Lose Your Love Handles

Medically Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD on June 07, 2015
6 min read

So there’s a little more of you to love than there used to be. No big deal, right? You’ll eat a salad every once in a while. Go for a wrap instead of bread on that sandwich. Carbs out. Greens in.

Except that sounds an awful lot like a diet -- a four-letter word that means no more fun food. Forget that. You can take a couple of notches off your belt without giving up things that taste good. And it might be easier than you think.

If you think diet equals deprived, you’ll be glad to know that snacks are OK. They’re a big part of weight loss whether you’re at home, at work, or on the road.

“If you go too long without eating, you tend to overeat at meals,” says Lauri Wright, PhD, assistant professor at the University of South Florida College of Public Health. “Make snacking count.”

The key is to choose wisely. Skip the chips and bag up some raw almonds, fresh fruit, or carrots to munch during the day.

Pair protein and carbs when you graze between meals. You could dip pretzels in nut butter or spread hummus on whole-grain crackers. Have a low-fat cheese stick or slice.

Or make your own trail mix. Trade the chocolate and yogurt-covered raisins for more almonds and dried fruit.

Wright may be in favor of snacks during the day, but she says there has to be a cut-off point. Limit after-hours digging in the fridge.

Trent Tucker agrees. He played 11 seasons in the NBA, most of it with the New York Knicks. He says it’s easier to stay in shape now that he’s retired and there are no more post-game meals or wee-hour snacks. “My eating habits are very consistent,” he says. “I don’t eat late at night.”

Neither does Mark May -- now. That hasn’t always been the case. May, an offensive lineman in the NFL for 13 years, has been with ESPN’s College Football Final, a late night wrap-up show that airs during football season, since 2001. He and fellow castmates would hit the cafeteria at dinnertime, he recalls. But around 2 a.m. the munchies would set in. “We’d go and have French toast, eggs, bacon, eat breakfast then."

They knocked it off once the pounds started to add up. “It’s just not healthy for you,” he says. “Late night if I need to eat, it’s usually fruit. It’s quick, and between shows it doesn’t take so long.”

May says there's another problem with late-night treats. “You go home and you’re not hungry the next morning because you ate so much,” he recalls.

Wright agrees. “A big pitfall for guys is that they don’t eat breakfast,” she says. Too often men treat the most important meal of the day as just another snack -- coffee and a doughnut for the commute. When you eat first thing in the morning, you eat fewer calories throughout the day.

Again, you’ll want protein and fiber: Go for an egg-white omelet with veggies like spinach, mushrooms, or peppers. Add whole wheat toast or oatmeal. Or try a yogurt-fruit parfait. Whole-grain cereal with skim milk also works.

Red meat. It’s what “real men” eat, right? You know you should get less of it. But that doesn’t mean you have to say goodbye forever.

“You can still have red meat,” Wright says. “Just watch the portion, cut the fat, and grill it.”

May says he’s made the switch to meats like fish, chicken, and lean beef. Chances are good you can find something to love among all the other types of protein out there.

Beans, nuts, and seeds are also good choices. They help your muscles stay strong, especially after your 40s, when your testosterone levels start to fall. You can get the same protein you get in a steak at a fraction of the calories.

Want to know something you can eat a lot of? Maybe even as much as you can handle? Those greens you’re dreading. And other veggies like them. At least half the food on your plate should be green or come from plants, Wright says.

Not only are they low calorie, they’re also full of fiber. It improves your cholesterol and blood sugar levels and, like your granddad would tell you, it keeps you regular.

Best of all, it can also help you lose weight. It fills you up and holds off the munchies later on. “Fiber is nature’s appetite suppressant,” Wright says.

When you add all of those greens to your plate, top them with olive oil and add lemon juice or balsamic vinegar. You won’t miss fatty salad dressings like bleu cheese or ranch.

Low-calorie salad dressings are good for more than veggies, though. May recommends them as an easy marinade for goodies on the grill. “We barbecue almost every day because you can in Arizona,” he says. 

Other good sauce and dressing stand-ins include pepper, garlic, hot sauce, and herbs like dill. If you like to dunk your veggies into a creamy, tangy dip, how about something you’d usually put on your hot dogs? “Mustard is ridiculously low in calories,” Brill says. “And it makes food taste great.”

Here’s another thing you can add back onto the “good for you” list: whole grains.

Maybe your buddies told you the only way to lose weight is to go “paleo” and eat like a caveman -- lots of meat.

You can have carbs, says nutritionist Janet Brill, PhD. Just steer clear of the refined starches like white flour.

This is an easy switch to make. Mix whole wheat pasta with the regular and add brown rice to white. “You won’t notice the change in taste,” Wright says. But you’ll get full faster. And yes, it will still taste good.

Watch your portion sizes, though. Grains should only take up about a quarter of your plate.

Sometimes it isn’t what you eat, but how you fix it. If you’re one of those guys who thinks everything tastes better fried, it’s time to broaden your cooking know-how. Ditch that f-word. Replace it with “bake,” “broil,” “roast,” or “grill.”

Use vegetable oils when you cook instead of butter. Make olive oil your main fat. It still has calories, but it’s better for your heart, Brill says.

You may not even need to hone your cooking skills. Modern supermarkets make the prep work easy. “You can get potatoes and sweet potatoes that are ready to go. Bring them home, throw them in the microwave and spray some olive oil for taste,” Brill says. “You can get salads that are ready to go. Toss them in a bowl and add some lemon juice and tomatoes.”

If you eat out a lot or travel for work, like Tucker did when he was crisscrossing the country during basketball season, you need a different plan. Don’t rely on fast food favorites to get by.

For breakfast, you can usually hit a chain restaurant for oatmeal. Add blueberries or soy milk instead of sugar, Brill says.

When lunchtime rolls around, find a Chinese restaurant. Order vegetables (steamed, not fried) with brown rice. Get sauce or hot mustard on the side if you’re a dipper.

At dinner, swap the steak for a lean protein like chicken or fish. Get the baked potato, but hold the salt. Add a bit of sour cream and some chives.

Don’t eat it all. Restaurants often serve way too much food.

“Liquid calories count too,” Brill says. Cut out sugary soda or juice, she says. Learn to love your coffee black so you can ditch the cream and sugar. If you drink alcohol, keep it moderate (no more than two drinks a day), whether it’s beer or red wine.

Diet soda will cut calories, but don’t overdo it. The best drink is still good old water, perhaps with some lemon or cucumber for flavoring.

When you think you need to eat something, drink water first. “One of the first signs of dehydration,” Wright says, “is hunger.”