Dr. FAQ: Mary Russell on Holiday Diets

The latest in our video series where experts from the University of Chicago Medical Center answer frequently asked questions about popular medical topics. To suggest a topic or a question, please contact the editors.

As much a part of modern holiday tradition as presents, parades and parties is the New Year’s resolution to lose weight, a yearly pledge motivated by over-eggnogging and a pained look at the scale. In 2006, a Wall Street Journal poll found that about a quarter of adults who make a New Year’s Resolution pledge to lose weight, exercise more and eat better – the most popular resolution grouping. Now if everyone was successful in their resolution, you might expect that percentage to drop, but January’s goals often fade away as the calendar pages flip through the months.

To hear some ideas about how people can break out of that New Year’s Resolution diet cycle, I went to Mary Russell, a dietitian and director of nutrition services at the University of Chicago Medical Center. Russell said she has heard all the questions about how to start a successful diet, and said that if she knew all the answers she’d be a billionaire. But in our video conversation, Russell shared a number of useful and easy-to-implement tips for making this year’s weight-loss resolution stick, such as keeping a food diary, reducing portion sizes, and planning your grocery shopping around healthy options on sale.

One interesting thread (expanded upon in the third video below) was Russell’s discussion of how the concept of “the healthy diet” has changed over the past few decades. Each year seems to bring another trendy diet that claims to have unlocked the secrets of weight loss through emphasizing certain types of food over others, and Russell warns against these “magic food” diets. But the classic concept of losing fat via low-fat foods has been modified somewhat, most dramatically by the “Mediterranean diet“: the usual fruits and vegetables, but also “healthy fats” such as fish, nutes, olive oil or canola oil, and – most excitingly for some – moderate portions of red wine. Unlike a lot of fad diets, the Mediterranean diet has held up to scientific scrutiny – this New England Journal of Medicine article found twice the weight loss with a Mediterranean diet versus a traditional low-fat plan.

Enjoy the clips, and as Russell says, start thinking about changing eating habits now, rather than waiting for the arbitrary January 1st to shift into a healthier lifestyle.

About Rob Mitchum (525 Articles)
Rob Mitchum is communications manager at the Computation Institute, a joint initiative between The University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory.
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