Weigh yourself twice a day
The scale is an important feedback tool and studies keep showing that regular and frequent self-weighing is linked with successful weight loss and maintenance, Greger writes in his book.
His twice-a-day recommendation — stepping on the scale after waking and before going to bed — is based on one study that found this habit was superior to checking it once a day.
What about people becoming obsessed with that number?
“There’s legitimate concern that it can have negative psychological consequences for people with eating disorders,” Greger said.
“But it turns out that with the exception of normal weight adolescent women and those with a history of eating disorders, having people weigh themselves every day actually has positive psychological benefits.”
A. Pawlowski is a TODAY contributing editor focusing on health news and features. Previously, she was a writer, producer and editor at CNN.