Think you know your ABCs? I'm not talking about the classroom basics you learned in first grade, but the fundamentals of weight loss success. Here are 26 of my best diet tips, from A to Z:
A is for attitude. A can-do attitude will help you get over the inevitable hurdles of weight loss. Anticipate slip-ups -- they happen. But instead of letting them derail your weight loss efforts, learn from them and get right back on track. You don't have to be perfect to lose weight and be healthy. Just keep your eye on the target and keep moving forward, one step at a time.
B is for breakfast. It really is the most important meal of the day. Don't leave home without eating something nutritious to get your metabolism perking and give you energy for the day ahead. It can be a banana, low-fat yogurt, cereal, last night's leftovers, etc. A small meal that contains both fiber and protein can keep you feeling satisfied until lunchtime.
C is for calories. They do count. Get into the habit of reading food labels to help you make healthy choices. And keep in mind that all the information listed there is based on the portion size the label specifies (which may not be the size of the portion you usually eat). Monitoring your portions and learning more about the calories in the foods you enjoy will help you meet your goals.
Diets don't work. There are hundreds of diets that will help you lose weight, but what good is losing weight if you gain it right back? Eating crazy food combinations or eliminating food groups is not the way to keep weight off. Instead, choose a nutritionally balanced plan with enough calories to keep you from feeling famished (like the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic eating plans).
Eating regular meals is essential. Experts agree that you should go no longer than 4 to 5 hours between meals. Otherwise, intense hunger can trigger a binge. Some experts believe dieters have better control if they eat several mini-meals throughout the day. Choose the meal pattern that works best in your lifestyle, but make sure to eat at least three meals per day.
Fiber is nature's weight loss aid. It comes in two forms, soluble (the gummy type found in oatmeal and beans) and insoluble (the type found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains). Both are important to good health. Soluble fiber can help to lower cholesterol; insoluble contains indigestible fibers that add bulk to our diets. Both forms of fiber swell in the stomach and help to create a feeling of fullness. Most high-fiber foods are also high in water and low in calories, making them must-have diet foods.
Gum chewing may be just what the dentist ordered. Chewing on a piece of sugarless gum can help cleanse the mouth of bacteria, satisfy a sweet tooth, and reduce the urge to eat. Keep a pack of sugarless gum handy. The next time you have the urge to reach into the cookie jar, try a piece of gum instead for a zero-calorie treat.
Heart-healthy foods should fill your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. Choose foods that are low in saturated and trans fats. Enjoy plenty of naturally fat-free, low-sodium fruits and vegetables. Choose healthy fats such as canola, olive, and vegetable oils. Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like walnuts, flaxseed, and salmon and other fatty fish. Choose low- and non-fat dairy products, as well as the leanest cuts of meat (round and loin) and skinless poultry. Beans, nuts, and whole grains round out the list of heart-healthy foods.
Invest in a pedometer and track your steps each day. The goal is to walk at least 10,000 steps -- the equivalent of 5 miles -- daily to thwart weight gain (and promote weight loss). Challenge yourself to increase your steps each day, even if you can't get up to 10,000. Every step counts; remember that your goal is simply to improve your fitness level.
Just do it! Get into a routine that includes regular physical activity. Not only does exercise energize you, it burns calories, improves balance and coordination, and relieves stress. When you don't have time for a formal workout, try to squeeze in at least three 10-minute chunks of physical activity. (Be sure to check with your doctor before starting any exercise routine.)
Key to an effective exercise plan is variety. Try something new -- maybe Pilates, yoga, or water aerobics. Having fun and trying new things will keep you interested and enhance your commitment to exercise. Another key: starting your day with activity is one of the best ways to make sure it does not get squeezed out of your schedule.
Low blood sugar is often the cause of between-meal cravings, especially for sweets. Eating meals and small snacks that contain lean protein and fiber every few hours helps keep blood sugar levels steady. When sweets cravings strike, try to satisfy them with naturally sweet foods such as fruit (accompany it with a little low-fat yogurt for protein).
Mindful eating means taking time to savor every bite. Turn off the distractions, and concentrate on the aroma, texture, and flavor of food. Becoming more mindful when you eat will give you more pleasure from your meals. The bonus: You'll also be more in tuned with your body's signals of fullness, and you'll be less likely to overeat.
Nighttime snacking, for most of us, is a habit that can undermine weight loss success. That's because the calories we eat after dinner tend to be empty ones, from chips, cookies, etc. Brushing your teeth after supper will help you make dinner the last meal of the day. If you need a little something at night, try to satisfy the urge with few calories -- have a stick of gum, one piece of hard candy, or a cup of hot tea).
One more scoop, one more cookie, one more glass of wine -- "just one more" can add lots of extra calories. Controlling portions is fundamental to weight loss success. You don't need to give up your favorite foods, but you do need to keep track of your portions. At home, use smaller plates and keep food at the stove instead of on the table at mealtime. When you go out to eat, order a soup and a salad instead of an entrée, or take home half your meal in a doggie bag.
Protein is the "secret sauce" to weight control. Include a source of protein -- lean meats, low-fat dairy, beans, or nuts -- in all meals and snacks to help keep you feeling full for hours.
Quit those old habits that caused you to gain weight, and replace them with healthier ones. Simple changes -- like lightening your coffee with low-fat milk instead of cream, switching to light mayonnaise, avoiding fried foods -- can help create healthier eating patterns that foster long-term weight loss.
Rely on friends, family, and/or an online community to help you in your weight loss efforts. Your motivation is at an all-time high when you start a weight loss program, but after a few weeks, it often starts to wane. Let your supporters help you get through the rough times.
Supplement your healthy eating plan with a once-daily multivitamin for nutritional insurance. Despite your best efforts, it can be hard to get all the nutrients you need every day. Taking a multivitamin will help fill in the gaps.
Track your eating patterns and physical activity every day. One of the tips of the "successful losers" tracked in the National Weight Control Registry is the importance of journaling food intake and activity. Entering this information into your online journal or in a notebook is a powerful motivator to help keep you working toward your goals.
Uncle Sam's latest dietary guidelines promise to make us happier, healthier and thinner. Tips from the government's recommendations (the 2005 Dietary Guidelines and MyPyramid) include:
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.
- Eat more whole grains. At least half of your servings of grain foods should come from whole grains.
- Enjoy three servings of low-fat dairy each day (yogurt, milk, or cheese).
- Limit saturated and trans fats, sugar, and alcohol.
- Watch the sodium content of your diet. Eat less processed food to reduce sodium.
- Get plenty of exercise -- at least 30 minutes a day.
Volumetrics is the art of eating foods high in volume, or high-water foods. Fruits, vegetables, and soups are all examples of high-volume foods that are super-nutritious, satisfying, and low in calories. Dieters should make sure their plans are full of these healthy foods so they can feel full while still losing weight.
Water is your body's preferred form of fluid. It is thirst-quenching and naturally delicious without one single calorie. You need some 6-8 glasses of water or fluids each day. Recent studies suggest that we should let thirst determine how much we drink each day. Foods that are high in water (soups, Jell-O, produce) also count toward our fluid requirements. Many dieters find drinking water helps keep them from overeating.
EXcuses should be excised. Do you really want to lose weight and improve your health once and for all? Then stop making excuses and just do it! Sure, that's easier said than done. But you need to stop finding reasons why you can't start moving a healthier lifestyle, and start listing all the reasons why you should. Don't put it off until tomorrow. Start today, by doing something positive -- just one small thing -- toward your health and weight loss.
Yogurt used to be thought of as health food. Now it lines the grocery shelves in a variety of forms. It's portable, convenient, full of nutrients like calcium and protein, and it makes an excellent snack or mini-meal. The French swear by it, and so should you. Low-fat yogurt is filling and nutritious, but keep in mind that it can be loaded with sugar. So read labels to make the best choice.
Z ip in your step is what you'll get once you start eating more healthfully and getting regular exercise. Losing as little as 5% to 10% of your body weight can help you feel better and improve your health. Just think of the weight you'll lose as bricks in a backpack. Lightening your load a few pounds at a time can be invigorating and energizing.