Eating a healthy, balanced variety of foods is far more satisfying than following a strict weight-loss diet that leaves you feeling deprived and hungry. And healthy eating paired with increased activity is more likely to get you to a healthy weight-and keep you there-than dieting is.
Dieting is not healthy eating
Dieting may make you feel like a failure if you can't lose weight or stay on your diet. Instead of blaming the diets, people who are overweight tend to blame themselves. You may think, "If I could just stay on that diet, I would be thin." This doesn't take into account that your body has powerful regulators that affect your weight-things you can't do anything about. And if you've dieted again and again without success, you can get into a cycle of negative thinking-and even gain more weight.
When you go on a diet, you deprive yourself of food. For many people, that means being hungry most of the time and not having enough energy. It also can lead you to think about food all the time. So you're much more likely to overeat when you finally give yourself permission to eat. It's important to make healthy eating changes that you can keep doing, instead of dieting.
Many different diets and programs promise rapid weight loss but rarely work for the long term. Some might even be dangerous.
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- Obesity: Should I Use a Diet Plan to Lose Weight?
But what does healthy eating mean? Everywhere we turn, we get conflicting advice on what foods are good for our health. It can be hard to know where to start after you've decided to make a change.
- First, start paying attention to your body signals and to your hunger triggers.
- Then get smart about eating healthy foods and controlling your portions.
First, learn to pay attention
Know your body signals
Young children are good at paying attention to their body signals. They eat when they're hungry. They stop when they're full.
But as we grow older, and fast food, huge portions, and delicious snacks are everywhere, many of us start to ignore our body signals. We eat for other reasons-or sometimes without thinking at all.
You can ignore those body signals for a while, but they are powerful. And if you ignore them for a long time (by dieting, for example) you lose your ability to pay attention to them. You get out of practice.
Know your eating triggers
Common triggers to eating when you're not really hungry are:
- Feeling stressed, bored, lonely, or even happy, which can lead to emotional eating.
- Smells, sights, or social situations.
- The foods around you.
Identify your eating triggers by keeping an eating journal for a week or two. Write down everything you eat, plus the time of day and what you were feeling right before you ate.
After you understand why and how you eat, it's time to look at what and how much you eat.
Many people classify foods as "good" or "bad" based on their calorie or fat content and, sometimes, on how nutritious they are. But a healthy diet has room for all kinds of foods.
A healthy, balanced diet means getting the right amounts of:
- Fat. Choose unsaturated fats like olive and canola oil, nuts, and fish.
- Carbohydrate. Choose carbohydrate that comes from whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and low-fat dairy products.
- Protein. Choose lean protein as often as you can, such as all types of fish, poultry without skin, low-fat dairy products, and legumes (peas, beans, and lentils).
- Fiber. Fiber comes from plant foods, like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and nuts.
Tips for choosing your food sensibly
- Limit high-fat, sugary, and high-calorie foods. They taste so good that it's easy to eat too much.
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.
- Plan your meals (What is a PDF document?) ahead of time. You're less likely to grab something convenient-and high in fat, sugar, or salt-if you already know what to make for dinner tonight.
Control your portions
Just cutting back on the size of your portions can be a great way to get to or stay at a healthy weight-without giving up any of your favorite foods.
One Woman's Story:
"Before I gained the weight, I wish someone said, 'portion sizes.' If you're not thinking about it, you go to a restaurant, you think you're getting a portion size. You're not thinking they're serving you six plates of food."-Jaci