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Why You Don’t Need to Give Up Bread to Lose Weight

One of the biggest myths about weight loss is that you can't eat bread or other carbs to achieve it. Science and experience show otherwise.

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Last week Oprah set the twittersphere (and Wall Street) on fire with a video announcing that since starting the Weight Watchers program this fall she has lost 26 pounds and she eats bread every day. This is not a new concept, especially for Weight Watchers where members have been eating bread and losing weight since they first opened their doors in the spring of 1963.

You may be thinking, “But don’t I hear weight-loss experts tell me to cut out bread?” Yes, you hear that all the time, as cutting out or reducing the amount of starches and grains that you are eating (especially the refined grains) is a simple strategy for reducing both the total calorie and carbohydrate content of your daily diet—but is isn’t the only strategy.

There Are Many Ways to Lose a Pound

If there is one thing that you can learn from research on weight loss it is that there are a lot of different dietary strategies that you can use to lose weight. One of the most famous examples of this was the A to Z Study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2005. This study was heralded as the heavyweight (or lightweight?) championship fight between the Atkins diet, Ornish diet, Zone diet, and Weight Watchers. These diets spanned the carbohydrate spectrum with the Atkins diets restricting carbohydrates the most allowing room for only carbohydrates containing foods like asparagus and broccoli. On the high side, the Ornish diet nearly insisted that all the food you ate contain carbohydrates with very little fat and just enough protein so that you wouldn’t be malnourished.


Related: Is Protein Really Better Than Carbohydrates?


160 people were enrolled in this study and placed in one of these four diet treatments. After 1 full year here’s what the researchers had to say about the study participant’s weight loss success: “[The] amount of weight loss was associated with self-reported dietary adherence level but not with diet type.” The amount of weight a person lost during the study didn’t have anything to do with whether or not their diet allowed them to have bacon or bread for breakfast. The determining factor in a person’s weight loss success was if they followed the diet plan or not.

If You Don’t Like Bread, How About Fruity Pebbles?

In 2008 a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition pitted diets containing whole grains against ones that incorporate refined grains, such as those found in many cereals and processed foods, to see which was a more effective component for driving weight loss. You might be surprised to know that there was no difference in weight loss between the two groups. Unlike Oprah’s announcement about eating bread daily while on Weight Watchers, the publication of this study did not cause Fruity Pebbles stock to increase by 20%. However, it did emphasize the point that in many cases, creating a calorie deficit and exercising is all you need to get started losing weight.

Prioritize Your Vices and Eat or Drink What You Love

Now that we’ve stirred up the idea that there are lots of different diets that you can use to go about losing weight, I want to share with you a strategy that I use with clients to emphasize the fact that weight loss doesn’t need to be entirely about restraint and deprivation. It is all too common when I sit down with clients who ask, “What are you going to take away from me?” Are they going to have to give up their morning coffee with cream and sugar or maybe their end of the day glass of pinot noir? When posed with this question, I usually laugh and then insist that they keep those things in their diets.


Related: The Surprising Upsides to Daily Coffee Drinking


We eat and drink for many reasons other than the calories these things contain. We do it out of habit, out of a mini ritual that we’ve created that makes us feel good. So why do we need to strike that from our lives just because we want to lose a couple pounds? We shouldn’t have to. The tablespoon of cream and teaspoon of sugar in your morning coffee isn’t the thing preventing you from losing weight. Taking the time to make my wife a cappuccino and myself a macchiato in the morning isn’t about the calories in the beverages, rather it’s about the creation and giving process to start out the day. Cutting that out of my day in the name of saving calories seems silly. This is why I implore clients to keep the ceremonial foods that they enjoy and find ways to cut out excess calories at other times of the day. Cut the calories that they aren’t really going to miss. If you eventually stop losing weight and have run through several options, then test if removing an evening glass of wine will jumpstart weight loss and you can decide if it is worth it or not.

In her Twitter video Oprah made it abundantly clear that bread makes her very happy (Tom Cruise jumping on the couch happy!) so I’m glad that she is eating it. Think about it for a minute. One slice of bread only contains around 15 grams of carbohydrates. If you picked a good slice it will also have 3 or 4 grams of fiber (bonus!). A slice of bread is going to contain approximately 100 calories. That isn’t very much. A 100-calorie slice of bread isn’t going to make or break your diet.

So if you love bread, you should find a way to get that piece (or two) into your meal plan. Lost in the hype of the “bread video” was the one line where she said, “I’ve learned to manage it.” She’s not eating all the bread she wants. She has learned how to include bread in her diet while still losing weight—that’s progress.

The Magic Behind Oprah’s Weight Loss

This probably doesn’t come to a shock to you but Weight Watchers has not developed a magical diet bread that allows you to eat as much as you like—there is no such thing. What is the magic that has allowed Oprah to lose 26 pounds over the last several months? It is the magic that happens when a human makes a commitment to seeing something through. She has committed to this process and to her credit she has committed in the past to the same process, relapse but still vowed to change again. That’s the magic. Never giving up.

Not only is she committed to her goal, she has made it known to the whole world what she’s doing. She has created an immense amount of peer pressure to drive herself to succeed. If you knew that every major media outlet in the world was going to cover how much weight you gained or lost over the holiday season, you’d be sure they were going to report significant weight loss!

You can do that same thing, just not at the media mogul Oprah level. You can commit to a plan. You can tell your friends and people that you know what will support you about it (don’t bother telling the negative people in your life about it). You can ask them to hold you accountable to your goals and actions. Use the same positive pressure that Oprah is using to drive her success to drive yours and if you want a slice of bread along the way…go for it.

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