The first basic thing to remember is that calories are the measure of the energy taken in, and the calories taken in must be less than the calories used in order for weight loss to occur. Since we all know this, it is easy to see that the TYPE of foods we eat will have a major impact on our weight loss success.
Proteins and carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram. If we eat a certain volume of food that supplies mostly protein (such as a very lean meat) or mostly carbohydrates (such as fruit), we are taking in 4 calories per gram. Fat on the other hand supplies 9 calories per gram, which is more than twice as many calories. If we eat a food that is very high in fat, we are consuming many more calories for this reason. Also it is important to remember that fat is … well, already fat. The body can easily store it in its present form as fat in the body. Carbohydrates require another step, being broken down and reassembled, before they can be stored as fat. (That very metabolic process even uses some calories!) So not only is it harder for the body to store carbohydrates as fat, it also “costs” the body more calories. Because of this, eating 100 calories of fat is going to cause more damage to your diet program than eating 100 calories of carbohydrates.
Fruits and veggies are important sources of carbohydrates and, as a group, are almost universally fat-free (the exceptions are things like coconut and avocado). They are also some of the best sources of fiber, which is also important in reaching and maintaining a healthy weight. Fiber helps you feel full sooner and so eat less, and also helps clean out the intestinal tract. Having a healthy intestinal tract is important for nutrient absorption, and being able to properly use the food you eat will also help you feel more satisfied and may help decrease food cravings.
Most of us don’t get the recommended amount of servings of fruits and vegetables, even though they are vital to the success of a diet program.
When asked about their daily intake of calories, many people recall the foods they have eaten that day, but tend to forget or underestimate calories taken through beverages. It is important to consider these sources as well. Remember that while fruit juice has more nutrients, it also has the same number of calories as a regular soda, so limit juice intake. (Better yet, eat fresh fruit instead of drinking the juice!) Vegetable juices like V8 or tomato juice are lower in calories and still count as a serving of veggies, so these are a better choice. Also, cut back on caloric beverages in general. If you normally drink a 20-ounce bottle of Coke every day, replacing that Coke with water will result in a 25 pound weight loss over the next year without making any other changes at all! Milk is another common culprit … in addition to calories, whole milk is relatively high in fat, especially for a beverage. Switching to 1% would cause you to lose almost 1/2 pound a month if you normally drink only 1 glass of milk per day.
Eating out is another pitfall for many dieters. The best course is NOT to eat out … you can prepare foods yourself using low-fat alternatives at home for a better diet, and in many cases even better taste. If you are eating out (especially fast food) routinely for lunch, take your lunch to work instead. (Click here for some great lunch ideas!) Other suggestions for dining out include eating only half of the portions of higher-fat foods, like meat dishes. Restaurants typically offer foods in double-sized portions (at least!). If you can’t stand to let it go to waste, take the rest home in a doggie bag (and don’t eat it as a midnight snack, but rather as another meal). If you must have dessert, order one and share it. Look for healthful options on the menu. Some restaurants offer low-fat icons next to their entrees that fit that category. If the menu doesn’t show this information, opt for broiled or baked chicken or fish, a pasta-based meal (that doesn’t include a cream or cheese sauce), or a salad. Ideally, any meats added to salads should be only broiled or boiled chicken or seafood. Fast food restaurants are, for the most part, best left completely out of a diet plan. If you must eat at one, do not order supersize portions. Replace fries with a more healthful option, if offered, or just skip the side altogether. Opt for broiled chicken or fish, if offered, rather than fried meats or beef, especially hamburger or pork. Choose a low-calorie beverage, and skip the desert.
General cooking and eating tips
- Eat more of your calories early in the day. Aim for a bigger breakfast, and a very small dinner.
- Use a salad plate instead of a dinner plate. You can always get seconds if you NEED them.
- Don’t snack out of a package. Place the food on a plate or in a bowl so you can see the portion.
- Eat low-cal foods in your meal first, then higher-cal foods. Start with your salad, veggies, soups and save meats and starchy foods for afterwards, so you’ll be more satisfied and eat smaller portions of higher-calorie foods.
- Eat soup meals (not cream-based soups). Soups are very filling but low in calories, and will help you eat less at later meals.
- Use mustard in place of mayo.
- Always place your food on a dish, sit down, and focus on eating. Teach yourself to enjoy what you are eating and not mindlessly snack. You’ll be more satisfied with the experience of eating too, and feel less deprived. (Garnishes and a pleasant environment contribute to this as well … consider soft music and candlelight even if it’s just a normal dinner at home. Don’t allow stress-inducing conversation at the table.)
- Stop eating before you are completely full. It takes approximately ten minutes for eaten food to reach the stomach and signal the brain regarding fullness. If you eat until you are completely satisfied, you will have overeaten and added extra calories as well as put yourself at risk for indigestion.
- Try keeping a journal of the foods you eat and include EVERYthing. Grazers will see their weaknesses here, and others may discover habits of stress-eating or boredom-eating, etc.
- If you are craving something, try waiting a bit. Many cravings disappear after a short time. If not, it may be best to allow yourself a TINY portion of the thing you crave. Many successful dieters keep tiny chocolates on hand. If you are the kind of person that will overeat at the next five meals because your craving wasn’t satisfied, and then give in finally and gorge on chocolate, it’s much better to have a tiny piece now and save all those extra calories. Just don’t let it become an excuse.
- Have some veggie meals … consider a salad or veggie casserole. Don’t like salads? Learn how to enjoy salads.
- Don’t skip meals. The worst thing you can do is make the common mistake of skipping meals during the day and binging at night. Those calories are more easily converted to fat because they are consumed just before you sleep.
- Pay attention to nutrition labels and serving sizes. You may be surprised to learn that only one cup is a full serving of pasta, or those veggie snacks you thought would be good for you are actually high in fat due to preparation methods.
- Be careful of nuts. You do need some fats, and nuts are the best way to get them, but they are very high in fat. They should be eaten sparingly.
- Many people eat energy bars and fruit smoothies thinking they are doing well on their diet. These can be good diet foods, but are sometimes not. Pay attention to the labeling … “energy” usually means high calories and often contains a lot of sugars. Smoothies can include a lot of sugars and/or a lot of fat.
- Collect ideas for healthful low-cal dinners when you don’t have time to cook. Those are the times you are most likely to give in and grab fast food.
- A borrowed idea that might not be for everyone, but it struck us as fairly effective … anytime you want to eat a high-fat food, make it a firm rule that you have to do so naked before a mirror.
Remember your diet goals, and post pictures and notes around the house to keep them uppermost in your mind. Some people post their “fat” picture on the fridge to look at when they are tempted to grab a snack. Maybe your goal is to stay fit and alive to see your grandchildren grow up, so put a picture of them on the fridge or pantry to remind yourself, along with a note that says “my grandchildren are more important than a cookie!” Or maybe you plan to marry next year and you want to be slim for your wedding photos … place a picture of a wedding dress where you can see it. Or maybe you want to lose weight so you can more easily find a life partner … try a photo of a couple walking together on a beach or whatever scene you like. Just keep those goals firmly in mind so they can continue to motivate you.
Consider little rewards along the way too. You might want to create a chart and plot your weight weekly, and reward yourself for every 5 pounds lost, or 10, etc. If you are losing a lot of weight, plan a BIG reward after larger increments, like every 20 pounds. A great reward for many people (and necessary as you lose weight!) can be a new outfit. This will help you feel even better about yourself and how you look, and motivate even more loss. If there is a sport or activity you like, that also makes a good reward, especially as your decreasing weight makes you more able to actively participate in your chosen activity. Just whatever you do, don’t reward yourself with food!