One of the most common pitfalls to weight loss is an all-or-nothing approach aimed at dropping pounds in a hurry. When you start an unrealistic diet plan, you quickly learn that such diets lead to nagging hunger and cravings for forbidden foods. After a few weeks of this, most people return to their old eating habits, complaining that "diets don't work." But what if you could actually lose weight by eating more food -- simply by making a few changes to your everyday food choices?
The truth is that smart weight loss is not about starving yourself or restricting yourself to a few foods. It's about consistently making better food choices, and slowly changing bad eating and exercise habits into more healthful ones.
Here are seven choices that will help you lose weight while eating more food -- and will satisfy your taste buds at the same time:
- Whole-grain foods such as whole wheat, brown rice, whole-grain breads, cereals, and waffles are a much better choice than refined white foods because they're generally higher in fiber, more nutritious, and more filling. Eat 3 cups of air-popped popcorn instead of 1 ounce of potato chips (about 15 chips) and you'll cut 65 calories and get a lot more food to crunch. Instead of having one refined-flour pancake with butter and syrup, you can enjoy two whole-wheat buttermilk pancakes topped with mixed berries for the same 270 calories.
- Foods high in water are naturally low in calories because of their fluid content. Fruits, vegetables, soups, gelatins, and hot cereal are 80%-95% water, while foods like yogurt, puddings, eggs, pasta, beans, and seafood are 60%-75% water. Eating 1 3/4 cup of grapes takes longer and is much more satisfying than eating 1/4 cup of raisins, although both portions have 110 calories. A cup of minestrone soup (125 calories) and a tossed salad with light dressing (100 calories) is a satisfying lunch for 225 calories. Compare that to a chicken salad croissant weighing in at 550 calories, or a 6-inch tuna sub at 530 calories.
- Lower-fat foods can really add up to calorie savings because fat has more than twice the calories of protein or carbohydrates. And when you take out some -- but not necessarily all -- of the fat, foods still taste great. Eight ounces of skim milk has 86 calories, while the same amount of whole milk has 150 calories. A 2-ounce serving of tuna packed in water has 66 calories but when it's packed in oil, the calories jump to 110. Light mayonnaise, light salad dressings, and lower-fat dairy are all easy ways to cut calories while satisfying your taste buds.
- Treats that satisfy your sweet tooth don't have to bust the calorie bank. Sorbet, fat-free frozen yogurt, light or slow-churned ice creams, simple cookies, and fruit-based desserts have a fraction of the calories of super-premium ice cream, rich cookies and other decadent desserts. If you polish off a pint of super-premium ice cream, you can easily pack on 1,000 calories. Instead of eating out of the container (always a no-no), stock your freezer with portion-controlled novelty bars such as Breyer's Double Churned light ice cream bars, Skinny Cow ice cream cones, Fudgsicles, or Edy's Slow Churned ice cream bars, which satisfy with only 100-150 calories. Cookie lovers can enjoy two Fig Newtons, Pirouettes, or Nutter Butters for less than 130 calories instead of a single Mrs. Field's chocolate chip cookie for 210 calories.
- Fast food is considered a sure route to weight gain because many of our favorites are over-the-top in fat and calories (as well as sodium). Enjoying an occasional burger and fries won't do in your diet, but many people frequent fast-food outlets regularly. Next time you go to your favorite fast-food place, choose one of the better bets, such as a grilled chicken sandwich; side or entree salad with light dressings; chili or a baked potato topped with chili; or yogurt and fruit parfaits. Choose a grilled chicken sandwich on whole-grain bread with lettuce and tomato and a side fruit salad for 320 calories instead of a Big Mac and medium fries for 920 calories, and you'll save 600 calories! A bacon cheeseburger can set you back 1,000 calories, but an entree Southwest salad with grilled chicken and light dressing has only 360 calories. Also, skip the bacon, special creamy sauces, and fried foods.
- Muffins, scones, doughnuts, and bagels can be deceptively high in calories. A cinnamon chip scone (490 calories), large bran muffin (370 calories), bagel with cream cheese (500 calories), or doughnut (250 calories) go down fast -- and usually leave you hungry again in a few hours because they're high in sugar and/or refined flour. Instead start your day with whole-grain cereal, skim milk and fruit (230 calories); an egg and two slices of whole-grain toast with a teaspoon of butter or margarine (300 calories); or oatmeal made with skim milk and topped with a few nuts (250 calories). And don't try to save calories by giving up breakfast. Studies have shown that people who eat breakfast control calories throughout the day better than breakfast skippers.
- Dips and spreads can do serious damage. They can be addictive, and when you add in the calories from the chips or other dippers, they add up quickly. Two tablespoons of French onion dip or Cheez Whiz have 60-90 calories. But if you switch to salsa, hummus, or fat-free bean dip, you can enjoy more satisfying dips for 15-50 calories per 2 tablespoons and are more likely to eat a reasonable portion. Slice a whole-wheat pita pocket (130 calories) into 8 wedges for healthy 16-calorie dippers -- about the same as a single, much less satisfying cracker from a box.
Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, is director of nutrition for WebMD and the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic. Her opinions and conclusions are her own.