SPECIAL OFFER: - Limited Time Only!
(The ad below will not display on your printed page)
Let's face it: We're busy, distracted, overwhelmed by bigger challenges. Eating healthfully tends to get pushed down the priority list when you've got a crazy work schedule, a brood of kids, or a gaggle of friends insisting on happy hour. And somehow our minds are always capable of justifying those spur-of-the-moment doughnut and potato chip indulgences -- it's PMS! I deserve it! My body needs it!
But eating right is what your body is truly craving; good nutrition is the best way to help the mind tackle those bigger priorities. And it doesn't have to be about punishing or depriving yourself either. "Overall good eating is not about dieting, but about making small lifestyle changes," says San Francisco-based nutritionist Kaley Todd, MS, RD. "I've found that people who focus in on small changes tend to have larger success and lifelong success."
Begin now by making small changes with our simple 2-day plan.
Break down the walls. Begin by taking an honest look at your current habits and readiness to change them, says Deborah Kesten, a certified wellness coach and author of The Enlightened Diet. "Are you really ready to change or forcing it? If you're staying with bad habits, ask yourself what you're getting out of them."
Breaking down your psychological state will help you overcome any mental barriers that are keeping you from embracing an exercise routine. Says Kesten, "Once you decide you're ready to make a change, you can start to envision it and act on it."
Rethinking your plate. Many nutritionists today are urging people to rethink the core of their diets. Instead of a fatty cut of meat taking the spotlight on your plate, "shift the focus to vegetables, fruits, and whole grains -- with the fat and protein being the side dish," says Todd.
"One of the biggest keys to healthier eating is to add more fruits and vegetables," says Jackie Newgent, RD, CDN, culinary nutritionist and author of The Big Green Cookbook. "You don't need to be a vegetarian; small amounts of meats are fine. But I try and incorporate a fruit and vegetable in every recipe. I like to tell people to think of it as adding [excitement] to your diet, not subtracting from what you're eating. And that way you'll enjoy it that much more."
Veggies also help you bulk up with minimal calories. "They're very filling," says Todd, so you feel like you're getting a lot more food, and this will keep you from overeating later."
Todd suggests switching to smaller-size plates for meals to help keep portion sizes reasonable. "It's a psychological trick, but with a small plate, you look like you're getting more food."
How much you should eat. The USDA new food pyramid often serves as a general guideline to healthy eating. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans outlines the following:
Fruit group: 2 cups (4 servings)
Vegetable group: 2.5 cups (5 servings)
Dark green vegetables: 3 cups/week
Orange vegetables: 2 cups/week
Legumes (dry beans): 3 cups/week
Starchy vegetables: 3 cups/week
Other vegetables: 6.5 cups/week
Grain group: 6 ounce-equivalents
Whole grains: 3 ounce-equivalents
Other grains: 3 ounce-equivalents
Meat and beans group: 5.5 ounce-equivalents
Milk group: 3 cups
Oils: 24 grams (6 teaspoons)
"Other" calorie allowance: 267 calories
As far as serving sizes go:
Fruit: about the size of your fist
1 piece of fresh fruit, 1/2 cup of chopped fruit, 3/4 cup of fruit juice, 1/4 cup dried fruit
Vegetables: about the size of your fist
Sample: 1/2 cup of cooked or cut-up raw veggies, 1 cup raw leafy veggies
Sample: 1 slice of whole-grain bread, 1 ounce of prepared cereal, 1/2 cup of pasta or rice, 1 computer-mouse-size baked potato, one CD-size pancake or waffle
Meat: about the size of a deck of cards
Sample: 2 to 3 ounces of meat, such as one chicken breast, 1/4-pound hamburger patty, medium pork chop
Other proteins: 1 tablespoon of nut butter, 1 egg, 1/3 cup of dry beans
1 cup of milk, 1 1/2 ounces of cheese (the size of 6 dice)
In general, a serving of snacks (like pretzels) can be measured as a rounded handful, says Todd.
What about fat? Many nutritionists also point to the Harvard Healthy Eating Pyramid as a reference, which places a stronger emphasis on exercise, whole grains, and healthy plant oils, such as those from nuts and avocados.
"The key to a healthy diet is to substitute good fats for bad fats -- and to avoid trans fats," adds Todd. This means replacing saturated and trans fats -- the hamburgers, French fries, and buttery foods that increase the risk of certain diseases -- with the healthy fats such as those found in avocados, fatty fish, olive and canola oil, soybeans, and nuts.
The USDA suggests total fat intake be limited to between 20 and 35 percent of daily calories, with less than 10 percent of calories coming from saturated fat. Other studies, like those focused on the Mediterranean diet, are finding that higher quantities of "good fats" (the unsaturated kind) may be healthier for our hearts, says Todd.
Pacing, Calories, and Vitamins. As a general rule, aim for three meals with two snacks in between, so that you're eating something every three to four hours. "This will help maintain blood glucose levels," says Todd, "so you won't get famished and make poor choices."
Daily calorie intake should be tied to your current weight and your goal. If you are aiming to lose weight, a general rule of thumb is to multiply your pounds by 10, suggests Newgent. So if you weigh 150 pounds, 1,500 is your cap for the day. If you're trying to maintain your weight, multiply your weight by 10 and add 300, bringing you up to 1,800 calories for the day.
If you're moderately active, however, add in another 300 calories -- but note that moderately active means "heading to the gym for approximately an hour most days of the week," Newgent says, not, say, walking the dog around the block every morning (nice try, though).
And don't forget to take daily multivitamin. "With our modern lifestyles, it's an important assurance of good nutrition," says Newgent, who also recommends calcium with vitamin D supplements for good bone health.
Don't forget your fluids. Be sure to get at least six 8-ounce glasses of water -- or fluids -- per day. Newgent strongly recommends tap water, filtered with a spigot filter or a Brita-type pitcher, rather than bottled water, which contributes to the plastic overload on the environment. She adds sliced fruit to hers, like oranges or mango. "Water doesn't have to be a chore," says Newgent. You can also opt for green tea instead.
Rid thy enemies! Before your two days officially begin, you'll need to do a little prep work by buying health food and removing all temptation. "Go through the house, the car, and the desk and get rid of all your enemies," says Doris Dodge-Thews, master instructor for 24 Hour Fitness in Laguna, California. That includes any junk food, high-calorie desserts, and candy.
Breakfast. A good breakfast, according to Newgent, would be something like a whole-grain English muffin with almond butter (1 tablespoon) and 100% fruit spread (2 to 3 teaspoons). Enjoy a piece of your favorite fruit with it, too. The benefit: fewer calories (about 350 total), less added sugar, and more nutrients. "I recommend always including at least three food groups in a healthful breakfast, with at least one of those containing protein, like eggs or nut butters."
But if you absolutely can't resist that oversize banana nut muffin you see in the window of the coffee shop, opt for just a muffin top or mini-muffin instead. (Bakery muffins are a lot more caloric than people realize, says Newgent, often containing 500-600 calories.)
That isn't a misprint -- heed the craving if it's all you can think about. "Once a week it's perfectly fine to follow your cravings," says Newgent. "I think if we don't satisfy those cravings sometimes, we don't stick to a healthier eating plan."
Another suggestion: Make your own healthier muffin recipe and pour it into a whole pan (rather than individual muffin cups), then cut them into 3-inch squares. You still get your muffin, but with a lot fewer calories.
A.M. snack. Try a banana with some almond butter -- you'll get potassium, protein, and complex carbs all in one. Potassium is key to keeping a healthy water balance between cells and bodily fluids, and it keeps our nerves and muscles running smoothly.
Another idea: Carry a baggie of 12 to 14 walnut halves (1/4 cup, which should fit into the palm of your hand). "They're a big bang for the buck," says Todd, who consults with the California Walnuts group. "They are a relatively inexpensive source of omega-3s, magnesium, antioxidants, and phosphorous, so they're good for your heart, they decrease inflammation, and a recent study found that they improve cognitive function in lab rats."
Lunchtime. Head to the nearest salad bar and opt for a smaller container than usual, which'll help you keep your portion size smaller while saving you money, says Todd. Don't be afraid to experiment with new veggies, either. "Jicama, beets, hearts of palm, and even cabbage can add unique flavors and crunch," says Todd. Go light on the cheese, but add in another source of lean protein: white turkey or chicken breast, tuna packed in water, shrimp, edamame, garbanzo/kidney beans, or a sprinkling of chopped eggs are all smart additions. And be sure to include a healthy fat source such as avocado or walnuts to maximize nutrient absorption and provide essential fatty acids. "By swapping walnuts for croutons you can reduce your saturated fat and sodium intake, while boosting your omega-3s," says Todd.
Avoid creamy salad dressings and consider making your own dressing from what's at the salad bar. Todd's rec: some olive oil, vinegar, and a fresh lemon or orange squeeze can give you flavor without the calories and fats.
Afternoon snack. If you walk by a Jamba Juice, skip it, says Newgent -- too much sugar. "You want to try to chew your calories rather than drink them. We tend not to adjust caloric intake based on liquids." Instead walk to the nearest farmers' market or fruit stand and pick out a variety of fruits with different colors. The more colors, the more variety in the nutrients you'll be getting.
For a vegetable snack, opt for hummus and cucumbers, which will give you protein, fiber, and folate -- important for heart health, especially in the childbearing years. "And hummus is just a fun way to eat your vegetables," adds Newgent.
Or try a piece of fruit with nonfat or low-fat yogurt or cottage cheese -- it will help meet your daily calcium needs, says Todd. And "If you're looking for a coffee break, try a nonfat latte to sneak in some additional calcium."
Dinner. Odds are you still need some servings of vegetables to get your daily rec. If you're craving a burrito, beware of the portion sizes and heavy doses of cheese, guacamole, and sour cream.
And if you can't kick that craving for red meat, there is a way to get a healthy dose. Skip the hamburger and upgrade yourself to an affordable lean flank steak.
"In general red meat should be limited, but can be included in the diet" says New York City-based Sharon Richter, RD. "It is a good source of iron, a mineral many women are deficient in."
The cut of the meat will determine how healthy it is. "You generally want a leaner cut, trim all visible fat, and stick to a serving of 3 ounces," adds Richter. A 3-ounce serving is about the size of a deck of cards (see portion sizing tips on page 1).
The leanest cuts of beef, according to the Cattlemen's Beef Board: eye round roast and steak, sirloin tip side steak, and top round roast and steak. (The most fatty cut: T-Bone steak.)
And if you're thinking of replacing that hamburger with a turkey burger, beware: "Not all ground turkey is created equally," says Richter. "Make sure it specifies white meat or 90 percent lean or lower."
Dessert. You do have calories to maintain, so opt for something you enjoy. If you're craving ice cream, look for a soy or hemp-based "frozen dessert" instead, suggests Newgent. They're not only better for the planet, but they bring plant-based nutritional benefits to your sweet tooth. Soy offers heart-healthy antioxidant isoflavones, and hemp brings much-needed omega-3s and vitamin E, also good for the heart and skin.
Todd also urges her clients to treat themselves to dessert once in a while, and "don't be hard on yourself. You should actually enjoy it, so take the guilt out of the equation. Every lifestyle should enjoy certain indulgences."
Breakfast. Now that you have a bit more time in the morning to prepare breakfast, opt for a vegetable omelet with a slice whole-grain toast, suggests Newgent. You'll get three food groups -- vegetables, protein, and whole grains -- with the protein keeping you full and the carbs giving you energy.
A.M. snack. Opt for a trail mix with dried fruits and nuts -- you'll get in two food groups with more sustained energy. But beware of excess calories, added sugars, or preservatives. Todd suggests buying the fruits and nuts separately in bulk and preparing your own baggies, which means you can control portion size and additives while also saving money. Aim for 1/4 cup (about a handful) of trail mix in each bag. Her nutrient-dense rec: dried cherries and apricots mixed with walnuts and a few dark chocolate chips, giving yourself antioxidants, omega3s, and magnesium.
Lunch. If you're craving a sandwich, think of the meat as the condiment and vegetables as the main ingredient, rather than the other way around. If you order a turkey sub, ask them to go lighter on the turkey and heavier on the vegetables, says Newgent. Skip the mayonnaise for mustard, or for extra zing, Newgent suggests a splash of balsamic vinegar on your sandwich.
Afternoon snack. Craving something rich and creamy, go with fruit and cheese instead -- preferably string cheese. "It's already perfectly portioned, so you won't be tempted to go too cheesy," says Newgent. Her "rule of thumb" for eating non-string cheese: for a correct portion size, cut a chunk no wider than your thumb.
Dinner. The goal with dinner is to think of a vegetable or whole grain as the entree. Newgent's rec: Broccoli stir-fry with chicken added in only for flavor. Serve it with brown rice, quinoa, or whole wheat couscous so you mix up the whole grains a bit.
Todd suggests making a large batch of your favorite whole grain -- wild rice, quinoa, brown basmati rice, or couscous. "This can be portioned out throughout the week and quickly made into a healthy brown-bag lunch, ideal for work." Her rec: quinoa with cherry tomatoes, corn, cucumber, zucchini -- topped with chopped parsley and basil.
Dessert. If chocolate is your thing, go ahead and have a small piece every day, says Newgent. But try and opt for fruits, like a big bowl of sliced strawberries with a drizzle of honey or agave nectar.
When Sunday arrives, step back and review your 48-hour jump start, and ask yourself which meals and snacks you enjoyed the most. Focus on what worked for you and what you'd like to keep in your regular diet. "People forget that healthy foods can taste good and be enjoyable," says Todd. "Once you realize that, it's easier to take the baby steps that can lead to good habits."
Originally published on FitnessMagazine.com, July 2009.