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The Happy Diet


You Are What You Eat

According to the experts, the familiar saying is true. "There's an incredibly strong correlation between the food you consume and how you feel," says FITNESS advisory board member Ashley Koff, RD, a nutritionist in Los Angeles. "When you balance healthy carbs, protein, and fats, you get exactly what your body needs for long-lasting energy and a good mood." At FITNESS, we call this The Happy Diet.

Here are a few get-happy rules to eat by:

Nothing is off-limits.

Eating plans that cut out entire food groups leave you feeling hungry, sluggish, and grumpy. "When your body isn't getting the nutrients or pleasure it needs from food, you're more likely to overeat," says Leslie Bonci, RD, director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and a FITNESS advisory board member. "Feeling satisfied isn't just about portion size — it's also about taste and variety."

You can eat carbs and fat.

Really! You need a healthy mix of protein, fat, and fiber at every meal, and snacks for stamina.

You get to eat more often.

"Some women go for long periods of time between meals because they think it's going to help them lose weight," says Susan Bowerman, RD, assistant director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition. "But in truth, after a long stretch without eating, your blood sugar plummets-which makes you irritable and less productive and more likely to sabotage your diet by grabbing the wrong foods." You can have a small meal or snack every three to four hours.

Now that you're deliriously psyched, prepare to dig in to our food plan.

Eat for Energy

  • Choose whole foods that are as close to their natural state as possible. Think: a baked potato with the skin, an orange instead of juice. Foods that have not been processed are rich in vitamins and minerals. Refined or processed products have had many of their nutrients stripped away.
  • Try fish, shellfish, eggs, poultry, lean cuts of beef or pork, and low-fat dairy products. Include a small serving of lean protein with all your meals and snacks, Bonci advises. "It takes longer to empty from your stomach, so you'll feel fuller."
  • Go for wild salmon, avocados, olive oil, and canola oil. Healthy unsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids boost brain health and keep the immune system strong.
  • Buy whole-grain breads and pastas, brown rice, beans, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. "Fiber is essential for keeping your energy level consistent throughout the day," says Tanya Zuckerbrot, RD, author of The F-Factor Diet. It helps slow the digestion of food, so your blood sugar remains stable, and it adds bulk, so you feel satisfied longer. "When you munch on refined carbs, you're more likely to overeat during the rest of the day, because you're constantly looking for food to get your energy up after it crashes," explains Zuckerbrot.

Eat for a Good Mood

  • Tap into the tapas (small-plate) trend. At restaurants, skip the supersize portions. Choose two appetizers instead of one big main course, or order small plates or tapas. "This gives you a chance to sample lots of different flavors without eating too much of any one thing," says Bonci.
  • Sit at the table. Stop eating on the run! "Meals should not be another thing to check off your to-do list," Bowerman says. Even if you're just having a snack, sit down with a plate, utensils, and a napkin. Making a ritual out of eating will give your brain time to register the food, so you'll feel like you enjoyed a good meal.
  • Try new foods. Eating a varied diet means you'll be more likely to get the wide range of nutrients your body needs — and you'll be more excited about your meals. "Think outside the box. Have a mango instead of the same old apple. Roast your vegetables instead of steaming them," suggests Bonci.
  • Shop smarter. Being able to touch and choose fresh produce gives people pleasure. Go to farmers' markets whenever possible, and buy foods that are in season.
  • Make your meals good-looking and good-tasting. Think like a chef: Choose foods of different colors and textures. "If a meal feels special, you'll enjoy it more," says Bonci.

Your Happy Diet Meal Plan

This three-day, 1,500-calorie program, created for FITNESS by Leslie Bonci, RD, proves that healthy eating isn't about deprivation. Use it to jump-start your success.

Day 1


  • 1 slice whole-grain toast with 2 teaspoons almond or peanut butter
  • Smoothie: Blend 6 ounces low-fat lemon- or vanilla-flavored yogurt, 1/2 cup unsweetened fresh or frozen fruit, such as mixed berries, sliced peaches or a banana, and 1 cup skim milk.


  • 1 pear
  • 1 piece reduced-fat string cheese


  • Turkey Tapenade Wrap: Spread a whole-grain tortilla with 1 tablespoon olive tapenade; top with 3 slices smoked turkey, 1 slice Muenster cheese, romaine lettuce, and roasted peppers; roll up.


  • 1/4 cup almonds
  • 8 ounces vegetable juice (such as V8 Light)


  • Ginger Beef Vegetable Stir-Fry: Saute 4 ounces thinly sliced eye of round in a nonstick skillet with 1 teaspoon olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon grated ginger; cook about 5 minutes per side (until just pink in the middle). Remove from skillet and add 2 cups frozen Oriental vegetables to the remaining liquid; saute until crisp-tender. Serve over 1 cup cooked brown rice.

Day 2


  • 1 slice whole-grain toast
  • 1 teaspoon each whipped butter and preserves
  • Vegetable Omelet: Heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in a nonstick pan and saute 1/2 cup mushrooms, onions, and peppers; remove from skillet. Pour 2 eggs, lightly beaten, into skillet and cook over medium-high heat, until the bottom of the omelet is firm. Top with vegetable mixture and 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese. Cook 1 to 2 minutes, or until cheese melts.


  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1 orange


  • 1 cup minestrone soup
  • 5 whole-grain crackers
  • Spinach Salad: 2 cups spinach leaves, 10 green olives, grape tomatoes, 2 tablespoons blue cheese, 3 ounces chicken or turkey breast, purple grapes, and 2 tablespoons vinaigrette dressing


  • 14 large baked tortilla chips
  • 1/4 cup guacamole and salsa


  • 4-ounce tuna or salmon steak grilled with Old Bay Seasoning and fresh lemon
  • 1 cup green beans sauteed in 1 teaspoon olive oil and 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 baked sweet potato (4 inches long), with a splash of orange juice and a sprinkle of cinnamon

Day 3


  • 1 hard-cooked egg
  • Cherry Almond Oatmeal: Cook 1/2 cup dry oatmeal with low-fat milk according to package directions. Add 2 tablespoons dried cherries, 2 tablespoons almonds, and 1 tablespoon honey or maple syrup.


100-calorie bag of light popcorn mixed with 1/4 cup peanuts


  • Vegetable Quesadillas: Heat 2 teaspoons olive oil in a nonstick pan; saute 1 minced garlic clove, 1/4 cup chopped onion, 6 chopped olives, and 1/4 cup each chopped mushrooms, zucchini, broccoli, and cauliflower. Add 1/2 cup chopped, seasoned canned tomatoes, drained. Cook until crisp-tender. Spoon vegetables onto two 6-inch whole-grain tortillas. Top each with a slice of part-skim mozzarella or provolone; broil until cheese melts.


  • 2 ounces hummus and 10 baby carrots


  • Rosemary Chicken: Brush half a chicken breast with 1 teaspoon olive oil. Sprinkle with garlic powder and 1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary. Cover with foil; bake at 350 degrees F. for about 20 minutes. Season 3 cooked red potatoes with 1 teaspoon olive oil, plus garlic powder and rosemary to taste. Roast 10 spears of asparagus with 1 teaspoon olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground pepper at 450 degrees F. for 5 minutes.

Originally published in FITNESS magazine, May 2008.