Excuse-Proof Your Diet
More Dieting StrategiesCop-Out: "What's a movie without Milk Duds?"
Snacks at the cinema, chili dogs at the ballpark, chocolate cake at a birthday party -- we're conditioned to eat in so many places and situations. "It's nearly impossible to walk into the movies and not be tempted by popcorn," says Susan M. Kleiner, PhD, RD, author of The Good Mood Diet. "You figure everyone else is eating it, and it's part of the experience, so you should have it too."
Take charge. Retrain your brain so that Twilight does not equal a tub of popcorn with extra butter. Before you leave home, pack a lighter version of your usual treat (veggie-flavored Pirate's Booty for the movies, a six-pack of light beer for the neighborhood barbecue) and, to steel your willpower, jot down what you're going to eat. Visualize how great you'll feel when you walk out of the theater without the weight of the butter-drenched popcorn or leave the cookout without a bloated beer belly -- and how happy you'll be when you step on the scale the next day.Cop-Out: "I'm so stressed out."
Blame it on evolution: When you're under pressure, your body releases hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, prompting temporary spikes in energy, metabolism, and blood sugar. According to research, women who are frazzled often turn to foods like ice cream and pizza. Chronic stress is especially dangerous: Over time, high cortisol levels can lead to fat storage in the abdomen, upping your risk for obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.
Take charge. Blatner recommends making a list of calorie-free stress busters, which might include taking a walk around the block or listening to relaxing music. "When you get the urge to splurge, consult the list and do one of the activities for 10 minutes; that's often long enough to distract you from the craving," she says. If you can't squelch your stress or appetite, opt for healthy protein (lean turkey or low-fat cottage cheese). "Protein raises blood sugar and keeps it stable for several hours," explains Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, author of Beat Sugar Addiction Now. "Sugar helps you feel better for only about an hour."Cop-Out: "I've been good all week."
You were the picture of dietary perfection Monday through Friday, and now it's time to celebrate with a champagne brunch, a three-course dinner, and an evening of barhopping. Welcome to the weekend weight-gainers club! Researchers from the University of North Carolina discovered that people in the United States consume an average of 115 calories more per day on the weekend. This may not sound like much, but it adds up to an extra five pounds a year (and jeans that are way too tight). Plus, splurging on Saturday and Sunday often spills over into the workweek.
Take charge. Instead of thinking, "TGIF...I can finally eat something," spread out your indulgences -- a frozen yogurt here, a glass of wine there -- through the week. Try not to make the weekend a restaurant marathon; when you are going to eat out, schedule a pre-dinner jog or post-brunch hike.Cop-Out: "I haven't eaten all day."
You bypassed breakfast and hardly touched your lunch, so you feel like the queen of willpower -- until you blow those saved-up calories (and more) on an enormous dinner. Skimping on meals early in the day often backfires because it boosts the production of ghrelin. This sneaky hunger hormone doesn't just encourage you to eat; it also tells you to go for the good, but not good-for-you, stuff. A recent study found that when test subjects either fasted or received a ghrelin injection, they preferred diet-busting munchies like cake, chocolate, and pizza to veggies, salad, and fish.
Take charge. Outsmart your hunger hormones by eating every three hours; research shows that the more often people dine throughout the day, the less likely they are to be obese. "Keep satisfying snacks -- an apple and almonds, cucumber slices and hummus -- at your office or prepped in your fridge," Blatner suggests. Not a frequent eater? Make it a habit by using a food diary, and jot down when you eat in addition to what you eat. If you notice you're going more than three hours without a snack, set a timer to help you stay on track.Cop-Out: "I need a pick-me-up."
Ah, the mid-afternoon slump, when you want to curl up in your cubicle. Of course, you also want to keep your job, so you opt for a Snickers instead of a siesta. Turns out you're not just lazy. Our circadian rhythms (the physical, mental, and behavioral habits controlled by our biological clocks) actually make us want to take an afternoon nap: An energy dip occurs about halfway between the time we awake and hit the sack. That means if you're up at 7 and go to bed at night by 11, your slump will hit around 3 p.m. Because studies also link fatigue and high-carb snack attacks, the afternoon munchies mystery is solved.
Take charge. If you're at home, take a 30- to 60-minute catnap to recharge your batteries. Researchers in Japan recently reported that it's an effective way to boost energy and alertness. At work, go for a quick walk. A recent University of Georgia study found that just three low-intensity workouts a week raised people's energy levels by 20 percent and decreased fatigue by 65 percent after six weeks.Cop-Out: "I'm too busy to eat right."
The more hectic our lives become, the less time we seem to have for our health. Case in point: A recent Cornell study found that parents who work long hours rely heavily on takeout and restaurant food. The irony is that while many of us claim we're too busy to prepare a nutritious dinner, we still find time to watch American Idol as we wait for the pizza.
Take charge. Instead of opting for that 30-minutes-or-less delivery guarantee and settling in with your favorite show, try one of our 20-minute recipes. Or prep a week's worth of meals ahead of time. Grilling chicken breasts and prechopping vegetables are obvious shortcuts, but you can also hard-boil eggs or even precook whole-grain pasta (simply warm small portions in the microwave or a skillet). "These foods will last in the refrigerator for five days," Blatner says. Still too much work? Try our lazy girl's grocery list: rotisserie chicken, frozen vegetables and unsweetened fruits, boxes of quick-cooking brown rice or other whole grains, and veggie trays with dip for a quick snack or to throw into a speedy stir-fry (without the dip). See how healthy fast food can be?
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, September 2010.
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