By Carolyn O’Neil, for the AJC
Every season brings timely temptations, from Super Bowl Sunday’s snacks to Fourth of July’s fried chicken and ribs. So why not resolve to recognize these waist-widening challenges and learn to apply some slimming strategies when the landscape is fat with indulgent food choices? Research shows that the most successful dieters — those who lose weight and keep it off for the long haul — practice healthy eating and exercise habits all year long.
There’s no time like the present to make a fresh start and begin new healthier eating habits. Here are some FRESH start diet rules to help you lose weight and improve your health in the new year.
F — Freshen up your food life: Keep fresh fruit and other healthful snacks such as whole-grain crackers, nuts and fresh veggies on hand at home. A handful of almonds or walnuts before heading out to eat can calm your appetite so you don’t dive into the bread basket the minute you arrive. Stock your pantry with whole-grain pastas and brown rice and your fridge with nonfat milk, low-fat cottage cheese and yogurt. Find “thin-dulgences” to feed your cravings. Try chocolate sorbet instead of chocolate ice cream or top broccoli with a tablespoon of grated extra sharp cheddar cheese instead a gobs of cheese sauce.
R — Recognize barriers: OK, it’s going to be tough to say “no” to food favorites such as chocolate fudge and fried chicken. Know your splurge foods and resolve to enjoy them in small quantities. Use a small plate to serve yourself. Research shows your mind will think it looks like a lot more food than the same amount on a large plate. If you avoid making salads because it’s too much trouble to chop up veggies, buy precut salads. Or discover the joy of prepping fresh foods with a great new kitchen knife. Sometimes the barrier preventing you from eating less is the company you keep. A study in the Journal of Consumer Research reports that when college students watched a movie and ate snacks with someone slimmer, they typically followed their thin friend’s lead when he or she overindulged on buttered popcorn and candies. Social cues are powerful, so recognize that it’s not just what you’re eating but who you’re eating with that can affect your overall diet.
E — Enjoy the taste of eating right: Did you know that the deviled eggs, steamed shrimp, roast beef and chicken on skewers often served at parties are all diet-friendly lean-protein choices? Feel free to add low-cal flavor with mustards, horseradish, cocktail sauce and salsas. Remember that some foods are actually allies in the weight-loss war. Protein-packed low-fat dairy foods, broth-based soups, veggies, fruit and whole grains fill you up without filling you out. Having lunch out with friends? The menu at Figo Pasta, with eight Atlanta locations, is packed with figure-friendly items including a chicken soup with fresh chopped tomatoes. Entree salads of mixed greens, arugula or spinach can be topped with chicken, salmon or sea bass and dressed lightly with lemon vinaigrette.
S — Start new habits: Keep a list of what you’re eating and drinking for a few days. Be as specific as possible on types of foods and amounts. Don’t know what a cup of mashed potatoes looks like? Get some measuring cups out and become familiar with portion sizes. This snapshot will help you keep track of overeating, and while you’re at it, write down your physical activity. Did you take the stairs instead of the escalator at the mall? That counts, too! Make sure your goals to improve health habits are specific, realistic, action-based and measurable. If you love french fries or fried chicken, instead of vowing to ban them from your diet, agree to limit eating fried foods to once a week or once a month.
H — Have a plan: Start your day with a mission to be healthy. Eat breakfast. Schedule time to take a walk or go to a yoga class. If you’re going to a potluck supper, bring the salad or vegetable side dish to make sure there’s something healthful on the menu. If you know that Friday involves a big dinner party, eat less on Thursday and walk more on Saturday. If your work schedule requires a three-hour car ride to visit a client, pack fresh fruit such as easy-to-peel clementine oranges and a turkey sandwich on whole wheat for the road so you don’t have to stop at a fast-food joint. Save the calories to splurge on dinner out when you reach your destination. Successful long-term weight control is a balancing act.
Carolyn O’Neil is a registered dietitian and co-author of “The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!” E-mail her at carolyn@carolynoneil .com.