The Anti-Diet

by Amy Hendel, P.A. Health Writer

For those with serious weight issues, it's advised that you follow a diet that includes best food choices, portion amounts, certain salt, fat and sugar restrictions, a target total daily calories, and the list goes on and on. It's probably recommended that the diet also have elements that resonate with:

  • your work schedule - since food preparation can take time

  • your financial status - since you may not be able to afford to buy more expensive cuts of leaner meat or certain more expensive fruits

  • your personality - do you like to snack, is a more rigid approach necessary, do you travel a lot, and other factors.

Dieting can be confounding because life often "gets in the way," and because weight issues can really entrench themselves, making even realistic weight loss goals impossible to attain. So are diets even worth it?

A recent article in the New York Times by a writer who focuses on nutrition, suggests that some, if not many of the dieting protocols we follow, may lack science and can often offer too many rules, most of which are "don'ts" rather than "do's." The pediatrician, Dr. Aaron Carroll, professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine, decided to simplify the basic rules, in an effort to engage the average person looking to lose some weight and improve their health. His recommendations echo many of my own common recommendations. I also think they are worthy of being called The Anti-Diet Diet, because they are simple, intuitive guidelines which most people can follow.

Let most of your dietary choices be unprocessed foods

Upon commitment to this "Anti-Diet," you avoid foods and drinks notoriously high in sodium, sugar and unhealthy fats. It means you embrace whole foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, fish, poultry, and eggs. These are good-for-you foods that are nutrient rich. These foods lend themselves to simple, delicious, healthy meals and snacks. You will also recognize all the ingredients.

When you do choose processed foods, tread lightly

Start to consider processed foods (most of them) as treat foods. Pasta is a processed food, and so are most breads, nutrition bars, and store-bought juices. We need to be more cautious with how often we eat these foods, portion size, and we need to focus on selecting winners (whole grains, high fiber, lower calorie loads) when making selections. We also need to differentiate between a "lightly processed" food like a box of brown rice, and a highly processed food like fried chicken, which should be eaten very infrequently.

Cook at home as much as possible

When at home, you control ingredients, you control portion sizes, and you control the menu plan. There's also more of an opportunity to use swap outs like fresh or dried herbs, vinegars, plain yogurt for fatty ingredients like mayonnaise or for salt (notoriously lurking in processed foods).

Choose restaurants that follow similar rules to your home-cooking

Many restaurants now offer transparency, listing ingredients, food preparation methods, and allowing you to modify the dishes on request. Many of us still choose to eat out a lot or buy foods from restaurants to make life easier, so at minimum, spend more time selecting a more health-conscious establishment.

Drink mostly water and unsweetened tea or coffee

Kids have certain calcium needs to meet for proper growth, so milk or non-dairy milk is a key component of their diet. As adults, creamers can add loads of extra fat and calories to our diet, and using packets of sugar or buying sweetened beverages is associated with weight gain and health risks.

Occasional alcohol or a fresh squeezed glass of juice is fine. But beware smoothies as meals - they are not as satisfying as chewing real food, and unless you control the ingredients, they can be calorie bombs. If the drink has more than 20 calories, it's a treat, not a meal.

Eat with other people, people you care about

Dr. Carroll and other experts (like me) believe this will inspire more cooking and home entertaining. It will also slow down your eating patterns at the meal, since you are talking too. Eating with others also changes the nature of the meal, making it a more socially fulfilling engagement. That means you may be less likely to feel like food is filling a void in your life. Fill that void with social connections instead.

Will this approach work for everyone? If you choose to follow these guidelines even some of the time, you will more than likely experience weight loss and better health. And yes, some people may not be good candidates for just these guidelines - if they are seriously overweight or obese, or if they have serious health risks associated with their weight. But these rules can be a good starting point for even those individuals.

For the rest of us, I think individuals and families can benefit from this Anti-Diet diet!

Amy Hendel, P.A.
Meet Our Writer
Amy Hendel, P.A.

Known as "The HealthGal", Amy Hendel P.A. is a medical and lifestyle reporter, nutrition and fitness expert, health coach and brand ambassador. Trained as a physician assistant, she maintains a health coach private practice in New York and Los Angeles. Author of The Four Habits of Healthy Families, find her on Twitter @Healthgal1103 and on Facebook @TheHealthGal. Check “Daily Health News” at Her personal mantra? “Fix it first with food, fitness, and lifestyle.”