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What You Love Diet

You've seen the promise before — "Eat all your favorite foods and lose weight." The skeptic in you thinks, Are you kidding me? Eating all my favorite foods is how I gained weight in the first place. But this time, it's for real. This plan features famous favorites, as well as swaps in case you prefer other indulgences.

There's a scientific reason for following a weight-loss program that doesn't involve wholesale deprivation. Dieters who restrict themselves too much—give up all or most of an entire food category, like fat or carbs — for even just three days get an irresistible yearning for the food they're not allowed to have. That's what prominent obesity researcher Janet Polivy, Ph.D., and her colleagues at the University of Toronto have found. Even anticipated deprivation — you know you're about to start a diet — can trigger the mother of all eating binges in the days beforehand. This phenomenon is so common, researchers have coined a name for it: the "Last Supper effect."

It's all about survival. "You can't stop eating. It's like holding your breath indefinitely underwater," says Mehmet Oz, M.D., host of The Dr. Oz Show and a cardiac surgeon at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia in New York City. "So your body has a very concrete set of systems that reinforce the need for you to eat."

The problem with deprivation, even of calories, "is that you violate the biology of blubber," says Dr. Oz. What happens is this: When you're trying to lose weight, your body is rarely up for it. It doesn't interpret "diet" the way you do, as a way to get healthy and fit into your bathing suit this summer. Lose just a few pounds, and your body thinks, She's starving! and swings into action. "Low-calorie diets send a panic message to the brain to relay a starvation signal to the rest of the body," says Dr. Oz. "Instead of losing the weight you wanted to, your body stores fat as a natural protective mechanism."

To make matters worse, a new study from the University of Melbourne in Australia found that when you've lost some weight, levels of your appetite-regulating hormone, leptin, drop, increasing your desire to eat everything in sight. Who hasn't been there? Apparently, very few of us. UCLA researchers found that some two-thirds of dieters gain back more than they lost within four to five years. No wonder one of the biggest risk factors for weight gain is being on a weight-loss diet.

If that's happened to you, chances are you've been trying to squeeze into a diet that doesn't fit you any better than a size 0 bikini. What you should be doing is tailoring your diet to your life and tastes, because "if a diet doesn't fit, you'll quit," says Dr. Oz.

The "Eat What You Love" plan works because it's not a diet. A diet is something you go "on" and "off." While you're on it, your fantasies revolve around the feasts you'll have when you go off it. But you won't be tempted to go off this plan, because you won't be giving up your favorite foods — you'll just be wiser about the choices you make. You won't get hungry, because you'll be consuming enough calories (1,450 a day) to override your body's starvation meter, and you'll be eating foods that contain enough fat, protein, and fiber to make you feel full longer. You'll also be satisfying your "hedonic hunger" — the need for food that gives you pleasure. That way, you won't have to "eat around" your craving, noshing on everything to avoid eating what you really want. And sometimes you should just go for that favorite food, says Dr. Oz: "You don't have to have a lot of it. A small chocolate chip cookie won't kill you. But be aware of the food — how it tastes and the comfort it brings. Otherwise, you might eat two or three or the whole bag."

Best of all, on this plan you won't have to turn into a short-order cook at home. Your spouse and kids can eat what they love, too. You can even take a break from cooking (check out choices from favorite eateries at left).

And because we've provided easy food swaps, you can continue the diet — and watch the pounds drop off — until you lose the weight you want to, keeping it interesting by varying the recipes and menus. Once you reach your goal, use the plan as your guide and try upping portion size slightly or adding in an extra snack or side with a meal. But keep your eye on the scale; if you gain three pounds, that's the signal to cut back.

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