1. Avoid Skipping MealsI cannot emphasize this enough. Growing up, my mom was convinced that only eating one time a day would help with weight loss, simply because that would limit the opportunity for consuming calories and gaining weight. Truth is, your body’s metabolism works much like a fire. If you want a fire to burn continuously throughout the day, then you’ve got to put new wood or kindle in that fire every few hours so it can continue to burn. Same goes for our metabolism. If someone skips breakfast, barely eats lunch, and then eats a massive dinner in the evening, the body starts thinking “hmmm…this person barely fed me at breakfast and lunch so once they feed me this big huge dinner, I’m going to hold in all these calories for survival because I don’t know the next time he/she is going to feed me!” Also, if you’ve waited the whole day to finally eat something, chances are by the time you eat, you’ll eat much larger portions than you would have compared to if you had gotten to eat at regular intervals earlier that day. Take home point: Avoid going longer than 4 hours without eating anything (ideally you want to try to eat about every 2 ½ to 3 hours). If you’re in a meeting or running errands during a meal time, make sure to at least have a snack (trail mix, peanut butter crackers, pretzels, etc.,) to tie you over until you can get an actual meal. If you’re going out with the girls for dinner or any other meal, try to avoid being ravenously hungry when you get to the restaurant. To do this, have a snack such as a small peanut butter sandwich or an apple about 30 minutes to an hour before going out to eat. This snack will help curb your appetite so that you’re still hungry enough to enjoy your main entrée but you’re not so hungry that you mindlessly eat copious amounts of chips and salsa, bread and butter, or any other pre-entrée items that are usually served at restaurants.
2. Make Your Meals Complete I know that carbs often get a bad rap when it comes to trying to lose weight, but you want to avoid having meals and snacks comprised of only one type of macronutrient (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats). When it comes to carbohydrates, we often think of the traditional bread products and starchy vegetables, but luckily, fruit and dairy (milk, yogurt, & pudding) are also carbohydrate sources. The body’s preferred source of energy is carbohydrates and the only thing your brain can run off of. The reason low-carb diets appear to be pretty successful in the beginning in terms of weight loss is that if you’re eating less carbohydrate than your body needs to function, the next most immediate nutrient it can break down for energy is protein. And since protein is stored pretty richly in your muscle tissues, your muscle starts to squeeze out body water (hence quick drops in weight reflected on your scale) as the body breaks down protein for energy. Once your body has finally sacrificed enough protein for energy in your nice pretty muscles, it will then go into fat burning. Fat ends up being the last resort just because it’s so dadgum hard to burn fat! Take home point: Make sure you’re getting enough carbohydrate throughout the day (from whole grain starches, fruits, and dairy products) so your body can use this energy to burn fat and not breakdown any precious protein/muscle tissue for energy. However, be sure to pair your carbohydrates with protein and fat as well since these nutrients are key in providing satiety and keeping you full for a longer amount of time. If your meal isn’t well-rounded, you may find your body making you hungry sooner than later to prompt you to eat the nutrients you were missing previously. The best analogy I can share is thinking about your protein, carbs, and fats like your shirt, pants, and shoes in terms of essentials…you’d look a little silly and incomplete without all three components – at least if you’re headed out in public 😉
3. Take Time with Your Meals Are you a quick eater? Hectic schedules and society in general tend to make us eat quickly out of necessity. Unfortunately though, rapid eating leaves little opportunity for our body to provide us the sensation of fullness. It takes about 15-20 minutes for our brain and stomach to communicate that we’ve eaten something and give that full feeling. Often times, we end up eating so quickly, that within the first 5 minutes of eating, we’ve already eaten the volume of food it takes for our stomach to feel full BUT since the brain and stomach haven’t had time to communicate yet, we keep on eating and eating until about 20 minutes later we feel that “overfull” feeling (I call it gross full or that level of fullness that makes us want to unbutton our jeans or take off our Spanx) since our brain and stomach have finally caught up with us. Take home point: Slow down your pace of eating so that it takes you at least 15-20 minutes to eat your meal. One way to accomplish this is making sure to put down the fork in between every bite of food. Sometimes we end up eating so quickly and we end up already having the 4th bite of mashed potatoes ready to go on our fork before we’ve even completely swallowed our first initial bite! Other ways you can slow your pace of eating include taking a sip of water (or other low calorie beverage) in between bites of food or even having conversation in between bites of food. Slowing down your pace of eating not only helps with getting full off of a smaller portion size but also allows you to take time to really enjoy and savor each bite of food.
4. Make Friends with Veggies Unless they’re breaded and/or deep fried, non-starchy vegetables are pretty much water, fiber, vitamins, and minerals…and extremely low calorie. Non-starchy vegetables including broccoli, asparagus, green beans, spinach, tomatoes, etc., are a great way to get extra volume on your plate without adding excessive calories. Vegetables can be your friend when you’re trying to reduce your portion sizes of other food groups (such as starches and protein) because you can add these veggies in to provide more fullness to your meal. Take home point: Be mindful though that since vegetables do not contain many calories, they will not be very helpful in providing energy. Avoid getting so full off of vegetables that it prevents you from eating the calorie-containing foods that you do need for weight management and daily function. Make a practice of making ½ of your plate veggies followed by ¼ starch and ¼ protein when building your plate to ensure nice balance. Great ways to sneak in vegetables throughout the day include between meal snacks and popping frozen veggies in re-usable steamer bags for a quick vegetable sidekick at dinner.
5. Don’t Underestimate the Power of Water Feeling hungry pretty soon after a meal or snack? Before getting second helpings, drink a glass or bottle of water and then reassess your hunger level. Our body will sometimes mimic the feeling of hunger to prompt us to drink more water, especially if we’re dehydrated. Waiting until you have the classic dry lips and parched mouth before drinking anything is waiting way too long. Being dehydrated can lead to feelings of light-headedness, fatigue, nausea (ick!),constipation (double ick!), apathy, and lack of concentration. Take home point: Even though it may seem contradictory, drinking plenty of water throughout the day can help with reducing water retention and bloating, especially since you’re getting to flush out your system. If you have trouble getting in the usual recommended 8 glasses of water/day, buying a cute water bottle to have at work or at home can be a fun way to prompt you to drink water. Also, naturally flavoring your water with slices of fruit to steep in a pitcher of ice water can be refreshing and avoids artificial sweeteners.
6. Get Moving Sure you can lose weight with diet alone, but physical activity is a must in keeping weight off and managing your weight long-term…or at least this is my opinion as a dietitian— I’m sure my exercise colleagues would agree 😉 But don’t feel like traditional exercise is the only way to manage your weight. Being physically active by taking the stairs, parking farther away from the building, getting up from your desk and walking, etc., can be normal activities to incorporate in your day. On average, we spend 60% of our time at work so why not use it for movement?! Did you know that to build and maintain muscle cells you need to eat 4-5 times a day? The more muscle cells you have in your body, the faster your body uses up fat storage. Stretching and breathing (which can be done while sitting at a desk) are two of the best forms of muscle cell builders! Take home point: Physical activity is a natural appetite suppressant and is a key player in increasing your metabolism and decreasing fat mass. Health professionals recommend 30 minutes/day of physical activity in the prevention of chronic disease. But, if you are trying to actively lose weight, the recommendation is closer to 60-90 minutes of activity most days of the week. The great thing for busy people is that the 60-90 minutes do not have to be accomplished all in one session. As long as you do physical activity raising your heart rate for at least a 10 minute increment, you can break up your workout as it best meets your schedule.
I hope the tips above can be helpful in your every day eating and even possibly help you lose a few pounds this summer! Having balance in our every day eating habits whether through our timing of meals or how we make our plate can help prevent chronic disease in addition to help manage weight. I am always up for questions and conversation so please feel free to comment. I’m also available on Facebook, Twitter, and good ol’ fashioned email (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you’re interested in reaching out and keeping in touch.