Mediterranean-style: the healthy fats and healthy carbs diet
Just as there are "good carbs" and "bad carbs," there are good fats and bad fats. Mediterranean-style diets emphasize healthy fats and healthy carbs.
Saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol are the bad guys. Good fats are monounsaturated (found in olive oil, for example) and polyunsaturated (found in such foods as fish, canola oil, and walnuts). The Mediterranean diet advocated by Mollie Katzen and Harvard professor Walter Willett in Eat, Drink, & Weigh Less has a moderate amount of fat, but much of it comes from healthful monounsaturated fats and unsaturated omega-3 fats. It is high in carbohydrates, but most of the carbs come from unrefined, fiber-rich foods. It is also high in fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fish, with only modest amounts of meat and cheese.
People living in Mediterranean countries have a lower-than-expected rate of heart disease. But the traditional lifestyle in the region also includes lots of physical activity, regular meal patterns, wine, and good social support. It's hard to know what relative role these different factors play — but there is growing evidence that in and of itself, the Mediterranean diet can reduce cardiovascular risk and the development of diabetes.
For more on weight loss strategies, including best foods to eat and avoid, buy Lose Weight and Keep it Off, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.
Find the weight-loss plan that works for you
You've tried different diets — and have even been exercising regularly — but those extra pounds won't budge. Don't give up. It may be that you haven't yet found the weight-loss strategies that work for you.
"Everything works for some people, but no treatment is equally effective for everyone," says Dr. Lee Kaplan, director of the Obesity, Metabolism and Nutrition Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital. "No method is fundamentally better than any other. The key is finding out which therapy is best for you, and that takes trial and error."
There are many ways to approach weight loss. Of course, diet and exercise should be first. There is no shortage of diets to try: low-calorie, low-carb, fill-up-first-with-bulky-
foods, and weight-loss plans with prepackaged foods.
Beyond diet, exercise helps burn calories. Getting more sleep and lowering your stress level with biofeedback or meditation may be helpful. If you are easily discouraged, studies suggest that a support program may increase your chance of success. Options include phone, Internet, or group support, and in-person coaching. For some people, hunger-suppressing medications or weight-loss surgery can help them lose a significant amount of weight and keep it off.
Even if you don't reach your ideal weight-loss goal, you want to succeed in living a heart-healthy lifestyle. And that means being physically active, even if you don't shed a pound or lose an inch.
"Everyone should exercise regularly, not necessarily to lose weight, but because it's good for the heart, regardless of your weight," says Dr. Kaplan. "A diet low in saturated fat and high in omega-3 fatty acids and with limited salt intake can substantially reduce cardiovascular risk. However, no single facet of this diet will reliably cause weight loss," he adds.
When you are trying to lose weight, Dr. Kaplan advises you to take it one step at a time.
"Try what feels good, don't despair, and don't give up. Until we get better at understanding who has what kind of obesity, it's just a matter of finding what works best for you," he says.
To learn more about weight loss, buy Lose Weight and Keep It Off, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.