It seems harder than ever to shed those pesky extra pounds. Everywhere you look, there are tempting food indulgences: a new brunch spot you have to check out, office morning donuts, convenient but carb-loaded lunch options and social gatherings that revolve around pizza and beer. Even the health-conscious grocery stores are stocked with pre-packaged snacks, a drool-worthy cheese selection, and artisan pastries.
Here are five ways to manage your weight without counting calories, from Sheah Rarback, a registered dietitian nutritionist with the University of Miami Health System.
Cook at home
We all love to dine out with friends and family or grab takeout when we’re on the go. But, as Rarback admits, “doing so often results in overeating (because restaurant portions are oversized), eating more fat and salt (because we don’t know how much are in restaurant servings) and consuming additional calories from alcohol and dessert (because we’re in a festive mood when dining out).”
When you dine in, you can more easily:
- moderate your portion sizes
- cook with whole, fresh foods (fresh/frozen vegetables, unprocessed meats) skip the alcohol and sweets (and save it for a night out)
Eat more veggies
Adding more vegetables to your diet means replacing some meats, processed grains and flours (pasta, bread, rice, cereal), and cheeses with dark leafy greens (like spinach, kale, chard), root vegetables (like carrots, radish, turnips, sweet potatoes) and other colorful veggies (like bell peppers, beets, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus).
“The goal is to pack your plate with vegetables because they are lower in calories and fat and high in fiber (which helps keep you feeling full and maintains regularity),” she says. Vegetables also add vitamins, minerals, and health-promoting phytonutrients. “Start by replacing your nightly pasta or rice side dish with a salad drizzled with olive oil (instead of a creamy dressing). Or, skip the bread roll and enjoy an extra portion of roasted, steamed or sautéed veggies.
“Another idea that’s catching on is Meatless Mondays,” says Rarback. “Doesn’t matter what day of the week you choose, but try to avoid meat entirely at least one day every week. Remember that if your goal is to lose weight, you need to replace your steak, hamburger or pork chop with an interesting vegetable entree, not grain- and flour-based carbohydrates.
“Avoid the temptation to fry or coat your veggies in high-calorie creams, butter, and cheeses. If you take the time to discover delicious vegetable recipes that highlight their flavors and textures, you’ll soon enjoy plant-based dishes without all the added fat, cholesterol and calories.”
While this might sound like advice from yoga class, being mindful while you eat will help you consume less food. Eating a bit less at every meal is a good way to lose weight.
“All this means is pay attention to what you’re putting on your plate and putting in your mouth,” Rarback says. “I often recommend eating with your non-dominant hand to force yourself to slow down. If you give the act of eating more thought, you are more likely to make healthier choices. And you’re more likely to lose weight if you can teach yourself to stop eating when your appetite is satisfied, which is about five bites before you’re stuffed.”
No one wants to leave the table feeling too full, but we do this to ourselves when we’re eating too fast, not paying attention to each bite and ignoring our body’s natural signals of satiety. If you make each snack and meal something worth paying attention to, you’ll enjoy your food more and eat less.
Buy and carry nutritious snacks
Part of mindful eating is making healthy choices and being prepared for inevitable hunger. When you’re on the go and let yourself get “hangry” (the emotionally irritable side of hungry), you’re more likely to grab a processed, sugary, carb-heavy treat instead of a nutritious snack.
“I recommend snacks with protein and fiber that will keep hunger at bay until you have time for a healthy, vegetable-rich meal,” says Rarback. Such snack options include a handful of almonds, a couple slices of cheese and an apple, hummus, and carrots and celery with peanut butter. If your only option is a packaged energy bar, choose one with fewer than seven grams of added sugar and a short list of recognizable, “real food” ingredients.
Avoid chugging an energy soda or whipped cream-topped coffee drink for a pick-me-up. These beverages are filled with added sugars, which means empty calories that will lead to an energy crash followed by another poor food choice.
“And be wary of smoothies and pressed juices that are mostly sugar,” warns Rarback. “When you squeeze out the juice, you get all the sugar in your cup, but leave behind all the fiber. It’s better to eat a whole fruit as a snack.”
Drink less alcohol
Even though you may not have a “drinking problem,” consuming alcohol can be problematic if your goal is to lose weight. A single glass of wine can contain 100 to 130 calories and 0.9 to 7 grams of sugar. Plus, drinking alcohol (even in moderate amounts) can make you feel hungry and lead to a night of unhealthy food choices.
If your focus is weight management, “it’s best to eliminate drinking altogether or limit alcohol consumption to two drinks per week for women and four drinks per week for men,” advises Rarback.
Try sticking to water and unsweetened beverages when eating at home or work, and order a single, lower-sugar drink (like vodka with fizzy water and lime) when you go out on the town. You’ll feel better the next morning, and maybe even motivated to hit the gym.
Dana Kantrowitz is a contributing writer for UMiami Health News.