By Monique Richard MS, RDN, LDN
Last month we looked at two powerful ways to enhance health at the start of this New Year: eating plant-based whole foods and gaining muscle mass through exercise. Let’s continue the discussion on simple, practical ways you can improve your health—today!
Get real about portions
Stop for a moment and recall learning how big your stomach is—not very big. Granted, it is an amazing organ that can expand to hold up to 4 L (4.2 qts.) or 9 pounds of content. But what happens when we keep expanding it and stretching it? You guessed it—all kinds of dietary and health consequences. It takes more to get us to feel full, the sensors and neurotransmitters of satisfaction are altered, and the excess of nutrients are stored as fat since all the reserves are full and the body has to put it somewhere.
Over the last few decades, portions have become gigantic and have not only expanded our stomachs, but our waistlines, too—a lot! A “regular” size bagel offered on today’s menu is considered approximately four servings! A soda (usually no smaller than 12-24oz.) is pure sugar and can be a third of the carbohydrates you need in an entire day—all from a nutrient-
deficient source. Most restaurants, fast-food joints, and even some grocery stores are serving 2-4 times the amount of food that one person needs in one sitting. Even our dinner plates, coffee cups, cereal bowls, and utensils have grown markedly in size.
Keep some visual cues in your mind to stay on track with healthy portions. Meat or protein sources should be the size of a deck of cards, making up 25% of your plate. Try to fill 50% of your plate with fruits and vegetables (non-starchy vegetables like green beans, broccoli, mushrooms, peppers, etc.) equally. Think 1-1 ½ cups of each, approximately the size of your fist. When considering whole grains, think of a baseball sized portion (the final 25% of your plate). Fat should be the size of the top portion of your pinkie (think stamp-sized butter pad).
Cooking for just one or two? Unfortunately, that could mean eating for three or four sometimes. Try measuring. Invest in some dollar store measuring cups and spoons or a food scale and follow the dietary guidelines for the portion of that food recommended to give you a visual cue of what the right amount is. Once you try it for a while, you will quickly learn what to cut down to and veto the rest.
Bite it, write it, and win
Keep a food log and every time you have something to eat (even if just a bite), write it down; then look over your day to see what patterns, barriers, or changes you think could be made. “Just the act of writing it down. . . it keeps you more mindful and conscious of what you are eating,” says Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, and author of The Flexitarian Diet. Discuss with an RDN where you have barriers and some options that will impact your diet. To make it super easy, there are myriad food journaling aps available for your smart phone, as well as online.
Pump up the volume, not the jam
Eating foods that fill you up at the start of your meal will stave off the need to grab the fried pickles. Try to start with a broth based soup or house salad with dressing on the side; load up your main entrée with fruits and vegetables. Keep the sugar content lower by having real fruit with yogurt, toast, or desserts rather than jams, sauces, and artificial flavorings. The added fiber (not to mention vitamins and minerals) will fill you up and, you will save on calories.
Pack a protein punch
Protein will not only keep you full but also will keep those muscles you worked so hard to build in tip top shape (after all they are made of protein). Aim for 20-30 grams at each meal; any more than that and your body won’t be able to absorb it, putting some strain on the kidneys, with the excess possibly getting turned into fat. Have a protein-rich snack paired with a carbohydrate 30-45 minutes after working out (i.e. peanut butter and banana or carrots and hummus). Some great protein sources include fish, lean poultry, beans, couscous, rice, lentils, nuts, seeds, nut butters, low-fat dairy, dairy alternatives (like soy, almond, and hemp), and vegetables have some protein as well.
Sit down and savor your food
Eating while working, watching TV, or driving somewhere often does not give us the mind-body connection needed to feel satisfied and fulfilled. It can lead to overeating and negative feelings toward food and its purpose. Try sitting down regularly to a meal with little or no distractions and use your senses to notice the smell, texture, color, and taste of the food. What is it that you like or don’t like, wish you could change about it, or will try next time? It may seem awkward at first, but once you establish the connections between your thoughts and what you are doing related to the food, you will discover a world of changes and positive ways to influence weight loss.
Also try to read the nutrition facts labels and ingredients to know what a serving consists of and what you are actually eating. Be aware of low-fat foods; just because it is low-fat does not mean it is low-calorie or healthy. Add spice and heat to your food like hot peppers; the antioxidant capsaicin will give the slightest lift to your metabolism, and the flavors will provide satisfaction without added calories or fat. Choose hot peppers, fresh herbs, or a variety of bottled spices and seasonings (without salt, of course). Choose a buddy to try these changes with. Having someone to keep you accountable will influence the choices you make, impacting the end results.
Again, picking one or two of these options and sticking to them will make way for healthier habits to come and possibly leave fat (and guilt) behind for good. It would be my pleasure to help support you and customize your nutritional needs to your goals and health concerns.
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Sources: Sherman, J. The get-real diet. Vegetarian Times. January/February 2012
Spano, M. Weight Loss tips that work. Wellness Advisor Spring/Summer 2011.
Accessed January 14, 2012
Johnson, George B. Holt Biology: Visualizing Life. Orlando: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1994: 769.