Have a Plan
Confronting our food-centric world without a plan is a recipe for diet disaster. From free samples at Sam’s Club to candy bars at the drugstore checkout and fast-food commercials hawking the newest guilty pleasure, temptation really is everywhere. But losing weight doesn’t have feel like work—or like a punishment. We talked to three registered dietitians to find easy, healthy ways to eat better and drop pounds consistently in the process.
Tip: Every Sunday, take 15 minutes to plan what you’ll eat for dinner in the coming week, and then hit the grocery store with a list. If you’ve got what you need to make dinner each night, you’re less likely to reach for a takeout menu or other convenience foods.
“Highly processed packaged foods aren’t nearly as satisfying, because whole foods take longer to chew and digest,” says nutrition consultant Karen Ansel, MS, RD. “So eating fresh foods like fruits, vegetables, lean meats and low fat dairy means you’re a lot less likely to overeat compared to a burger or pizza which you can wolf down in minutes.”
Choose High-Quality Carbs
Tip: Slowly-digested carbohydrates like whole grains and beans keep you fuller longer and provide vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
“It’s perfectly okay to eat carbs if you’re trying to lose weight, butthe type of carbs you choose can make a big difference,” Ansel says. “Many of us think whole grains just mean whole wheat bread. But there are loads of healthy, easy options out there. Try oatmeal for breakfast, stir-fried veggies with brown rice for lunch, or grilled salmon overquinoa for dinner.”
Eat Every 4 Hours
Tip: Eating regularly both fuels your metabolism and makes it less likely that you’ll be ravenous at mealtimes and overeat.
“We need to eat frequently throughout the day to keep our metabolism up,” Ansel says. “The trouble is, it’s hard to draw the line between eating frequently and all-day grazing. In reality, most of us only need 3 meals and 1 small snack of about 100-150 calories (unless you are extremely active in which case you’d need 2 snacks). To get the most mileage from your snacks, eat them when you’re hungriest—namely 3 to 4 hours after your last meal.”
Cut Out the Soda
Tip: If you cut out two cans of soda a day, you can lose 1/2 pound a week—even if you make no other changes.
“A can of Coke is 140 calories, and most people who drink regular soda have more than one 12-ounce can per day...I try to get people to cut it out entirely,” says Kelly O’Connor, RD, LDN, Director of Diabetes Education at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland. “Soda is purely empty calories with no nutritional value at all.”
(Read our piece The Health Dangers of Soda.)
Stop Eating Two Hours Before Bedtime
Tip: Eating just before bed or (horrors!) in bed, causes a calorie pile-up! Most of us end up making unhealthy food choices, and what’s more, our bodies won’t efficiently burn the calories while we sleep.
“Eating right before bed is a not helpful practice to get into,” O’Connor says. “I usually tell my patients if you must eat sweets or other high-calorie, high-fat foods, eat them early in the day(and be moderate in portion), so you can better burn them up!”
Having a snack two hours after dinner (but not right before bed) is perfectly fine, she says, as long as it’s 100 to 150 calories. Her snack suggestions include 1 slice of whole grain bread with peanut butter, low-fat yogurt, or 3/4 cup Cheerios and 1/2 cup low-fat milk.
Continue to Eat Your Favorite Foods
Tip: Cutting back on the unnecessary calories from filler foods, like rolls or bread with dinner, allows you to indulge occasionally in the treats you love.
“I’ve never been successful in counseling someone long-term, when they took their favorites out of their diet entirely,” O’Connor says. “Cut back in other places, so you can continue to enjoy your favorite foods on occasion. Not that I recommend fast food, but if you love McDonald’s, get a Happy Meal every once in a while. A cheeseburger Happy Meal has about 515 calories if you choose apple juice as the beverage.” (Compare that to a Quarter Pounder with Cheese value meal, which weighs in at 1,100 calories.)
Measure Servings with an Ice Cream Scoop
Tip: Using an ice cream scoop at home to serve yourself foods like macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, and tuna salad ensures that you get a proper portion every time.
“If you were to use a scoop for your potatoes, rice, corn, egg salad and many other scoopable foods, you’d be ensuring you get a consistent portion each and every time,” O’Connor says. “I usually tell folks two scoops max (which is equal to 1/2 cup) or preferably, one scoop.”
Tip: Just as snacking helps prevent overeating later, so does eating breakfast first thing in the morning.
“When we eat at regular times, our body uses the energy more efficiently,” says Dee Sandquist, MS, RD, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Think about keeping a log on the fireplace to keep the fire burning—if your body doesn’t know when it’ll get fed again, your metabolism slows down and burns less energy.”
Eat Protein Three Times a Day
Tip: Every meal should include 2 to 3 ounces of protein, which is equivalent to a portion of chicken or meat that’s the size of a deck of cards or 2 small eggs, for example.
“A lot of people might save up and eat protein for dinner, but the body uses protein more efficiently if you spread it out,” Sandquist says. “Your body needs protein topromote lean muscle mass. Excess is stored as energy or fat, instead being used to feed muscles.”
Make a Few Easy Substitutions
Tip: You can save calories, without eating like a runway model, when you make a few smart substitutions that boost flavor to boot!
- Smashed or thinly sliced avocado, instead of mayo, as sandwich spread
- Lettuce, instead of a flour-based tortilla, to make wraps
- Spices, instead of heavy sauces, to season meals
Other substitution ideas: plain low-fat or nonfat Greek yogurt, instead of sour cream, on baked potatoes or tacos; English muffins instead of bagels; broth-based soups instead of creamy soups; seltzer or soda water with lime for tonic water.
How to Get Results
The No. 1 takeaway: Be consistent.
“Whichever way you choose to lose weight, whether it’s counting calories, fat, or carbs, or cutting portions, do it faithfully every day to get results,” O’Connor says. “This should allow weight loss to start within 2 to 3 weeks of making some changes to your eating habits.”
And Sandquist cautions patience: “Give it time. The weight comes on over time — it won’t come off all at once.”
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