A Diet Plan That Actually Works: What You Need to Know

I recently learned that eating habits are set in early infancy. I couldn’t help feeling a bit depressed.

These habits seem to persist for a long time. So, you can blame your parents or feel guilty about how you messed up your own children’s habits.

However, there is good news! New research shows that it is absolutely possible to rewire our brains, and truly learn how to eat healthy, AND lose weight in the process.

We Eat Because It Makes Us Feel Good

Understand this: food is intimately tied to our brain’s reward centers. Unless we can make these rewards fire for healthier foods, we will struggle to make lasting change.

The good news is that (in this study) MRI scans were taken before and after (6 months). They showed a very real and marked change in the brain’s reward systems that govern habits and addictions.

The Diet Plan That Worked

Researchers used a diet plan created by Dr Susan Roberts of Tuft University.

It’s called the I Diet, and is surprisingly similar to the flexible dieting calculator I created here.

Reduce daily calorie intake by 500-1000
Carbohydrate 50% of daily intake (incl. 40g fiber)
Protein 25% of daily intake
Fat 25% of daily intake

This is a higher protein and fat combination than what health authorities normally espouse.  Participants were encouraged to eat low-glycemic carbohydrates.

You can calculate this specifically for yourself by going to our calculator.

After entering your details and calculating, adjust the protein indicator to “High”, and the goal indicator to “Weight Loss”. This will give you the optimal amounts of food (carbs, proteins, and fat) to eat each day (or each meal).

Meal Plans

So what does this sort of eating look like?

For a 1200 Calorie per day target:

Breakfast

  • 2 slices low-carb toast with 2 teaspoons low-fat cream cheese, peanut butter or fruit spread
  • 1/2 grapefruit
  • Coffee/tea or water

Snack

  • I Diet Hot or Cold Chocolate
    or
  • 1 apple and 4 pecan halves
  • Water, diet soda or coffee/tea

Lunch

Salad Plate:

  • 2–3 cups salad greens and non-starchy veggies,
  • 1⁄3 cup legumes,
  • 2 slices (2 ounces) turkey breast,
  • 1 teaspoon bacon bits or sunflower seeds,
  • 2 tablespoons low-cal dressing

Snack

  • 2 part-skim mozzarella cheese sticks

Dinner

  • 4 ounces plain grilled fish or shellfish with 2 tablespoons low-cal sauce
  • 1 1⁄2 cups cooked green beans (no sauce)
  • 1 sliced tomato with drizzle of olive oil and vinegar or 1 teaspoon low-cal dressing
  • Optional: small baked sweet potato with 1 teaspoon low-fat sour cream instead of dessert

For a higher calorie intake, you would add an extra slice at breakfast, an extra protein slice at lunch, and increase the protein at dinner.

In addition to the meal plan there is also room for a 100-calorie snack: like a few tbsp of trail mix or nuts or 1/3 cup of frozen yogurt.

Get Support

In the trial, participants had weekly teaching and support group sessions over a 24-week duration. They also received weekly emails from a nutritionist.

If you are able to get support then your chances of success are going to be higher.

If you can stick at this, then over time your brain actually begins to feel pleasure at the sight of healthier food.

Scientific Reference:

Deckersbach, T., Das, S. K., Urban, L. E., Salinardi, T., Batra, P., Rodman, A. M., … & Roberts, S. B. (2014). Pilot randomized trial demonstrating reversal of obesity-related abnormalities in reward system responsivity to food cues with a behavioral intervention. Nutrition & diabetes, 4(9), e129. Study link.

Ted Kallmyer is an ISSA certified Specialist in Fitness Nutrition and is our lead macro coach. If you need help reaching your weight loss/fitness goals see our personal coaching options.
Last Updated: June 30, 2019

10 Comments

  1. Raylene Medovich

    I was overweight and tried so many things. Different things work for different people and I was lucky enough to find one that worked for me. I lost 22 pounds in one month without much exercise and it’s been a life changer. I’m a little embarrased to post my before and after photos here but if anyone actually cares to hear what I’ve been doing then I’d be happy to help in any way. Just shoot me an email at oceanflowers82@gmail.com and I’ll show you my before and after photos, and tell you about how things are going for me with the stuff I’ve tried. I wish someone would have helped me out when I was struggling to find a solution so if I can help you then it would make my day

    Reply
  2. Ryan

    I’ve really soured on strategies that rip up someone’s entire eating patterns and lay down something else. I think taking a person’s current diet as a baseline and making incremental improvements over months/years is much more sustainable and less nerve wracking, assuming there isn’t a medical need to lose weight quickly.

    Reply
    • JamesF

      I value your opinion, and I wonder whether the success of this program was due as much to the weekly personalized support.

      The point of this is not so much about the diet, but researched proof that people can change their response/reward system in 6 months. That’s good news.

      Reply
  3. LuckyK7777 .

    This is the kind of stuff that sent me yo yo dieting for more than a decade trying to “change” myself ( I liken it to asking a gay person to change)

    I have to swap. I just made a Mexican layered dip and a cheesecake. And what I did was used fat free refried beans and low fat sour cream and cheese in the dip, and fat free cream cheese in the cheesecake. And I can be happy 🙂

    Reply
    • Daniel Wagle

      As a gay person who unwisely tried to change long ago, I would say that sexual orientation is far less susceptible to change than food tastes are. I am talking about which gender I direct erotic and romantic feelings towards. This is totally impervious to change. However, my food tastes have changed recently, as I have gradually shifted to a healthier diet. I think there are genetic elements to obesity, but I do believe it can be controlled, but not cured. Homosexual behaviors can be changed, but changing the gender to which one directs sexual desire is completely unchangeable, at least for persons who are not bisexual, as I am not.

      Reply
  4. Daniel Wagle

    I generally would recommend eating less fat from animals, but I don’t favor low fat peanut butter. The fat in Peanut Butter is a very healthy fat. It also favors low carb toast, and carbs in whole grain toast are healthy. This diet seems artificially low in both carbs and fats. It has very limited portions of legumes and whole grains as well, which are full of healthy carbs. I personally am not low carb or low fat, but rather healthy fat and carb. One problem is that according to Everydiet.org which describes this diet, it states,

    “The I Diet believes in the importance of exercise however Roberts states that research suggests that it has a very small effect on weight loss, so exercise is not emphasized in this book.”

    When a person doesn’t exercise at all, as this suggests to lose weight, a person has to drastically reduce their calorie consumption. Therefore they would have to eat low healthy carb whole grain bread and low healthy fat peanut butter. Most research only shows a modest amount of weight loss from exercise because most research is based on a extremely low amount of exercise of perhaps an hour to 3 of doing very light exercise. Persons could burn an extra 500 calories a day, which is the equivalent of running 5 miles everyday and therefore would not have to cut 500 calorie’s worth of healthy fats and carbs from their daily diet to lose weight. Of course, not increase intake, but exercise reduces the need for calorie cutting.

    Reply
    • JamesF

      I agree that the optimum solution is to combine a better diet with a comprehensive exercise program.

      However, in reality I’ve observed that it’s very difficult to get people to stick to any kind of exercise program. What interests me about this strategy researched above, is how they were able to “alter” brain chemistry to move people to actually liking healthier food.

      Reply
  5. spectra311

    While I think this could be a great plan, I’m not sure how I feel about all the “diet” and “low fat” items espoused in the meal plan. There are plenty of naturally low calorie ways to add flavor to foods that aren’t man-made with lots of chemicals in them.

    Reply
    • JamesF

      You know, that’s always my first reaction when I see meal plans with items like “low-carb” bread.

      But… over time I’ve come to realize that when you’ve eaten healthy for a while — you can start focusing on things like this. However for many people – just trying to make a change – prescribed plans can really help.

      Once you’ve been doing well for 6 months or so, then it’s time to start focusing more on micro-nutrients, whole foods etc.

      Reply
  6. Ted

    I totally agree with this . I was raised on soda pop, southern cooking, and sweets but In my 20’s I started to make better decisions about what I was eating. It started with giving up soda, then later eating more vegetables, then not eating processed foods, then cutting out sugar and so on. Now I feel good or intrinsically rewarded when I eat healthy. When I go home to visit my family I see just how drastically my diet has changed from then til now since they still eat the same way. It feels good to know I’m putting good things into my body but I still enjoy that occasional piece of homemade chocolate cake too. Small changes add up, so I always encourage people to focus on just one thing at a time when they wish to change their eating habits.

    Reply