The most effective healthy weight loss programs can be summed up with these 7 rules from Michael Pollan. Michael Pollan has been writing about food and culture for over 40 years. His book “Food Rules” is iconic in the field. His central point is to choose real food over “food-like substances”—processed packaged products.

Michael Pollan Talks Common Sense to CDC

As part of an effort to bring new ideas to the national debate on food issues, the CDC invited Pollan — a harsh critic of U.S. food policies — to address CDC researchers and to meet with leaders of the federal agency.

Pollan opened his remarks by stating that “The French paradox is that they have better heart health than we do despite being a cheese-eating, wine-swilling, fois-gras-gobbling people. The American paradox is we are a people who worry unreasonably about dietary health yet have the worst diet in the world.”

He finds it ironic that “the one diet we have invented for ourselves — the Western diet — is the one that makes us sick.” Snowballing rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease in the U.S. can be traced to our unhealthy diet. So how do we change?

Healthy Weight Loss Programs: 7 Words & 7 Rules for Eating

Pollan says everything he’s learned about food and health can be summed up in seven words: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”

Probably the first two words are most important. “Eat food” means to eat real food — vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and, yes, fish and meat. He says to avoid “edible food-like substances.”

A Formula for Healthy Weight Loss Programs

Here are some easy to follow rules for healthy weight loss programs. These are Michael Pollan’s 7 rules for healthy eating:

  1. Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. When you pick up that box of portable yogurt tubes, or eat something with 15 ingredients you can’t pronounce, ask yourself, “What are those things doing there?”
  2. Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can’t pronounce.
  3. Stay out of the middle of the supermarket; shop on the perimeter of the store. Real food tends to be on the outer edge of the store near the loading docks, where it can be replaced with fresh foods when it goes bad.
  4. Don’t eat anything that won’t eventually rot. There are exceptions — honey — but as a rule, things like Twinkies that never go bad aren’t food.
  5. It is not just what you eat but how you eat. Always leave the table a little hungry. Many cultures have rules that you stop eating before you are full. In Japan, they say eat until you are four-fifths full. Islamic culture has a similar rule, and in German culture they say, “Tie off the sack before it’s full.'”
  6. Families traditionally ate together, around a table and not a TV, at regular meal times. It’s a good tradition. Enjoy meals with the people you love. Remember when eating between meals felt wrong?
  7. Don’t buy food where you buy your gasoline. In the U.S., 20% of food is eaten in the car.

Is this good advice? Janet Collins, PhD, director of the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, is one of the CDC officials who met with Pollan. She agrees with Pollan that advice from health experts has to be simplified.

Collins embraces Pollan’s suggestions and adds: “Some of the changes in our environment are the reasons behind our obesity epidemic. Pollan’s advice to eat at the table with your family and not the TV is excellent. And portions have also changed. During our grandmothers’ era, plates were smaller. If you took the portions that filled their plates and put them on ours, it wouldn’t look like much to eat.

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