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The 10 Commandments of Dieting, Debunked

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We put 10 diet rules to the test and get the facts about them from the experts.

When and What Can You Really Eat to Lose Weight?

Bless me, reader, for I have sinned. It's been many years since my first diet, and with each attempt I've either lost weight and gained it back or slipped up and given up. It's gotten me thinking: I follow conventional weight-loss wisdom, but should I? Maybe I don't need to devoutly keep a food journal or eat every three hours. To find out, I put 10 of the top diet commandments to the test and enlisted the divine intervention of three dieting gurus. The experience was, well, enlightening.

Thou shalt eat only when hungry.

During the day this is easy; I'm so busy, I remember to eat only when my stomach growls. But temptations pop up in the evening, and I start to confuse what I want with what I need. Case(s) in point: After my 5-year-old was done with his Happy Meal, I couldn't resist finishing his fries and burger, not because I was famished but because -- hello! -- they were fries and a burger. Another night I wasn't hungry after dinner, but I ate the rest of his ice cream. (Who walks away from ice cream? Is this really my kid?)

Dieting Truth: I need to tune in to my appetite, but I also need a plan for when treats seem irresistible. "Try parallel eating: Have fruit or something that won't make you lose control while your son is having ice cream," says Madelyn Fernstrom, PhD, FITNESS advisory board member and author of The Real You Diet. I was dubious, but it works. I've also instituted a self-serve rule: Instead of putting a box of cookies on the table, I tell my son to take two and then put the container away. Out of sight, out of mouth.

Thou shalt eat a healthy breakfast.

Several cups of black coffee are usually all I have until lunchtime because I'm not hungry until noon and I'm following rule number one. Every time I tried to kick off the day obeying this rule -- whether with a Luna Bar and a banana or a bowl of oatmeal with berries -- my appetite seemed to be stoked rather than satisfied.

Dieting Truth: "People who skip breakfast tend to overeat at the next meal," says Andrea Giancoli, RD, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. Well, that's good to know, but I'm just not hungry. The pros think it's because dinner is too late. Maybe they're right: Supper is around 8 p.m., and it's often followed by a bedtime snack. Giancoli also suggested that I add protein to my breakfast to make it more satisfying. Sure enough, when I stirred a handful of nuts into my oatmeal or had cottage cheese and berries, I found that I had more energy. Plus, I wasn't ravenous later in the day, meaning that I ate less at dinner and woke up hungry.

Thou shalt eat only foods with ingredients thou can easily pronounce.

The theory behind this rule: Processed foods are unhealthy and won't satisfy you. That's why when I contemplated swapping my oatmeal for a cereal with five grams of fiber a serving -- along with maltodextrin, guar gum, cellulose gum, and BHT (WTF?) -- I went right back to my steel-cut oats breakfast. But here's a toughie: Since I can pronounce what's in the French loaf from the bakery (flour, sugar, butter, and so on), does that make it better for me than the whole-grain bread at the supermarket, which contains sodium stearoyl lactylate, menhaden oil, and triticale? (Please say yes!)

Dieting Truth: "Just because you can say butter and white flour doesn't mean they're good for you," Giancoli says. Turns out, menhaden oil is a fish oil rich in healthy omega-3s, and triticale is a nutritious hybrid of wheat and rye. So I'm dumping this rule, although after looking up BHT, which isn't just in cereal but also in jet fuel (!), I won't be eating that.

Thou shalt eat every three to four hours.

Wait a minute: Am I supposed to chow down when I'm hungry or every three hours? Yesterday I had a carne asada burrito for lunch, and I went six hours until dinner because I was stuffed. Today I had healthy snacks -- toast with peanut butter; carrots and hummus; light string cheese and a banana -- every hour or two and was pleased that I was eating when hungry rather than following what seemed like an arbitrary feeding schedule.

Dieting Truth: "Ditch this rule," advises Giancoli, who explains that while you need to eat regularly, you also have to listen to your hunger cues. "Just stick to a healthy number of total calories for the day," Fernstrom says, which you can do by following rule number six.

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5/23/2014 06:28:07 PM Report Abuse
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9/10/2013 02:05:05 AM Report Abuse
bponce26 wrote:

I do all these things and it works!

3/24/2013 08:00:48 AM Report Abuse
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1/18/2013 03:45:54 AM Report Abuse
jcastella80 wrote:

I like the way you write. I usually get very bored with "diet do's and don'ts" articles, but not this one. I just couldn't find an author's name anywhere.

1/10/2013 07:26:52 AM Report Abuse

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