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Home » Nutrition myths put to the test

Weight Loss Secrets from an RD

Submitted by on March 9, 2011 – 10:41 amOne Comment

Happy Registered Dietitian Day!

In case you missed the dedicated section of greeting cards commemorating this occasion in your local Hallmark store, March 9 is the (albeit self-proclaimed by the American Dietetic Association) day where we come together as a nation to recognize the important role that RDs play in helping maintain the collective health of our population.  It’s not too late to send me an Edible Arrangement!

To mark the day, I’ve decided to offer you all a glimpse into my clinical practice by sharing some common pitfalls my clients encounter when they come to me and say they “can’t” lose weight.  I see these themes over and over again, and when my clients focus on addressing them, the weight invariably starts to come down.  I figured there was no harm in offering these valuable tips up for free, since your insurance companies refuse to reimburse me for them anyway.

Three Reasons Why You’re Not Losing Weight

  • Alcohol has calories! While virtually everyone knows this intellectually, even the most obsessive calorie-counting females tend to conveniently exclude their booze when keeping mental tallies of their daily caloric intake.  A rule of thumb is that one standard sized drink contains about 100 calories, assuming it has no caloric mixers like juice or tonic water (yes; tonic water has about as many calories as a regular soda.  You can ask for diet tonic water if that’s your mixer of choice).  What’s more is that most bar and restaurant servings of wine in particular are far more generous than a typical serving size, which is a very modest 5 oz.  So if you drink one glass of wine per night on average, but the serving is closer to 8oz than 5 oz, you’re really drinking the equivalent of 11 servings of wine per week.  That’s 1,100 calories–or close to an extra day of eating per week–for a woman trying to lose weight on a 1,200 calorie per day diet.  My advice?  Measure out what 5oz of wine looks like in a typical wine glass to calibrate your idea of a 100-calorie serving, and set a weekly alcohol budget of 1/2 the number of (appropriately-sized) drinks you’re currently drinking.  When my clients who drink regularly do this, they start losing weight immediately.


  • Your low-carb mornings are sabotaging you.  I have patients who are frustrated that, after a morning and afternoon of righteous eating, their “incurable” sweet tooth rears its ugly head at around 3-4pm daily and undermines their efforts.  I have other patients who are ready to enter therapy because they think they have Binge Eating Disorder, driving them to crave–and binge on– sugar, pasta and pizza in the late afternoons and evenings, despite an otherwise healthy diet.  What do these patients have in common? After I take a diet history, I see that they’re eating almost no carbohydrates for breakfast and lunch; which, if you start counting after dinner the previous night (9pm?), means many of them go as long as 18 hours without consuming more than a trace amount of carbohydrate.  Let’s review: carbohydrates are your body’s main form of usable energy, and assuming you eat enough of them in a day, you can store about a 12 hour supply of them to fuel your body’s activities for a short period of time.  But once that supply runs out, if you don’t eat some carbs, you blood sugar will dip low enough to cause some pretty powerful cravings.  Precisely the type of cravings that can cause you to gorge yourself on the office candy jar or stand in front of the fridge shoveling spoonfuls of leftover rice from last night’s Chinese take-out.  It’s not that you have a sweet tooth, and it’s not that you have an eating disorder.  You’re just hungry.  So if this sounds like you, and your first half of the day looks like an eggwhite omelet with veggies and an 80-calorie Dannon Light-and-Fit yogurt for breakfast, followed by a salad for lunch (no bread), I might suggest adding some complex carbohydrates into the mix in the first half of the day (think whole wheat toast with that omelet, a piece of fruit with that yogurt, and a cup of lentil soup with lunch) and saving the low-carb dieting for dinnertime only. 


  • You’re not eating enough fruits and vegetables.  No one likes dieting and being told to cut out their favorite foods.  So one approach I use–for myself included– is to set my goals around foods I want to *add* into my daily diet.   If I told you you could continue to eat what you wanted so long as you also ate 2 fruits and at least 2.5 cups of veggies per day, chances are you’d lose weight.  Why?  Because all that darn fiber and water from the fruits and veggies fills you up and tends to naturally displace more calorie-dense foods from the diet.  Clients who live alone often tell me they avoid buying fruits and vegetables because they spoil before you get the chance to eat them.  To me, this is the beauty of it!  If you’re even half as frugal as I am, the thought of wasting money on uneaten food kills you.  Those fruits and veggies are ticking time bombs that must be eaten *today* before they go bad, whereas the processed snacks in your cupboard can wait a few more months and be no worse for the wear.  The choice makes itself.  Keep enough fruits and veggies on hand and before you know it, the constant pressure to eat them in time will force a healthy dietary change without your ever having to officially banish other, more calore-dense foods.  Keep your home and workspace well-stocked with easy-to-eat choices like grape tomatoes, baby carrots, sliced bell peppers, sugar snap peas, apples, bananas, grapes, clementines, pears, cantaloupes (cut in half, scrape out seeds and eat straight from the rind with a spoon), peaches, plums apricots, cherries and berries.  After all, you can’t eat them if you don’t buy them!  Along these lines, I am very skeptical of any diet that seeks to limit your fruit or vegetable intake due to their carbohydrate content–with the notable exception of watching fruit intake when you have diabetes.  Let’s be honest: no one ever got fat from eating too many carrots.

Hungry for more?

These are three common themes, but there are plenty of other pitfalls people encounter on the road to weight loss.  Any registered dietitian who’s worth her salt can look through your daily eating habits to help uncover what might be coming between you and your inner skinny.  So what better time than RD Day to make an appointment with your favorite neighborhood RD (and for you New Yorkers, that would be me!) to start addressing your nutrition and health goals for 2011?

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One Comment »

  • julie says:

    The fruits and veggies are key for me. I eat enough of them that I don’t have to worry about the rest of my diet quite as much. It makes huge difference when meat and cheese and grains are used as condiments, not the main attraction