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This sponsored post is produced in association with Panasonic.

Life in the Valley is good: a shiny new tech job, complete with free food, lovingly prepared by the company’s personal chef. But wait (or is that weight?)…what’s happening to your waistline?

Even healthy food, such as the catered lunches Silicon Valley companies offer as an employee perk, can become the equivalent of pie à la mode if you eat with abandon on a daily basis, says Jae Berman, a Registered Dietitian, health educator, and personal trainer. While it’s wonderful to know there is such a thing as a free lunch, what’s often lacking is mindfulness. It’s like being at a daily all-you-can-eat buffet.

“Many of these individuals are mindlessly eating because it’s there and it’s free. They can easily gain five to twenty pounds in a year. It’s essential to pay attention to what you’re putting into your body,” she says.

That’s why a three-year study at Stanford University is of particular interest.

In 2013, the Stanford Prevention Research Center initiated the nation’s largest single site weight loss study, tracking 600 people (a new group is recruited every six months). Berman, part of the team running the study, describes how “One Diet Does Not Fit All” is a game-changer for palate and plate.

The Stanford study randomly assigns overweight participants between the ages of 18 and 50 to one of two groups: low carbohydrate or low fat. Over the next 12 months, each study participant is guided, educated, and supported to find his or her inner food ally. Stanford provides 22 classes throughout the year to help participants learn better ways to:

  • grocery shop
  • choose quality foods
  • prepare meals at home
  • eat healthy in restaurants
  • reduce food addiction
  • eat mindfully

By the end of the year, says Berman, many participants will find the right balance for them. She emphasizes that there is no magic bullet, hence the study’s title.

The biggest challenge may be the starting requirement: the low-carb and low-fat groups are each allowed only 20 grams of their dietary indulgence per day. For comparative purposes, one 5-ounce apple contains 21 grams of carbohydrates; one tablespoon of olive oil contains 15 grams of fat. Ouch!

However, Berman explains, this baseline enables participants to gradually increase their carb or fat intake to a level that’s sustainable for the rest of their life. The optimum diet will be different for everyone, depending on metabolism, genetics, activity level, lifestyle, and behavior. One woman actually lost weight when she began to eat more healthy fats (e.g., avocado, almonds, or salmon).

“The low carb group eats only vegetables, animal protein and fats at the outset: no fruit, no grains, no dairy, all of which contain carbohydrates,” explains Berman. The low-fat group is allowed starches, fruits and veggies, but only non-fat dairy.

“The first eight weeks is extreme,” she acknowledges. “People are deprived at the beginning to see ‘how low can you go?’ Over the next ten months, we ‘titrate up’, adding carbs and fats back into the diet according to each participant’s health profile. We look at their weight, how they’re sleeping, their blood work.”

The study encourages people to buy and eat real, whole, organic, high-quality food; no processed food at all. So what if someone cheats with a bag of potato chips?

“We don’t view it as a ‘cheat’ so much as reality,” says Berman — a powerful reframe that underpins the study’s philosophy. “There’s no judgment for an occasional candy bar or bag of chips — life happens!” she says with a laugh. “It’s OK to have chips one day, as long as it doesn’t spiral into an emotional eating syndrome for the next six months.

“The question becomes, ‘How can I enjoy this snack without letting it sabotage all my hard work?’ We encourage you to embrace the treat, really enjoy it because you want it, and not because you used to like it and it’s a habit. That’s the distinction people learn. Your palate starts to change as you clean out your body and shift your diet, so the kind of foods someone liked before may not even be appealing after awhile.

“Making a commitment takes effort, but the impact of cleaner eating has profoundly affected the people in our study.”

Jae Berman will be speaking at Panasonic’s LAB 1.0 “Hacking the Startup Lunch Economy: Re-imagining Food in Our Everyday Lives” on May 26th from 6 to 8 pm in San Francisco. It’s part of Panasonic’s ongoing series on innovation, exploring a different theme each time. Berman will be joined by Matt Rothe, co-founder of Stanford’s FEED Collaborative. You can register here for free.

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