Perhaps you’ve reached your “happy” weight. Or perhaps you’re trying to lose a few pounds, without the feeling that you’re climbing a dietary Mount Everest to do so.
Losing or maintaining your weight involves a lot of mental gymnastics. Food options are everywhere, not to mention temptation. It’s easy to approach the day with an all-or-nothing mentality: I’m going to be good or bad. Sadly, with that mindset, it’s easy to get into a cycle of restriction. We often try to counter a period of poor decision-making by scaling way back on calorie consumption — until we can’t take it anymore, and overindulge. This will only lead to wild weight fluctuations, falling off the metaphorical “wagon” and a total loss of sanity.
The key to maintaining a healthy diet is being practical in your approach, utilizing tips that will help you stress less about every single decision. It’s time to start eating not just better, but smarter.
If you want it, don’t fight back. Just eat it.
We talk about “empty” calories — but you know what, sometimes those serve a purpose. Sometimes, I’m really not satisfied without the slice of cake or ice cream. We’re also trained that we are supposed to eat specific foods at specific times — which, remember, is not some iron-clad rule. Sometimes, I want my ice cream in the morning. My tip? Eat what you want, when you want it. A slice of cake can easily replace a bowl of cereal and a banana in the morning. And you’ll probably feel just fine waiting until lunch for another meal because you indulged your craving. Just track your total number of calories, seek balance, and don’t fight cravings too long. You’ll binge later on, and fall off the wagon.
Drink tons of water.
It’s amazing how easy it is to misinterpret thirst, boredom or stress as hunger. Staying hydrated wards off hunger cues — and can become your quick double-check before eating an extra snack. I have a dietician friend who drinks 16 ounces of water before she has a meal or snack that’s outside of her usual patterns, just to make sure she’s actually hungry. Down some H2O, wait 10 minutes, and see if you still want that apple and peanut butter right now.
Do not skip meals (unless you’re truly not hungry).
No matter what we’ve been told, anyone who has tried to lose weight has been tempted to just skip lunch. However, it always comes out in the wash. A few extra calories at dinner, another snack and some nighttime grazing later, and you’ve eaten more than a lunch. However, your body may not be hungry for every single meal — especially if you indulged during the previous meal (hello, holiday feasts! It happens). If you still feel full, just drink a lot of water and have a small snack like an apple or fresh-cut veggies. No need to take in calories that your body doesn’t truly need.
Have the pastry during your period.
It feels impossible to resist eating when your period is impending. But that’s okay. With hormonal shifts as you enter PMS, and your body prepares for a potential pregnancy, you will use more energy and burn roughly 100 to 300 calories. So, those cravings? They exist for a reason – because your body is asking for more fuel. So, go ahead and eat a little more than you normally might! You don’t have to resist. You can feel safe knowing your metabolism is torching the calories anyway — all of which your body will thank you for.
Stop eating with dinner.
It took me forever to heed this tip, but you really should stop eating after you clear your dinner plate. Yes, a calorie is a calorie, no matter when you eat it. But, those extra nighttime grazing calories will kill you, and it’s easy to go overboard and eat more than you intended; research shows that weight and nighttime eating are indeed linked, and those who eat after 8 PM are more likely to have a higher BMI. On top of that, going to bed on a full stomach means your body just won’t rest as easily. And there’s something about waking up with a flat, empty stomach that feels “right.” It’s great motivation not to overeat throughout the next day. So, bottom line: It’s a mindset. Simply approach every day knowing that your food cut-off is dinner. If you need something later, sip calming tea like peppermint, chamomile or cinnamon.
Have everything, just not a lot of it.
Carbs, fat, protein. And sugar. And salty stuff. Sorry, but if you grew up in Western culture, you likely need it all to feel totally satisfied with your diet! And you can have the cake, the pasta, the steak and the Snickers bar. Just make sure the slice is modest, the pasta is a side dish, the steak is no more than 3 or 4 oz (on occasion), and the Snickers bar is fun-sized. Use an app. Track your calories. Based on your diet goals, you’ve likely got between 1,500 and 2,000 of ’em. Structure your day to include everything that will satisfy, portion and E-A-T.
Find your favorite healthy go-to’s.
I don’t want you to waste a single calorie on foods that you don’t enjoy. With that in mind, I want you to create a Dream Team of healthy foods, and toss anything that doesn’t excite you. If you’re “meh” on broccoli, cauliflower, turkey, and Greek yogurt? You’re not eating it. Fill your fridge with foods that make your mouth water when you think of them. Just make sure they’re filling, lean, nutrient-dense and something you will actually make. If you’re not going to roast brussels sprouts, even if you like them, don’t buy them. If you’re more of a toss-a-salad-together type, then perhaps lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, cauliflower, avocado and lean chicken are all on your Dream Team. Maybe you like grab-n-go snacks, and a KIND bar or a trail mix pack will satisfy — and makes the most sense. Be practical and purposeful.
The goal is to completely eliminate “meh” foods, often ones that are our default healthy options — the items we buy more out of some weird mental obligation than because we actually like them. Find healthy foods you actually enjoy, so the base of your diet is maintainable long-term.