In his early 20s, student David Zulberg found himself 30 pounds overweight—and unsure of the best way to drop the weight for good. After a string of failed fad diets that made him feel restricted and overwhelmed, he turned to a mentor and legal expert on ancient texts, who taught him that literature on the subject of good health, diet, and exercise dated to antiquity. Consequently, Zulberg began investigating master philosophers Maimonides, Hippocrates, and Galen, and trained to become a health coach and fitness specialist.
“Maimonides stresses the importance of habit formation as it relates to making any life change, and specifically regarding health and eating habits,” says Zulberg, author of the new book, The 5 Skinny Habits: How Ancient Wisdom Can Help You Lose Weight and Change Your Life Forever. This was a total eureka moment for Zulberg, who realized his issue wasn’t just a matter of eating differently, but of altering his same-old routine. “Most diets fail because they don’t change the way we think about food so that we can make permanent and meaningful emotional and physical changes, he says. “Weight loss is simply a consequences of these changes.” By working backwards, it seems Zulberg may have finally cracked the weight-loss code, and we talked to him to find out exactly how you can adopt his healthy lifestyle.
Week 1: Lighten up one meal.
Yep, it’s that simple. For your first week, pick the meal you most often skip and replace it with something light, like a fruit bowl, salad, or eggs. By targeting this oft-ignored meal, you’ll boost your energy to jump-start weight loss and keep your daily calorie intake in check. “Any meal that comes at an inconvenient or rushed time is the one to choose as your light meal,” said Zulberg, who notes that skipping meals can lead you to overeat later.
Week 2: Pack in the protein and veggies.
Now, on to the next meal. Begin replacing your largest meal of the day with one made up solely of protein and vegetables. “Some of my favorites include teriyaki salmon, roasted chicken or grilled steak with sautéed vegetables, and chicken salad,” says Zulberg. “The main advantage of this meal is that the appetite isn’t overstimulated, which prevents overeating. Research has shown that people consume more when given a variety of choices than when given the same type of food. When we sit down at a table laden with lots of different foods, we’re tempted to try everything we see.” Added bonus: A glass of dry red wine is an encouraged in addition because, you know, health benefits.
Week 3: Veg out.
Keep up the changes you’ve made thus far and try to make your third meal chock-full of protein, healthy grains, and starches, and only allow extra helpings of veggies. “Since you’re eating multiple foods for your main dish at this meal, it will be very hard to overeat if you are taking extra portions of vegetables, which are low in calories only,” Zulberg says.
Week 4: Get moving.
We’re all—master physicians included—aware that exercise carries some pretty serious health benefits. During week four, Zulberg suggests starting with 10 minutes of cardio three times a week and gradually working toward 30 minutes five times a week.
Week 5: Swap out your snacks.
This last habit may be tough, but it’s totally doable. “Week five is all about replacing your usual snacks with water, vegetables, low-fat dairy, or fruit,” says Zulberg. Swap your afternoon vending machine find for a serving of fruit and yogurt, or down a glass of water to ensure you’re not mistaking thirst for hunger. “We call this the substitution method because you are acknowledging the craving and substituting a healthier way to resolve it.”
After five weeks, it’s about further polishing your new way of eating. “The program is designed so that you actually repeat the five-week cycle continuously as you transform and strengthen your new habits,” Zulberg says. “The principles are flexible, so you will be able to eventually customize the program and apply it to your specific schedule and preferences. It is a lifestyle change.”