Monday, September 8, 2008

Make It Easy

Trying to figure out what to eat can be so overwhelming... make it easy!
Here's a great image of a food guide pyramid--not what the modern version looks like anymore, but an easy way to remember what to eat and how many servings to have.
If you choose the minimum recommended servings from each group (6 servings of grains, breads, and cereals; 2-3 fruits and 3-4 vegetables; 2-3 dairy servings; and 6 oz of lean meat per day) while limiting fats and sweets, your intake will be as low as 1200 calories, believe it or not. That's a low enough calorie intake for virtually anyone to lose weight.
Now, most people's first reaction is, "what? That's so much food!". Then I have them relate their usual intake, and their impression changes to "What? A serving of cereal is only 3/4 of a cup? A serving of chicken is just three ounces? I'd be starving!"
So maybe you don't have to crash your intake from 2200 calories all the way down to 1200 to lose weight. The idea isn't for you to go hungry. The plan should be for you to eat healthy foods so you get your nutrition, while you get enough of things that you like to maintain a feeling of satisfaction.
Just use the food guide pyramid as a starting point, and work out a compromise between their recommendations and your current diet. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
1. Be sure to include several servings of dairy products each day: Milk, yogurt, cheese, and cottage cheese count--ice cream and cream cheese don't! Additional intake of calcium and other nutrients found in dairy products have been shown to help people lose weight.
2. Focus on increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables: While getting essential vitamins and minerals, you'll also be getting fiber and feeling more full, leaving less room for snacking on empty calorie items like chips and cookies. Plus, it's good for your mindset to be focusing on taking in more of some foods when you're trying to lose weight, instead of being preoccupied with what you plan to deprive yourself of.
3. Don't be afraid to include starches (carbohydrates) in your diet: But do so in moderation. One cup per meal is well within recommendations (cereal, mashed potatoes, rice, pasta) but that doesn't include a few rolls on the side!
4. Know what a portion of protein looks like (the size of a deck of cards) and stick to it: People forget, with all the hype of low carb diets, that protein foods provide calories, too. From lean fish and chicken that can have as little as 50 calories per ounce, fatty meats can provide more than 90 calories per ounce. If you indulge in a 12 ounce steak, you could be taking in over 700 calories at one sitting before you count the baked potato with sour cream and butter! (Hint: the baked potato is the least of the culprits in a meal like this!)
5. Get the facts: The food guide pyramid has been designed and re-designed over the years with the input of nutrition expert groups from across the nation. When you don't know what to believe, look to the organizations whose job it is to help you learn them. The American Dietetic Association, the USDA, the American Heart Association, and American Diabetes Association are good starting places. They're not trying to sell you anything so they have no ulterior motives when they all repeat the same advice: Keep your diet lower in fat, higher in fiber, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, and get regular exercise!

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