We all know it’s a challenge to eat healthfully in our drive-through, junk-food world. If eating healthier is one of your New Year’s resolutions, following a fad diet or being overly restrictive will not help you or your family achieve your 2010 health goals. Consider trying these simple yet sensible steps that will help you adopt a healthier diet, without feeling deprived.
Don’t skip meals. That might sound odd to some people who believe you can lose weight only when you eat less. But, in fact, skipping meals is not healthy, and can actually keep you from maintaining your desired weight. Why? Well, one reason is that your metabolism increases when you eat. And when the metabolism is increased, you burn more energy.
Eating three meals with snacks in between is the ideal way to maintain both energy and a healthy weight. Snacks can help you not feel so hungry at meals. And when you don’t feel so hungry at meals, you tend not to eat as much. And, second, eating five smaller meals a day helps prevent the large spikes and drops in your blood sugar associated with fewer meals.
Chew slowly. This advice may seem a bit corny, but it makes sense. When you wolf down your food, you aren’t giving your brain time to register when you’re full, which takes about 20 minutes. By the time you finally get the signal, it’s too late, and you’ve eaten far more than you needed to. Therefore, if you chew your food slowly, it slows down your eating.
Learn how to prepare foods. Instead of deep frying, try grilling, stir-frying, microwaving, baking, boiling, and, in the case of vegetables, raw. And if you really insist on using butter for cooking, try a butter substitute, which can have half the fat of regular butter, but tastes the same as real butter. If you use butter to add flavor to food, try something else for a change, like lemon, vinegar, or dried herbs and spices. Before you eat any type of meat, be sure to trim it of fat and skin.
Avoid a lot of sugar. If you can eliminate sugar, good for you, but, if you can’t, at least cut down. Drinks that contain sugar are a major source of empty calories. If you plan to drink sugary drinks, limit yourself to one a day.
Reject the diet mentality. Research has shown, and many of us have learned, that diets don’t work. You may start off great guns, but going on a diet subconsciously implies restriction and deprivation. Before long, most if not all of us will return to our usual eating behaviors, and may perhaps find ourselves binging and eating out of control. Restrictive eating leaves us hungry and unfulfilled in myriad ways. Eating healthy is about healthy lifestyle choices, not about restricting ourselves to the point that we want to eat everything in sight, plus some.
Notice your triggers that lead to overeating. Learn how to honor your feelings without using food. Food won’t solve your problems. Its numbing, comforting, pleasing, and sensory-driven effects are only temporary. Eventually, you will have to deal with your emotions and the discomfort of overeating.
Talk to your physician. In addition to treating you when you are sick, your doctor can help you to make diet choices that can help you stay healthy. Maintaining a healthy diet not only offers your body the energy and nutrition that it needs to function, but offers several health benefits as well. A healthy diet can help control blood pressure, protect against certain cancers, and reduce risk for stroke, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. v
Alicia Walter, MS, RD, LDN, is a clinical dietitian and nutrition educator at Baystate Mary Lane Hospital and Baystate Health.