The SOS Plan: Conquer Your Weight-Loss Plateau
Maybe you've hit a plateau in your weight-loss journey or, for some reason, you've overindulged and need to get back on track. To help, I've developed what I call my "SOS Plan" - a streamlined boost that delivers essential nutrition while resulting in a noticeable drop in weight.
Please understand, however, the SOS Plan is NOT for the long term! It is a temporary solution to weight-loss plateaus and occasional over-indulgences. Here are the core precepts:
- Maintain your overall calorie budget
- Increase lean protein intake to 35% of calories, from fish, poultry and meat
- Reduce carbohydrate intake to 40% of calories, and limit these carbs to fresh fruits and vegetables ONLY
- Eliminate whole grains (remember, this is only temporary)
- Reduce or eliminate legumes
- Maintain your intake of healthy fats at 25% of total calories
- Use the SOS Plan for no more than four weeks at a time and no more than three times a year
Why is this combination so effective for weight loss? Let's take a look at the science behind it.
At first, the SOS Plan may seem counterintuitive. After all, weight loss comes down to a simple equation: to drop pounds, you must consume fewer calories than you expend. If your calorie budget remains the same when on the SOS Plan, why would your weight-loss rate be different? The key lies in the type of calories consumed - the shift toward protein and the reduction in carbohydrate. And there's a psychological component, too; by shaking up your eating routine, you're likely to refocus on your habits and identify areas of slippage.
Protein: The Key to Rapid Weight Loss
Protein intake can affect weight loss dramatically, for a couple of reasons:
1. Protein burns more calories. Our bodies actually burn calories to extract nutrients from the foods we eat - a process called the "thermic effect." More calories are burned processing proteins than either fats or carbohydrates. Even upping your lean protein intake just 5%, as the SOS Plan recommends, causes a significant shift in your diet's overall thermic effect - burning more calories overall.
2. Protein makes you feel full longer. Even more than starchy "comfort foods," high-protein foods produce a sensation of fullness or satiety. Researchers are still discovering why protein uniquely produces this effect, but the weight loss results are convincing. It may be due to the fact that protein is metabolized more slowly and thus blood sugar levels remain stable for a longer period of time.
A Clean Slate with Carbs
While the SOS Plan ups protein intake, it decreases carbohydrate consumption - and totally eliminates grains and cereals temporarily. It bears repeating: carbohydrate plays a vital role in good nutrition. In fact, your body needs carbohydrate to process all that increased protein. Also, diets that are too high in protein and extremely low in carbs can strain the kidneys in susceptible people as well as increase the risk for heart disease, especially if the protein comes from animal sources. So on the SOS Plan, carbohydrate continues to play the leading role, at 40% of total calories. But here's the key difference: all your carbohydrate calories should come from fruits and vegetables. There are several reasons for this focus:
- The highest nutrient bang for calorie buck. Non-starchy fruits and vegetables are low in calories but loaded with the fiber and antioxidant vitamins that promote health.
- Produce is filling. Many varieties of fresh produce are high in water content and fiber, meaning you can eat plenty for just a few calories - which helps fill you up and feel satisfied. For example, a cup of brown rice has 216 calories, while the same amount of chopped cabbage has just 21 calories, giving you plenty of crunchy filling for minimal calorie investment.
The Result: A Notable Drop
The combined effect of increased protein intake and reduced carbohydrate consumption can have a powerful, temporary effect on the scale. It is interesting to note that for each gram of carbohydrate the cells in your body store, they store four grams of water. Initial weight loss when eliminating carbohydrates from your diet is mostly water weight (the less carbohydrates stored in your body, the less water as well). When you decrease the amount of carbohydrates you eat, your body burns glycogen, a quick energy supply stored in your liver alongside a supply of water. When you burn the glycogen, the water is excreted. Most of the weight you lose at first is that water. To see long-term success with weight loss, it's important to consume fewer total calories, but to include all food groups to maximize nutritional value. Seeing the numbers move in the right direction on the scale is a rewarding feeling that will renew your commitment to weight loss!
Recipe: Salmon en Papillote with Tomatoes and Fennel
If your weight-loss plateau calls for drastic measures and you are invoking the SOS Plan, try this high-protein recipe from my book "Flavor First." With 33 grams of protein and carbs only from fresh vegetables, it'll help you hit the right ratio to get you over your hump.
Cooking "en papillote" means sealing the ingredients in a paper or foil packet, which traps both steam and flavor inside. The packets can be assembled a few hours ahead of time and popped in the oven just before dinner. Read more about cooking en papillote here.
An equal weight of shrimp or scallops can also be used in place of the salmon. This recipe makes four servings.
Reprinted from: "Flavor First" by Cheryl Forberg, RD.
Copyright © 2011 by Cheryl Forberg, RD
Permission granted by Rodale, Inc., Emmaus, PA 18098
1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed, quartered lengthwise, cored, and sliced
1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1-1/2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil or 1 teaspoon dried
4 salmon fillets (5 ounces each)
Fresh chives or scallion, for garnish
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
In a nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the fennel and onion and cook for about 4 minutes or until they're just beginning to soften. Add the tomatoes, garlic and basil and cook for 2 minutes longer. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Cut off four 15x15-inch squares of parchment paper (see note). Fold a square of parchment in half to create a crease, and then open up. Place a fish fillet on one side of the crease. Repeat for the remaining fillets. Top each of the fillets with 1/4 of the veggie mixture. Fold the edges of the paper together and then tightly fold in the edges, crimping around all sides to seal the packets completely. Place the packets on a baking sheet.
Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. The fish should flake easily with a fork. Place each packet on a dinner plate. To serve, slit the packet with an "X" and fold back the paper. Sprinkle with chives and serve with lemon wedges.
Nutritional information (per serving)
Total fat 10 grams
Saturated fat 2 grams 65 mg
Cholesterol 65 milligrams
Sodium 95 milligrams
Total carbohydrates 9 grams
Sugars 2 grams
Fiber 3 grams
Protein 33 grams
For more nutrition and cooking tips, visit Cheryl's website FlavorFirst.com
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