WASHINGTON — As a board-certified family medicine physician,
Dr. Shilpi Agarwal hears from a number of patients who try — and fail at — fad diets. She has even tested out a few herself, and has some advice for anyone ready to juice, cleanse or subsist on shakes.
“Whenever you’re looking to start a healthy jump-start to your life, you want to make some positive changes in your diet, exercise — keep in mind that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” said Agarwal, who is based in Bethesda, Maryland.
The never-ending health hacks that populate celebrity social media accounts and magazines are what inspired Agarwal to write her book, “
The 10-Day Total Body Transformation,” which, in a way, also sounds too good to be true. But, Agarwal said it isn’t.
“Losing 10 pounds in 10 days, that’s not something I promise,” she said. “The goal is habit formation … I think it’s hard for people because there is so much health information. We get it from all different angles, and it can be hard to figure out (what) is correct and (what) is a fad.”
Agarwal said when you stick to the facts and implement good habits, you’ll start to notice a difference in as little as 10 days — even if it’s just in how you feel.
Here are some of her top tips that draw from the book and from her experience practicing medicine:
Set a goal and don’t focus on the number
Interested in running a 5K? Want to kick your dependence on dessert? Agarwal said think about what it is that makes you feel healthy, and work toward that goal.
“Don’t focus on the numbers. Focus on the parameters that you think are healthy. If it means you can walk up a flight of stairs without getting short of breath, that’s just as important as the number on the scale,” Agarwal said.
How many times have you heard someone say, “The diet starts Monday?”
When it comes to getting healthy, the most common pitfall Agarwal sees is “not starting.”
“People love to start on a Monday … and then, they have a crazy weekend of eating on Saturday and Sunday and then, they say, ‘Well, Monday I’m going to start my diet.’ No. Just pick any day and start because the right day is today, in my opinion,” Agarwal said.
Get a water bottle
If Agarwal could recommend one “superfood” to support a healthy lifestyle, it would be water.
“Water is really underrated. We all tend to drink a lot of coffee, we tend to drink a lot of soda, and I think if you can replace that with water, that change alone, people start to feel better,” she said.
Her best piece of advice for patients is to get two water bottles — one for work and one for home — and keep them full.
“That way, if you have the water filled up, you’re more likely to finish it before you go to bed or before you leave the office. It’s the easiest thing and it makes a big difference,” Agarwal said.
Another important ‘diet’ ingredient? Sleep
“If you don’t get adequate sleep, you’re not just going to be in a bad mood, you’re not just going to feel tired, but you will affect your weight long-term — you won’t be able to lose weight as quickly and you will actually add on weight over time,” Agarwal said.
This is because sleep is the body’s chance to rebuild, remodel and “reset our hormones.”
“And, if those hormone levels get shifted in the wrong direction, it can make us more hungry, more tired, more likely to reach for those not-as-good foods to get that immediate reward,” Agarwal said.
When it comes to eating, be realistic
Of course, eating only fresh produce and natural sources of proteins is ideal, but Agarwal said we live in a busy world, and we are sometimes going to need to reach for, and rely on, packaged foods. Just keep it in check.
“Avoiding as much as possible or limiting the amount of processed foods is a good idea … and then, when you are looking at the labels, look at the number of ingredients first. It’s an easy place to start. If it has 50 ingredients, a lot of things you can’t pronounce, rethink it,” she said.
“Is there a better version that has fewer ingredients?”
AP Photo/Patrick Sison
Avoid added sugars
While you’re looking at a product’s list of ingredients, also check out the nutrition facts panel and zone in on the added sugar. Agarwal said sugar tends to sneak up in the most unassuming foods.
“There’s added sugars in a lot of things we don’t think about. We don’t think pasta sauce could have added sugar; we don’t think ketchup would have added sugar. We don’t think that things that traditionally taste salty could actually have a lot of added sugars,” she said.
Yogurt is another “healthy food” that can be loaded with sugar. Agarwal said if you prefer yogurt with fruit on the bottom, try to eat most of the yogurt on top and just take a small skim of the jam-like fruit. If fresh fruit is available, piling that into plain yogurt is a much better option.
(AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
Don’t let the weekend wreck you
Between happy hour on Friday, dinner out on Saturday and brunch with friends on Sunday, weekend plans can wreck healthy habits. Agarwal said there’s still room to indulge on your days off; just reign it in a bit.
“I think instead of picking the whole weekend as your cheat time, pick a meal that you’re really going to enjoy and indulge, and pick high-quality stuff,” she said.
You’ll likely feel crummy, physically, after a weekend of poor eating, and also mentally.
“Your thinking is really cloudy, too, after having a week of good eating, but then adding back all of these things, like processed carbs, a lot of sugars, a lot of alcohol. So, you want to focus on what things are good for your mind,” Agarwal said.
A little self care goes a long way
Self care is a big buzzword these days, but Agarwal said people are often confused by its meaning. She explained it embodies activities that help you relax mentally.
“But also just taking a small amount of time for yourself, and that could be something as easy as taking a class by yourself, learning something new,” she said.
“It’s a very important way to get in tune with ourselves and stay healthy because (physical) health does start from mental health. If you’re not mentally healthy, it’s very hard to focus on the rest of it.”
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