As the best-selling author of several diet books, I’m familiar with the various potential problems—and the supposed solutions. You might be prone to wheat belly. You might lack belly-slimming MUFAs. Perhaps you suffer from an imbalance of gut bacteria. But even if you have one of these conditions, chances are excellent the following three factors are helping to pile on the pounds and make you hold on to extra weight.
With the help of registered dietitian Mindy Hermann, RD and the Reader’s Digest health team, I went aisle by aisle through the grocery store to evaluate more than 40,000 products. Then we gathered information from popular chain-restaurant menus, along with recipes for everyday dishes you’re likely to cook at home, such as pancakes, chili, and spaghetti. The result: the ultimate guide on what to stop eating, and what to start eating, to lose. This lead to The Stop & Drop Diet. and I recommend you start with the easy fixes listed below, and follow this mix-and-match meal plan to lose weight—and keep it off.
1. Similar Foods Don’t Equal Similar Calories
Take the humble burger. If you make your patty with ground beef; top it with lettuce, tomato, a couple of slices of cheese, and a big squirt of ketchup; and plop it in a regular bun, that’s a 570-calorie meal. If, instead, you make your burger with 95 percent lean ground beef, replace the cheese with sautéed onions or mushrooms, and use less ketchup, you can slash 332 calories—without sacrificing any taste. Or consider the restaurant menu at TGI Fridays: The six-ounce sirloin with Whisky-Glaze has 130 more calories than the six-ounce grilled sirloin. Why? Extra carbs in the sauce. These are the 12 foods that will turn your meals into calorie burners.
2. Small Calorie Differences Matter
Sometimes calorie differences are not that dramatic: One slice of Pepperidge Farm Farmhouse Honey Wheat Bread is 140 calories; a piece of the brand’s Whole Grain Honey Bread is 130 calories. A Freschetta frozen pizza has 30 more calories per serving than a Newman’s Own version. The large bowl of Vegetarian Minestrone soup at Au Bon Pain has 80 more calories than the small. But over time and in larger portions, these differences add up. You could gain up to 20 pounds a year by consistently adding these few extra calories to your meals. Try these 10 sneaky tricks to cut calories from your meals.
3. Oversize Portions Befuddle Your Brain
Salads aren’t always the better option. California Pizza Kitchen has a California Fields Salad that seems harmless—until you learn it has 740 calories, 50 grams of fat, and 46 grams of sugar! Luckily, CPK offers half-size portions of its salads. Study after study has found that the more food we’re served, the more we eat. In one study from Penn State University nutrition professor Barbara Rolls, PhD, people who bought a bigger portion of pasta ate nearly 50 percent more calories than those who had a regular size.
Whether it’s because we were told to “clean your plate” as kids or because we hate to waste food or we just don’t notice how much we’re eating, this tendency to eat all we’re given has become a big problem. That’s because the portions we’re given have grown. In the mid-1950s, McDonald’s sold only one size of fries, and it was one third the size of a “supersize” order in 2002. Burger King sold only a 3.9-ounce burger in the 1950s; in 2002, one option was more than three times that size. If the only change you make to your eating habits is to make your portions smaller, you will shed calories and pounds.
The Stop & Drop solution
No one wants to outlaw carbs, subsist on smoothies, or forgo dessert forever. As any serial dieter can tell you, too-restrictive plans are almost impossible to stick with. This is my first book that includes comprehensive information for people who frequently eat out and rely on convenience foods. You’ll learn how making smart choices at every meal and snack can add up to big calorie savings—and a big change on the scale. You stop eating unhealthy versions of the foods you love so you can drop the weight—up to a pound a day.
The heart of The Stop & Drop Diet is a three-phase plan that offers mix-and-match meals that are calorie-controlled and nutritionally balanced. Kickstart, the first phase, accelerates weight loss so you can shed pounds quickly for maximum motivation. The second phase, Steady Loss, allows a slightly higher calorie allowance—you keep losing weight while still enjoying your favorite foods so you don’t feel deprived. The final part, Maintain, ensures you stick to your healthy habits to keep the weight off.
But the soul of the plan is a comprehensive guide to the best (and worst) food choices wherever you are, whether you’re cooking at home, perusing the grocery store, or dining out. Across soups, salads, breakfasts, sandwiches, main dishes, drinks, desserts, and snacks, Mindy and I identified more than 700 delicious, accessible foods to eat and drop weight.
To ensure that Stop & Drop Diet was as simple and effective as I envisioned, I recruited nine Reader’s Digest readers and employees to try it with me. Every single one of us lost weight—at least a pound a day in the first five days for the majority. Everyone agreed that the plan was easy and convenient. “I needed something that would fit with my hectic schedule,” says Karen Woytach, 34, a stay-at-home mom of three who lost 18 pounds after 21 days. “Knowing I can go to the grocery store, stick to my budget, and feed my whole family is a huge part of why I was so successful.” Angela Mastrantuono, 47, who dropped eight pounds in the first five days, “couldn’t believe the foods you’re allowed to eat.” For Donna Lindskog, 48, it was all about Stop & Drop Diet’s flexibility. “It gave me solutions I could easily find at a fast-food place or restaurant,” says Lindskog, who shed 12 pounds in 12 days. “I was eating more balanced meals, so I had fewer cravings. I was more satisfied while eating less.”
The nutrition behind the diet
You can lose weight if you make swaps based purely on calorie counts, but over time you might deprive yourself of valuable nutrients. I worked with registered dietitian Mindy Hermann to make sure all the meals in Stop & Drop Diet are high in protective nutrients and low in health-harming ingredients. Power up with:
Lean protein to boost metabolism and muscle strength. Dieters on a high-protein, high-dairy diet lost more fat and gained more muscle than those eating less protein and dairy.
Fiber to keep you full. Researchers compared a high-fiber oatmeal breakfast with low-fiber cornflakes. Oatmeal eaters had less at their next meal. Here are 30 ways to get fiber in your diet without even trying.
Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), found in nuts and olive oil, to help shed dangerous belly fat.
Calcium to burn more calories. In the Framingham Heart Study, people who ate the most dairy gained less weight and fewer inches around their waists than people who ate less dairy.
Vitamin C to boost your immune system and fat loss. People deficient in vitamin C may have a harder time shedding not only colds but also pounds.
And stop eating:
Saturated and trans fats, which may raise cholesterol and increase inflammation. The 41,000 people in the Harvard Nurses’ Health Study were more likely to gain weight if their diet was high in these fats.
Sodium, which may raise blood pressure and cause bloating.
Added sugars and other refined carbs, which contain empty calories and raise blood sugar.
Each day of the Stop & Drop Diet meal plan provides about:
- 60 g protein
- 25 g fiber
- Less than 2,400 mg sodium
- 75 mg vitamin C
- 1,000 mg calcium