Start the new year making smart eating choices
Resolutions — maybe you make them and maybe you don’t. Either way, many of us face the same reality: How can we best lose weight? OK, maybe you didn’t gain weight this year, but you may still have a few pounds clinging from years past.
A cross-cultural study found that no matter what holiday people celebrated they gained an average of 1.5 pounds during the 10 days following December 25. On top of that, U.S. holiday festivities usually begin with Halloween, which add even more to the amount of weight we gain.
This doesn’t sound like much, but an ignored two pounds a year can mean 20 pounds in a decade. As terrifying as 20 pounds may seem, you can relax a little — the research went on to find that half the weight we gain during the holidays is lost pretty easily. But that leaves the other half still on your thighs, waist — you get the picture. And although 10 pounds in 10 years may sound less concerning, who wants a new wardrobe in bigger sizes?
At some point, many of us decide to try and lose weight by eating less or by reducing our carbohydrates and fats to practically nothing. This method may be very effective when it comes to weight loss, but it isn’t always sustainable. Our bodies need fuel and appropriate caloric intake. Therefore, we deprive ourselves to the point of: “I give up. I feel like I’m starving myself.” We then fall back into bad habits or binge on unhealthy foods — leaving us right back at square one, or even worse off than before.
Overlooking our body’s need for the right number of calories from the right food choices seldom works.
What does healthy eating look like? It looks like the amount of food needed to support the weight you would like to be. Mistakenly, we often think of this as deprivation, but it’s really a question of whether you want to eat to maintain today’s poundage or get to your body’s healthy weight.
Contrary to the three food groups commonly found during the holidays — fat, sugar and chocolate — healthy plates of food offer more interest, color and texture and delicious variety by including all the food groups.
This provides a great opportunity to grab a friend and sign up for a cooking class with a registered dietitian nutritionist to learn exciting preparations so your plate can contain the right portions of ALL food groups.
So, here’s the daily breakdown
Eat at least three servings of whole grains like quinoa, oatmeal, corn, whole wheat, bulgur or farro — plus starches like winter squash, potatoes and peas; 2-3 servings of fruit; a minimum of 2 1/2 cups of vegetables like cauliflower, spinach, asparagus, broccoli, kale, carrots, tomatoes, zucchini and peppers; three servings of low-fat yogurt or milk; proteins like beans, lentils and dried peas, lean meats and low-fat cheese; and healthy fats like nuts, seeds, vegetable oils and avocado.
It’s not that you can’t have other foods, but those discretionary calories are limited to the amount of calories left over AFTER you’ve eaten a healthy portion of the nourishing foods your body needs. If you want chocolate, splurge on quality chocolate with more cocoa (around 70 percent) and savor it, but make those calories fit into your daily eating plan.
It’s easy to eat the right foods in the right portions if you make sure your meal mirrors the proportions of food groups on the ideal plate. Remember: half the plate loaded with vegetables, a quarter filled with whole grains or a healthy starch and a quarter filled with protein. For a healthy snack in between meals, grab a piece of whole fruit or a dairy product.
If you are a big guy needing more food, your plate may be bigger than a woman’s who is average height. It’s the ratio of the foods that counts.
Using the ideal plate as a template for meals is a great complement to tracking what you are eating in a phone app. There are several great ones that will help you set a calorie goal and estimate calories for virtually every food available. Conveniently on your phone (when are we ever without our phone?) these apps help reshape portions, develop mindfulness and hold you accountable when no one is looking.
Beware of app traps like letting your app reward you with more calories just because you did some activity. You may indeed need some refueling after a workout, but take the calories from elsewhere in your day. For most of us, the hour at the gym doesn’t exhaust our body’s natural ability to repair and replenish with the next balanced meal.
For more great weight loss information, visit the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics at eatright.org. There, you can also find a registered dietitian nutritionist near you who, based on scientific evidence, can guide you.
Libby Mills, MS, RDN, LDN is a sought-after nutrition and cooking coach, speaker, author, radio talk show host and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and is known in health fields as a food and nutrition authority. Libby markets and teaches nutrition through scrumptiously fun culinary experiences as well as entertaining, imaginative communication to all ages, ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds.