And, having read a zillion books and websites, watched a bunch of Oprahs, done some ad hoc interviews of healthy, trim peeps and lived a yogic lifestyle, I can tell you that IMO it's gospel.
I didn't need a naturopath to advise me I was eating hundreds of empty calories each day. But I did need her to remind me that a food diary - something I'd maintained on and off for 10 years - was the key to my rediscovered attention. Remember my goal was multifaceted. I wasn't switching up the diet to get skinny. Rather, I was desperate not to succumb to the next bug my child brought home from daycare, optimistic that my pallid skin might show some underlying pinkness - the sign of improved health. (Mind you, if skinny was the side-effect, I sure as hell wasn't going to knock it.)
To reiterate: If you change everything about the way you eat restrictively and with a sole aim of weight loss, you are setting yourself up to fail. Reason: You're not going to be able to live on bean sprouts forever. Just ask Oprah.
On the topic of modifying my personal eating habits, here's what I did for the first 6 months:
- Cut out sugar - only moderate amounts of fruit sugar*
- Cut out all refined foods
- Moderated carb intake (though not in a crazy way)
- Ate various amounts of fat and protein to determine what combination of food building blocks suits my body chemistry best (energy levels / over all good feeling)**
- Reduced the number of calories I ate per day (I set a reasonable upper limit and did not exceed it.) The goal was to make all the calories I did eat nutritionally dense.
- Bought a scale and stepped on it once a week
- Determined how certain foods made me feel (physically, mentally) and increased or decreased them
- Ate lots of veggies (I always had and still do), nuts and seeds
- Didn't drink more than one coffee and one 5 oz glass of wine per day
- Recorded everything in a food diary***
At this point I feel it's obligatory to say that I'm not writing this to suggest you go out and try my methodology. I did a lot of research and made decisions based on my own informed perspective. It seems to have worked well for me. But we are all different and bring different bodies and health concerns and experiences to the table. If you're a person who's struggled with an eating disorder, keeping a food diary may not be the best idea. If you've got certain circulatory challenges, a diet high in fat (even good fat) may be contraindicated.
Not to mention that, in subtext, we all eat for different reasons and with unique appetite. I'll disclose that I do not go hungry but, given how much I exercise - and how much I'd consume unchecked, I rarely eat unconsciously or with abandon. Mind you, I've made it a mantra to enjoy every morsel of food that I do ingest.
A while ago I read a fascinating book (The Secrets of Skinny Chicks by Karen Bridson). In it, the author interviewed a bunch of women (none "thin by body-type") of various ages, careers, lifestyles, heights and weights, and relates (in detail) what each of them does to stay "on the thin end of healthy". And let me tell you, it's a trip. They all exercise upwards of 1-2 hours a day and eat, almost to a one, under 1800 calories. And they know exactly how to support their end goals within the parameters of their own body chemistries. Now, they do all eat healthfully and their diets are nutritionally balanced (though I question whether the book promotes over-exercise). But each one takes pains to clarify that thinness takes constant vigilance for her, and it's a choice. Much like eating a piece of cake is a choice.
For a trashy read, it really reframed a lot of my opinions. We're used to hearing hypnotically thin women in popular media decry food restriction. Apparently, they all hike in canyons and do Pilates 3x a week. And while we've long - and openly - suspected it isn't true, it's strangely empowering to read about this overclass exposed.
But never mind that book, if you're only gonna read one. Because, if that's the case, I strongly advise you make it Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes. This tome, authored by an award-winning science journalist, who merely presents findings of FDA studies done over the past hundred years or so, makes a scary compelling case about the dearth in value in the modern North American diet. And about the evilness of the FDA. And about the relevancy of controlling your consumption of sugar for some pretty good reasons. He doesn't suggest you live any particular way - this is not a diet book - but he does want to throw out substantiate facts and explain why your current views about nutrition may not be accurate. Oh, keep your first year bio text handy. This is not a light read.
*If the thought of doing this makes you want to poke at your eye with a stick, chances are you are an addict. And abusing sugar for the long term can bring on some pretty nasty results from tooth decay to weight gain to lowered immune response to insulin resistance to diabetes. OK, lecture over and out.
**Note: For me - and this is not an endorsement of any particular style of eating - I am much calmer and more sated on a diet that is higher in fat and protein than the AMA suggests. I average 40% fat and 30% protein but these are from high quality and healthy food sources - except the gelato :-).
*** I can't say enough about my love of the food diary. In truth, I'm a list-maker by nature, so it's a fun activity as far as I'm concerned. But it's so edifying! You'd be amazed by how much of something you actually eat (once you start paying attention) or how often you go after a certain food. Or what time of day you tend to eat crap. Or how much you aren't drinking water. I particularly recommend Diet Detective, an online food diary which provides a huge database of foods and forms of exercise, and many other features to assist you in being conscious about food consumption.