September 2, 2008

The Best Way to Curb Cravings

By Kuzemchak, Sally

How to retrain your taste buds-plus, the truth about gauging your weight-loss success. Q Is it true that if you give up fatty or sugary foods you'll eventually stop wanting them?

A Yes, provided you do it properly. "There is evidence that you can change your preferences in about 12 weeks," says Katherine Tallmadge, R.D., a dietitian in Washington, D.C., and the author of Diet Simple. A study published in the journal Appetite found that when women cut out 29 percent of the fat in their diets, their desire for foods like butter, cream sauces, and mayonnaise diminished.

The best strategy is to cut back on foods you crave-not remove them from your diet-gradually replacing them with lighter options. If you have a sweet tooth, for example, begin trading your daily candy fix for fresh fruit, like watermelon wedges or mango slices. "Over time your taste buds will anticipate the naturally sweet taste of the fruit," says Tallmadge. Just beware of "healthy" substitutes, like reduced-fat chips and diet soda. Research has shown that using fat substitutes and artificial sweeteners may actually perpetuate the craving cycle. Does this mean you need to give up your favorite foods forever? No, but you should indulge only on occasion, she says. "Once you go back to eating sweets and fatty foods frequently, your desire for them may return."

Q To figure out how well I'm doing on my diet, should I track my weight, body fat percentage, or BMI?

A All three can help you determine if you're headed in the right direction-but in different ways. "The method of measurement is less important than seeing a downward trend in the numbers," says Suzanne Koven, M.D., an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Regular weigh-ins can offer a fast, easy way to see how exercise and dietary changes are affecting your bottom line. But the scale doesn't always tell the whole story. If you're gaining muscle while losing fat, your weight may plateau or even go up. Getting your body fat percentage measured (with skin-fold calipers or a specially equipped scale) can show you how much of your frame is lean muscle mass and how much is fat.

Body mass index (BMI) is the ratio of a person's weight in relation to her height (visit to calculate yours). Women who fall within the normal range (18.5 to 24.9) have a lower risk for chronic diseases than those who are overweight (25 to 29.9) or obese (30 and above). "BMI can be a useful tool for assessing overall health," says Koven, "but it's probably the least effective way to track week-to-week successes on a weight-loss program."

Frozen fruit bars make satisfying low-sugar treats

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SALLY KUZEMCHAK is a writer and dietitian in Columbus, Ohio.

Copyright American Media, Inc. Sep 2008

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