The post-binge diet: you ate too much, you drank too much—now it’s time to get back on track. Our four-week no-deprivation plan eases you into losing weight so the pounds stay off

The post-binge diet: you ate too much, you drank too much—now it’s time to get back on track. Our four-week no-deprivation plan eases you into losing weight so the pounds stay off – Motivation Special

Jenna Schnuer

Before you launch into a quick-fix diet to make up for all the eating sins you committed over the holidays, hold on a minute. There is a better (and tastier) way to lose weight. How does this sound: an easy-to-follow four-week program that includes delicious, filling food all month long with no crash at the beginning–or at the end?

Most experts agree that the safest and most lasting weight loss is 1/2-2 pounds per week. “Slow weight loss doesn’t mean no weight loss,” says Sue Cummings, M.S., R.D., clinical program coordinator at Massachusetts General Hospital Weight Center in Boston. That’s why this plan focuses on a gradual downshift in calories (over the first three weeks) until you hit weight-loss mode (which will happen for most women in the fourth week of our diet plan). At the same time, you’ll gradually build up a series of healthy habits that will serve you well while you’re losing weight and beyond. By the end of Week 4 you’ll have all the tools you’ll need to reach your weight-loss goals.

So if you’re ready to get started–and you’re prepared to give crash diets the boot–read on for the simple strategies that will get you on the road to lasting weight loss now.

THE POST-BINGE PLAN

WEEK 1: reality check

This week take stock of where you are–and where you want to be.

* Recognize that the past is past. You’ve made a decision to take better care of yourself. Now stop beating yourself up. “Let bygones be bygones,” advises Anthony Fabricatore, Ph.D., instructor of psychology with the University of Pennsylvania Health System Weight and Eating Disorders Program in Philadelphia. Instead, notice what you did right during the holidays, he says: “It could be something as liberal as having had [only] two pieces of pie when you would normally have had three.”

* Keep track of how many calories you eat on a normal (nonholiday) day. This week, don’t diet. Just eat the way you did before the holidays rolled around. Your task, starting this week: Write everything down. Food diaries “give you the biggest bang for the buck. You learn a lot about your eating habits,” Fabricatore says. Count calories as you go by using The Complete Book of Food Counts (Dell Publishing, 2003), or visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Nutrient Database online at www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/cgi-bin/nut_search.pl. At the end of seven days, divide your total week’s calories by seven to get a daily average. You’ll continue tracking calories throughout the plan.

* Figure your daily calorie intake goal for weight loss. See “How Many Calories Should I Eat to Lose Weight?” on the opposite page for help.

* Restock your kitchen. Clear your cupboards and refrigerator of any seasonal treats, leftovers or other high-calorie foods lying in wait to sabotage your weight-loss efforts. This kitchen cleaning will make room for a shopping trip featuring healthful foods that satisfy and fill you up. On your shopping list put fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, fish and chicken (plan ahead, too, by freezing some now for hectic days to come), and don’t forget the lowfat dairy (milk, yogurt and cheese). To satisfy your used-to-variety holiday palate, branch out from your usual shopping list and buy a fruit and vegetable you haven’t tried before. Or select a new type of grain; one bite of tasty quinoa and you won’t miss the buttery mashed potatoes you’ve been cozying up to since November.

* Measure up. You can’t get a true calorie count if you don’t know how much mayo is on that sandwich. Use measuring cups, spoons and a kitchen scale to find out how much you’re really eating. You need to “educate your eye,” says Judith S. Stern, Sc.D., R.D., vice president and co-founder of the American Obesity Association in Washington, D.C. After two weeks, test yourself by guessing the portion size before you put something on the scale or in a measuring cup.

WEEK 2: progress begins

This week you’ll start to cut calories–but not flavor or satisfaction–while introducing three simple new habits.

* Make your first reduction in daily calories, by one-third of the difference between what you were eating during Week 1 and your calorie intake goal for weight loss (Week 4).

* Put breakfast to work for you. The morning meal jump-starts your metabolism for the day: Research shows that people who eat breakfast burn 200-300 calories more per day, says Marilyn Majchrzak, M.S., R.D., corporate food development manager for the Canyon Ranch Health Resorts. One energizing morning option that features a combination of protein, carbs and fat: 1 tablespoon of peanut butter on two slices of whole-grain bread, an orange and coffee with lowfat milk.

* Distract yourself when cravings strike.

Do evenings bring dreams of Chunky Monkey? To combat the urge, “I would change my behavior [at] night,” advises Cathy Nonas, R.D., author of Outwit Your Weight (Rodale, 2002). “This is a habit. It’s not a chemical addiction. Brush your teeth. Go to bed early. Put on a face pack. Exercise.”

* Slow down. “A lot of people who are overweight tend to be fast eaters,” Fabricatore says. Take at least 20 minutes to eat each meal. Your brain needs time to get the message that you’ve fed your body. Slow your meals down and you’ll find you don’t need as much food to feel satisfied.

WEEK 3: staying the course

Do another calorie cut this week, while paying attention to what keeps you motivated and energized.

* Reduce your calorie intake again, by another third of the difference between what you were eating during Week 1 and your calorie intake goal for Week 4.

* Cut yourself some slack. “It’s not what you do in a day, it’s what you do in a week, in a month [that counts],” says Sue Cummings. “Our bodies [balance] energy over time.” So if you eat too much at one meal, write that in your food diary, forget about it and get back on track with the next meal.

* Beat boredom by adding at least one new food each week. It’s easy to fall into a rut when you’re counting calories. Strive to keep adding new, flavorful foods–maybe soy “burgers” as a different protein source, or an exotic rice like basmati or jasmine, both varieties smelling as delicious as they taste.

Look how our sample menu changes from Week 1 (an overeater’s paradise) to Week 4 (a weight-loss way to go) to see how easy it is to drop 300 calories daily without losing flavor, fullness or motivation. (The week-to-week changes are subtle, so we’re printing them in italics to show you how a small change can make a big difference in calories.) Weeks 1-3 are intended to show a typical high calorie intake; these meals are not recommended for weight loss.

WEEK 1: WHAT NOT TO EAT

Breakfast (585 cal.) 1 1/2 cups raisin bran (285 cal.) with 1 cup whole milk (160 cal.), 1 cup orange juice (110 cal.), 1 cup coffee (10 cal.) with 1 tablespoon half-and-half (20 cal.)

Midmorning snack (160 cal.) 1 container lowfat lemon yogurt (160 cal.), glass of sparkling water

Lunch (900 cal.) Tuna salad on rye (350 cal.), 1 cup tomato soup (160 cal.), 3 oatmeal cookies (240 cal.), can of soda (150 cal.)

Midafternoon snack (220 cal.) 2 ounces pretzels (220 cal.)

Dinner (503 cal.) 3 1/2 ounces broiled salmon (180 cal.), 1 1/2 cups broccoli (105 cal.), 1 medium sweet potato (118 cal.) with 1 tablespoon butter (100 cal.)

Evening snack (290 cal.) 1 cup lowfat ice cream (240 cal.) with 2 tablespoons chocolate fudge topping (50 cal.)

Total calories: 2,658

WEEK 2: 300 CALORIES DOWN

Breakfast (445 cal.) 1 cup raisin bran (190 cal.) with 1 cup whole milk, 1 orange (65 cal.), 1 cup coffee with 1/4 cup 2% milk (30 cal.)

Midmorning snack (160 cal.) 1 container lowfat lemon yogurt, glass of sparkling water

Lunch (670 cal.) Tuna salad on rye, 1 cup tomato soup, 2 oatmeal cookies (160 cal.), diet soda (0 cal.)

Midafternoon snack (300 cal.) 2 ounces pretzels, medium apple (80 cal.)

Dinner (560 cal.) 3 1/2 ounces broiled salmon, 1 1/2 cups broccoli, 1 medium sweet potato topped with 1 tablespoon butter, 1 cup cantaloupe (57 cal.)

Evening snack (230 cal.) 3/4 cup lowfat ice cream (180 cal.) with 2 tablespoons chocolate fudge topping

Total calories: 2,375

WEEK 3: 600 CALORIES DOWN

Breakfast (286 cal.) Greek Omelet With Tomatoes and Feta Cheese (109 cal.; see recipe on the opposite page), 1 slice wholegrain toast (80 cal.), 1 cup cantaloupe (57 cal.), 1 cup coffee with 1/4 cup 2% milk

Midmorning snack (160 cal.) 1 container lowfat lemon yogurt, glass of sparkling water

Lunch (670 cal.) Tuna salad on rye, 1 cup tomato soup, 2 oatmeal cookies, diet soda

Midafternoon snack (300 cal.) 2 ounces pretzels, medium apple

Dinner (421 cal.) 3 1/2 ounces broiled salmon, 1 1/2 cups broccoli, 1 medium sweet potato topped with 3 tablespoons salsa (18 cal.)

Evening snack (230 cal.) 3/4 cup lowfat ice cream with 2 tablespoons chocolate fudge topping

Total calories: 2,067

WEEK 4: 900 CALORIES DOWN

Breakfast (304 cal.) Greek Omelet With Tomatoes and Feta Cheese, 2 slices whole-grain toast (160 cal.), 1 cup coffee with 1/4 cup 1% milk (25 cal.)

Midmorning snack (114 cal.) 2 cups cantaloupe (114 cal.)

Lunch (281 cal.) Sesame Quinoa Salad With Shrimp (281 cal.; see recipe on page 144), diet soda

Midafternoon snack (243 cal.) 1 oz. almonds (163 cal.), medium apple

Dinner (589 cal.) Green salad with 1 tablespoon each olive oil and balsamic vinegar (120 cal.), Chicken Curry With Brown Rice and Peas (399 cal.; see recipe on page 144), 1 cup broccoli (70 cal.)

Evening snack (230 cal.) 3/4 cup lowfat ice cream with 2 tablespoons chocolate fudge topping

Total calories: 1,761

DAILY CALORIES SAVED: 897

WEEK 4 & BEYOND: going for the goal

You should feel healthy and strong–now you’re ready to set out toward reaching your goal weight.

* Reduce your daily calories by one-third for the last time. You now should be at the daily calorie intake you targeted in Week 1. Repeat Week 4 until you get to your goal weight.

* Treat yourself to a just reward. You’ve worked very hard to develop new habits and downshift your over-the-top holiday eating. A new pair of athletic shoes, a pedometer or a personal training session or two will go a long way to keeping you motivated.

* Experiment with adding herbs and spices. Canyon Ranch includes herbs and spices on its own food pyramid because they provide so much flavor to lower-fat meals. Some even offer health benefits: Ginger, which perks up stir-fries, aids in digestion, and turmeric, used in curries, may help fight infection.

* Take charge at restaurants. Appetizers are much closer to the amount of food any of us should eat at a restaurant meal, Majchrzak says. Order soup and one appetizer for dinner, or try Fabricatore’s tip: Decide on something healthful before you even look at the menu. “Then, on the menu, find the thing that’s closest to what’s in your head,” he says. Don’t be afraid to place a special order–most restaurants will be happy to serve you what you want.

Jenna Schnuer, a New York City-based free-lance writer, was a teenage dropout of the “ice cream and bananas diet.”

RECIPES

One satisfying day The following three dishes prove that losing weight and deprivation needn’t go hand-in-hand. Delicious, filling and packed with nutrients, this breakfast, lunch and dinner will soon become part of your repertoire of favorite meals.

–By Robin Vitetta-Miller, M.S.

Breakfast

Greek Omelet With Tomatoes and Feta Cheese

Serves 2

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 4-6 minutes

Note: If you’re short on time, instead of making an omelet you can scramble the eggs by cooking them as instructed, but stir frequently with a spatula or wooden spoon.

Nutrient note Egg whites are an excellent source of high-quality protein, with 4 grams per egg white.

Olive-oil cooking spray

6 large egg whites

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 cup diced fresh tomatoes

1/2 cup diced green bell peppers

2 tablespoons crumbled feta

cheese

Salt and ground black pepper

1. Spray a large nonstick skillet with cooking spray and set pan over medium-high heat.*

2. Whisk together egg whites and oregano. Add egg mixture to pan and cook 3-5 minutes, until egg whites are cooked through to the top, frequently lifting the sides of egg whites with a spatula to allow uncooked portions to slide underneath (tilt the pan to help them do this).

3. Top one side of egg mixture with tomatoes, bell pepper and feta cheese. Using the spatula, fold over untopped side. Cook omelet 1 more minute, until feta melts.

4. Season to taste with salt and black pepper and cut omelet in half to serve.

Nutrition Score per serving (1/2 omelet): 109 calories, 30% fat (3.6 g; 2 g saturated), 20% carbs (5 g), 50% protein (14 g), 1 g fiber, 97 mg calcium, 1 mg iron, 347 mg sodium.

Lunch

Sesame Quinoa Salad With Shrimp

Serves 4

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes

Nutrient note Quinoa is the only whole grain that’s also a complete protein, boasting all the essential amino acids.

1 cup uncooked quinoa

1 pound cooked medium shrimp,

peeled and deveined

1 yellow or red bell pepper,

seeded and diced

3 tablespoons chopped fresh

cilantro

2 green onions, minced

2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

1 tablespoon sesame oil

Salt and ground black pepper

1. Combine quinoa and 2 cups of water in a medium saucepan. Set pan over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook 10 minutes, until liquid is absorbed and quinoa is translucent.

2. Remove from heat and stir in next 6 ingredients. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Serve warm or chilled.

Nutrition Score per serving (1 1/4 cups): 281 calories, 21% fat (6 g; <1 g saturated), 44% carbs (31 g), 35% protein (25 g), 4 g fiber, 40 mg calcium, 3 mg iron, 199 mg sodium.

Try a new fruit or veggie every week to beat boredom.

Dinner

Chicken Curry With Brown Rice and Peas

Serves 4

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes

Nutrient note Chicken is an excellent source of high-quality lean protein, brown rice is rich in fiber and B vitamins, and sour cream offers bone-building calcium.

2 teaspoons olive or peanut oil

1/2 cup diced yellow onion

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger

1 pound skinless, boneless

chicken breasts, cut into

1-inch pieces

2 teaspoons curry powder

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 cup reduced-sodium chicken

broth

2 cups uncooked instant brown

rice

1 cup frozen green peas

1/2 cup nonfat sour cream

2 tablespoons minced fresh

chives

1. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic and ginger and saute 2 minutes. Add chicken and saute 3 minutes, until golden on all sides.

2. Add curry powder, coriander, salt and black pepper to pan and stir to coat chicken. Add chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer 10 minutes, until chicken is cooked through.

3. Meanwhile, bring 2 1/4 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add rice, reduce heat to low, cover and cook 8 minutes. Add green peas, cover and cook 2 more minutes, until liquid is absorbed.

4. Remove chicken mixture from heat and stir in sour cream and chives. To serve, spoon chicken mixture over rice and peas.

Nutrition Score per serving (1 cup chicken mixture, 2/3 cup rice and peas): 399 calories, 16% fat (7 g; 1 g saturated), 48% carbs (48 g), 36% protein (36 g), 4 g fiber, 73 mg calcium, 2 mg iron, 502 mg sodium.

Robin Vitetta-Miller, M.S., is a food writer in Yardley, Pa.

RELATED ARTICLE: how many calories should I eat to lose weight?

Here’s an easy formula for estimating what you need to take in daily to shed a safe amount of weight every week (1/2-2 pounds).

1. What’s your goal weight?

To find a healthy number, go to Shape.com/tools/idealweight.

2. How active are you? If you exercise three or four times per week for one hour, multiply your goal weight by 15. If you don’t exercise at all, multiply by 13, and if you work out an hour per day nearly every day, multiply by 20. This is the daily calorie intake you’re working toward.

3. How many calories do you need to cut? Subtract the total from step 2 from the average daily calories you tallied at the end of Week 1. During each of the remaining three weeks of the plan, cut down your daily calories by one-third of this number.

Example: Your goal weight is 135, you haven’t been exercising lately and your average daily calorie tally during Week 1 was 2,655:

135 (goal weight) X 13 (activity level) = 1,755 (daily calorie intake at goal weight)

2,655 (daily current calorie intake) – 1,755 (daily calorie intake at goal weight) = 900

Cut one-third of your daily calories (300 calories in this example) each week, starting in Week 2 until you hit weight-loss mode in Week 4. Your daily calorie intake would then be 2,355 for Week 2; 2,055 for Week 3; and 1,755 calories for Week 4 and beyond.

RELATED ARTICLE: Why crash diets ALWAYS FAIL

Simply put, a diet based on deprivation doesn’t do a body good. For starters, a dramatic reduction in calories often has a diuretic effect, says Sue Cummings, clinical program coordinator at Massachusetts General Hospital Weight Center in Boston. That means the initial drop you see on the scale isn’t fat melting away; it’s simply water loss. Eat less than 1,200 calories a day–the minimum amount most women need to keep all systems go–and you will likely burn lean muscle mass instead of fat, says Lona Sandon, R.D., an American Dietetic Association spokesperson and an assistant professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. Drop below the minimum needed just for breathing and organ function (the calorie amount varies, but this is typically around 900 calories daily) and your body shifts into starvation mode; it won’t want to give up a bit of its precious energy stores (i.e., fat). Other crash-diet drawbacks include low energy, disrupted sleep, hunger and extreme irritability. “Overall, your emotional outlook won’t be pleasant [on a too-low-calorie diet],” Sandon says.

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