Throughout my life, I have been overweight and had trouble getting my weight down and maintaining hard-won weight loss. Most people assume, correctly, that I get a fair amount of exercise, but even with lots of cycling, walking, and a little strength training, I was still pudgy. In fact, increasing my exercise usually just made me hungrier, and caused me to eat more and gain weight! I did calorie-counting, which worked, but it was hard to stick to it, and I was often hungry and had wildly fluctuating energy levels.
Over the past four months or so, I have adopted a new way of eating, which I am reluctant to describe as a "diet" as much as a food-lifestyle (cliche I know!). During the first week or two of this new food regime, I effortlessly dropped probably 10 pounds and, more strikingly to me and people around me, my face instantly became thinner and less puffy. Now I am down to a weight I haven't seen since my first year of college fifteen years ago, and I feel great. My energy levels are stable throughout the day, and even on long bike rides, I no longer experience the roller coaster of energy levels that I futilely tried to manage before. By the BMI scale, imperfect as it may be, I have gone from "obese", passed through "overweight", and now I'm on the brink of "normal". I don't really care to share my total weight loss numbers, because people tend to get wrapped up in irrelevant numbers and comparisons and miss the point. I will describe my methods, as they have worked for me. I am not a nutrition expert and I have no idea if similar strategies will work for others. I also have no idea about the long-term health effects of my strategy, though I do have some idea about the long-term health effects of being a lard-ass.
My method is simple: no grains, and no sugars. It's probably impossible to cut these out completely, so I settle for minimizing intake of these items, and even allow the occasional indulgence. Also, some healthy foods contain a small amount of sugar - for example, most fruits contain some sugar, but I believe fruit is worth eating from a health standpoint and the modest natural sugar in most fruit is not enough to offset the positives. Also, I do not drink any calories (milk, pop, juice, sports drinks, even zero-calorie diet pop), and in general I avoid processed foods (if it comes in a box or a bag or other container and contains more than one or two ingredients, I probably don't eat it). The basis for this strategy is rooted in studies of the glycemic response and its quantitative descriptor, the glycemic index.
In a nutshell, the glycemic index (GI) is a scale that quantifies carbohydrates according to how fast they cause blood sugar to rise, followed by the corresponding insulin response. GI applies only to carbohydrates - fats and proteins do not cause a glycemic response, and therefore do not have a GI. The general belief is that foods with a higher GI, while they may or may not contain many calories, tend to trigger the storage of fat. Counter-intuitively, fatty foods that have a low GI (or no GI) do not trigger fat storage.
In addition to fat storage, high GI foods tend to cause the blood sugar to spike, and then the insulin response brings sugar levels back down. This is perceived as a fluctuating energy-level, and appetite, generally, is stimulated. I believe this is why most calorie-counting schemes are so difficult to maintain. The "healthy" breads, cereals, and sugars that we consume within the daily calorie limits tend to stimulate the appetite. By cutting these out, it is much easier to stay within the calorie limits, without making a conscious effort!
A lot of armchair nutrition experts will reflexively label my approach as extreme or unhealthy in some way that will become evident in the future. So I will make a list of what I do eat, in no particular order, and the reader can judge accordingly:
Meat, cheese, nuts, fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, eggs, potatoes, plain yogurt, dark minimally-sweetened chocolate, and coffee. I also take a daily multivitamin, just in case.
Some people laugh at this list, since it seems to encompass every type of food. But I don't drink milk (high in lactose sugar) or eat breads, cereal, sweetened items, or anything that has ingredients that I don't recognize as some sort of food.
Friends have suggested to me that bread is healthy, and I don't dispute that there may be some components of bread that are beneficial. But, on balance, I have determined that bread for me is not a good thing to eat (I feel shitty afterward, and get fat). Also, unless I make it myself, even the breads that are marketed as "healthy" tend to be junked up with all sorts of frightening ingredients. Nonetheless, the ferocity with which pro-bread people cling to this healthy-bread belief is amazing. Part of it is that breads and grains have been enshrined in the USDA food pyramid for a couple generations, and part of it, I believe, is something resembling addiction. The glycemic response of high-GI foods is a sort of "high", complete with withdrawal cycles, and just as smokers, alcoholics, potheads, and car-centric types tend to focus ridiculously on the positives of their vices, folks in the throes of a sugar-addiction are reluctant to acknowledge any criticism. In describing my "diet" to various people, saying "no bread" either makes them walk away or causes them to launch into some unfounded explanation that cutting back on bread will cause long-term damage to some of my organs (they desperately want to hear that I lost weight by riding my bike, while eating without restraint). My stance is that grain is, relative to the human species and its predecessors, a new thing. We evolved for millions of years without agriculture, subsisting on meat, fruit/vegetables, nuts, and eggs. For many of us, 5000 or even 10000 years of wheat cultivation has not been sufficient time to adjust our metabolism to this radically different food type. Your mileage may vary.
If you are overweight and have trouble losing that weight, I suggest trying my method for a week or two. What's the worst that could happen?