At the beginning of each new year, people are inspired to start fresh and try a different path to achieve their goals in life. In its first issue of 2009, People magazine decided to help its readers achieve their weight-loss goals. Instead of focusing on just how to lose weight, the editors - nutrition experts - are encouraging Americans to choose a healthier way of life.
"We wanted this year to take a look at the eating habits of the typical People magazine reader," says Galina Espinoza, People's senior editor. "And the results, I tell you, were quite upsetting, because you feel like there is so much information out there about how to eat healthy, and what we found is that people are pretty much ignoring all of the guidelines."
Espinoza says she was troubled by the results of the magazine's new survey, "How America Eats."
"Ninety-two percent of people are not eating enough vegetables. Nintey-five percent of people are not getting enough whole grains," she says. "Over the course of four days, when we look at people's eating habits, most people - almost 70 percent - did not have a single serving of fish. Fish! There are so many studies that are saying it's the brain food that you need for proper body functioning, and people are still simply not eating what they are being told is healthy, and we need to start looking why that is the case."
Real-life weight-loss success stories offer inspiration
People also published the real-life stories of six people who lost a total of 418 kilos.
"We chose to focus not so much on how they lost the weight," she says, "but on how they got there in the first place, because what we've discovered is that until you address the reasons why you're overeating and abusing your body in this way, you can't be successful in weight loss."
One of those people succeeded in losing half her weight. Espinoza says 29-year-old Josie Raper went from 108 to 54 kilos.
"I think that a lot of people can relate [to her] because she considered herself a 'convenience food junkie,'" she says. "She just didn't have time to plan meals or cook for her family. She didn't like to, quite frankly. So she found that her life revolved around grabbing food at fast-food restaurants and take-out places. She didn't even care about what she was eating. And before long, she gained so much weight that she realized, 'You know what? I'm not leading a healthy life, and I need to change this.'"
Slimmed-down chefs share their secrets
People also interviewed a number of famous and slimmed-down chefs.
"When you consider that a chef is around food all day and working on food all day, so if those chefs could lose weight, anybody truly can," she says. "We went to them and said, 'OK, you've lost 18 to 22 kilos. How are you going to keep it off? What are you eating or cooking now that tastes good but fits into your new healthier, more low-calorie diet?' So we have four different chefs, including Morimoto, one of the stars of the reality [TV] show Iron Chef. They came up with 600-calorie meals that include an appetizer and dessert!"
All of the people who changed their eating habits and lost weight told the magazine it was a life-transforming experience.
"When they share their stories, they themselves cannot believe the person that they were only a couple of years ago," she says. "It completely transforms them in every way. It's not just a body transformation. They have more energy, more self-confidence. They feel less self-conscious. They really are prepared to live their lives with energy and enthusiasm in a way that they couldn't before."
Americans want to be healthier, not just shed pounds
Losing weight can dramatically change a person's outlook on life, agrees Carolyn O'Neil, co-author of The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous. The registered dietitian says she's noticed that her clients now want to do more than just shed a few pounds.
"What's different this year, 2009, we actually see that less people say they're going on a diet, and more people are saying they want to eat healthy for the long run," she says.
O'Neil adds many people are surprised to learn that by eating a healthy diet, they can feel more satisfied… and that can also help them achieve their weight-control goals.
"In nutrition science, we are really focused this year on a group of foods called the low-energy dense foods, as opposed to high-energy dense foods - like butter or bacon - that we know that we have to limit and just use a small amount," she says. "These [low-energy dense foods] are the foods that you can actually have a larger serving of, for the same amount of calories.
"For instance, water-containing foods, fruits and vegetables have water, but also water-containing foods like a bowl of soup - they can be part of a healthy weight management goal for 2009. Make sure you're getting in enough fiber - whole grain, bread, cereal, brown rice, nuts - of course are a good source of protein and fiber.
"And [make sure you have enough] fluids. A lot of times, if you feel tired, it's not because you don't get enough sleep. It's because you really are dehydrated."
Becoming aware of eating habits first step to better health
O'Neil says being aware of what you eat every day is fundamental to replacing bad eating habits with new healthy ones.
"One of the most powerful things you can do to lose weight this year is to keep a food diary, a daily food journal of what you're eating," she says. "Research shows… Kaiser Permanente did some research with 1,700 dieters, and they found that those who kept a food diary lost twice as much weight. It was more powerful than a kick-boxing class in helping them stick to their weight-control goals!
"The key is, you're self-monitoring. You're aware of what you're doing. 'Did I get in the fruits and vegetables I needed to eat today? Did I sneak a few french fries from a friend's plate or some cookies from the bag?' Chances are that mindless eating - where you grab something here and there - will really diminish, because you've got to write it down.
"A food diary can also be an activity diary, too. Write down, reward yourself. 'I took the stairs instead of the elevator' or 'I parked farther away at the mall and walked in. I walked three miles around the park.'"
O'Neil says sharing success stories of people who have adopted a healthier way of life and lost weight can encourage and inspire others. She admits it might take a long time, but - with determination - a healthy diet and a healthy weight are both achievable goals.