A Conversation with Dietician Ghena Sandid of Lighterstyle

With over 15 years of clinical experience, Ghena Sandid is certainly one of the Lebanese dieticians who take every patient’s needs into consideration in order to lead them down the healthy path. As the owner of Lighterstyle Clinics, she has made it clear that diet is a lifestyle that one should follow, rather than just a phase in one’s life. Azyaamode got the chance to interview this Lebanese achiever in order to answer questions that many of us frequently ask.

How do you define a healthy lifestyle?

A healthy lifestyle for me is based first and foremost on sustainability and consistency, and in order to achieve them, you need to follow a system that fits your lifestyle and eating habits. That is the reason why I don’t tell my patients that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. If they want to skip breakfast, they can. I don’t tell them either that eating late at night makes them gain weight, as this is not true. It’s about finding eating habits that fit your lifestyle. We can’t give the same diet to a hostess, a housewife and a school teacher. The dietician needs to study their timing, food preferences, diseases, allergies, medication intake and availability – whether they can cook or not, or if they have someone who can prepare healthy food for them. The second important component is not to be an extremist when choosing a diet. Unlike strict diets, moderate ones help you follow a balanced lifestyle and ensure sustainability on the long term.

What is in your opinion the most challenging part in switching to a healthier lifestyle? Is it losing weight or maintaining the weight loss and the lifestyle you were able to achieve?

For me, losing weight is not a hard task. With all the fat diets, weight loss pills and injections, medications, herbal teas and laxatives, losing weight is very easy. It can also be achieved through challenges such as egg fast diet and carnivore diet – to name a few. However, maintaining the weight you reached is the most challenging part.

Tell us about your impression of weight loss trends (e.g., KETO diet, intermittent fasting, Atkins…) and about the ultimate way to lose weight according to your experience.

Many people ask me what’s the best diet in my opinion. Of course, I am against all fad diets – such as the cabbage soup diet, date and yogurt, egg fast diet, carnivore diet, liquid diet and all similar diets, especially the detox diet. In fact, I am against all diets that are not subject to scientific evidence. In my opinion, the best diet is a low-calorie or calorie-deficit diet, which balances between proteins, carbs and fat, the diet that allows them to eat all home-cooked meals without eliminating any food groups. However, the scientifically proven diets such as the Keto diet, Atkins diet and Dukan are scientifically acceptable and they do fit some lifestyles. Some people for example can’t control their cooking or eating habits because they frequently travel or eat at restaurants. In this case, eliminating carbs is easier for them, although studies, my experience and clinical results have shown more sustainability in maintaining weight loss with balanced calorie-deficit diets. In general, all diets – whether intermittent fasting, Keto, Paleo, Carb cycling or low-carb, Atkins, Dukan, low-fat diets or energy diets that I don’t believe in, detox diets, the 3 days same food diet, the egg fast diet – come down to one technique, which is calorie-deficit. Eventually, when they are eliminating a whole food group, they are reducing their calorie intake. When people are told to run a test on food intolerance or allergy test that tells them what food helps them gain weight or lose weight – which I also don’t believe in, a whole food group is being eliminated and the patients are forced to reduce their calorie. Even with intermittent fasting, when they’re fasting for 16 hours and eating for 8 hours, they are reducing their calorie intake. They will not lose weight if they fast for 16 hours and eat unlimited amounts of food within the 8 hours even when they’re eating healthy. If they don’t count their calories and their portions are not balanced, they will not lose weight. So, the purpose of this weight loss is all about the calories in and calories out.

How do you address your patients’ expectations to lose weight fast?

The social media trends with everything we’re seeing on Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, the before and after pictures, celebrities losing weight very fast, led to people peer-pressured and even society pressures them, as some allow themselves to comment on others’ weight – you gained weight, you lost weight, you look skinnier, you looked nicer when you were skinnier, … This puts so much pressure on people. In addition, social media ads are promising very fast weight results such as losing 10 kilos in 28 days by drinking this or that, or losing 10 kilos in 3 weeks by following this challenge. So, people come with unrealistic expectations and I do take my time to explain to them that easy come, easy go, that scientifically there is no way to lose more than 0.5 to 1 kilo of fat per week and that if they are expecting very fast weight loss, they will not be losing it in fat, but muscle mass and water mass and this will affect their metabolism on the long term, which will have 3 results: they will gain the weight very fast because they lost it very fast, they are losing water and muscles which will affect their metabolism because losing muscle mass lowers the metabolism, following very strict diets and very low-calorie diets will ruin their metabolism by slowing it down, and eventually, they will end up binging on food and having a relapse because they were so deprived of certain types of it and therefore, you will end up eating much more than they used to.              

What is your way to deal with patients who don’t like or show no interest in exercising?

This answer will upset many people, but weight loss is 80% about the food they consume, and 20% about exercising. This means that if you’re eating 3000 calories per day and your body burns 2000 calories, you will end up gaining weight. However, if your body burns 2000 calories and you’re eating 1500 calories per day, you will be on a calorie deficit and you will lose weight even if you’re not exercising. I am not underestimating the power of exercising and its benefits, especially on many health factors such as blood circulation, muscle gain, increase of metabolism, reduction of cholesterol and triglycerides, blood pressure. Exercising has great effects but if their purpose is to lose weight, they can start by just dieting and in many cases, people don’t like to go to the gym because they are overweight, they are either fat-shamed, too tired as they feel heavy, or don’t have the energy… So, once they start the process of weight loss, they get more motivated to visit the gym. I take it one step at a time, start with fixing the patient’s eating habits, start with moderate exercising, and then we can step it up to the next level.

How do you think the Middle Eastern eating traditions and lifestyle affect the healthy lifestyle that one should follow?

During the last 3 years, the Mediterranean diet was the best type of diet so far. First of all, it’s very balanced. Second, it is based on home-cooked food that contains a lot of antioxidants, Omega 3, vitamins, and minerals, in addition to being rich in Iron because it is made with a lot of olive oil, olives, seeds, nuts, good sources of protein and a lot of grains. This, as a Middle Eastern or Mediterranean diet, is good. Traditionally, this diet features a breakfast, a lunch and a dinner. However, the problem with our traditions is the special occasions such as Ramadan, the sweets, how we express our feelings towards people with food, our hospitality traditions that revolve around serving a lot of food, which is also common in other Arab and Middle Eastern countries and the big portions we serve. In fact, Western communities put a person’s portion on a plate, while we Arabs, put food in big plates to be shared at the table regardless of the food we’re serving, which makes people tend to serve bigger portions. Even at restaurants, Western ones serve smaller portions while Middle Eastern ones serve bigger portions. Also, in our cuisine, some of the foods contain a high amount of fat due to frying or using a lot of trans-fats and vegetable oils which are not healthy.

Article Written by Mirella Haddad

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