Thursday, December 13, 2012

My Ten (Diet) Commandments

I have been on what I lovingly refer to as the "Lifestyle Change Diet" since September.  As I mentioned in my Weight Loss Update, it has helped me lose twenty pounds and counting. My husband also has been following this diet and has lost 26 pounds without even having to exercise.  Although I definitely recommend at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise a day, that is mainly for overall health benefits. If you want to lose weight, your primary focus should be on what you eat. My Ten Diet Commandments outline the rules I have been following since I began my weight-loss journey. It is not from a peer reviewed medical journal, it has not been endorsed by Jillian Michaels, I don't have any client testimonials, and it is not intended to be a bunch of rigid rules that I think everyone should have to live by. My Ten Diet Commandments are just my own personal guidelines that were created from my own beliefs, experiences, and research.

1. Read Food Labels. I focus on four areas: the serving size, the calorie amount, the carbohydrate amount, and the ingredient list. The serving size is an area that food companies might try to make things seem lighter, so I always look at that first. Next I check out the calories per serving, as it's the calories that will pack on weight. Carbs are also important to check out; too many carbs can also impede weight loss. Finally, I always examine the list of ingredients so I know what I'm actually eating. Are there a bunch of ingredients that I can't pronounce? Is the ingredient list a mile long? Is high fructose corn syrup hidden in there? When I'm feeling lazy, I use the smartphone app "Fooducate" to analyze the labels for me.

2. Keep a Food Diary.  I religiously monitor my daily food intake. I use the smartphone app "My Fitness Pal", and it tallies up my daily calories. It also provides me with how many total calories I need to stay below, in order to lose a pound or two a week (you shouldn't try to lose more than that: a slow weight loss is more likely to stick). Keeping a food diary holds me accountable for everything I eat; I report every bite. It helped me realize that I was eating way more calories than I should. I attribute most of my weight loss success to keeping a food diary.

3. Watch Portion Size. I keep a close eye on portion size now. Portion size was one of the biggest reasons I had difficulty losing weight in the past. I would often eat twice the actual portion size without even realizing it. Like many people, I am not very good at eyeballing correct portions.  I now measure out everything I eat. This also means I have to carefully measure out portions when I'm following a recipe too. Case in point: the difference between one and two tablespoons of olive oil is visually negligible, but the nutritional difference is over 100 calories! I'm not going to lie; it took me over a week for my stomach to adjust to the smaller portions, but it was worth it when I started actually losing weight.

4. Monitor Calories and Carbohydrates.  Simple fact: a calorie deficit equals weight loss. In order to lose a pound a week, your body needs to burn 500 less calories than you ingested, every day for 7 days. This, above all else, is the most important part of an effective diet. So I count my calories and try to stay around the the recommended amount. I also watch out for liquid calories. A tall glass of soda at a restaurant can be over 200 calories. So I choose my liquid calories wisely. I also limit my carbohydrate intake. When I had gestational diabetes, I learned how bad too many carbs can be for you. Once I switched to a low carb diet, even though I was in my third trimester, I lost fat and felt more energetic. I make sure not to cut too many carbs though. Carbohydrates are an important part of my daily nutritional needs and they help me feel (and stay) full. I know several people that have gone on an extreme low carb diet and they initially lost a lot of weight, but then they flat-lined, or worse, gained the weight back. I aim for 35-45% of my total foods to come from carbohydrates (My Fitness Pal helps track this too).

5. Eat Natural & Fresh Food.  I avoid overly-processed foods as much as possible.  I have replaced white rice with black rice, quinoa, or brown rice. All three are packed with huge health benefits and taste great. I wish I could say that I've traded in my regular pasta for wheat pasta, but honestly, I have yet to find a healthy pasta that tastes even close to as good as the regular processed kind, so it's not worth the substitution in my book. I just eat it in extreme moderation. I also no longer eat white bread, and instead have honey wheat bread or a multigrain wrap.  I've banished all highly processed meals from my kitchen: so goodbye Lean Pockets, Healthy Choice entrees, and canned soups. I also try to limit eating out to weekends. Restaurant food will almost always be higher in calories then anything I make at home, and the portion size tends to be ridiculous.  When I do eat out, I usually choose non-chain, local restaurants that use fresh ingredients. I also try to look up restaurants' nutritional information beforehand, so I know what the healthier options are on the menu. Finally, I don't eat fast food at all. If I need faster food, I'll try to get something like Jimmy Johns or Larry's Giant Subs.

6. Eat Healthy Fat.  Don't eat nonfat version of foods; they tend to be more processed and often higher in calories/sugar.  I stick with full fat of milk, cheese, yogurt, etc. and just watch my portion size.  Fish is amazing for you, and is probably the healthiest type of meat out there. I aim to have fish for dinner at least once a week. Other healthy fats that I regularly include in my diet are nuts, olive & coconut oil, and avocados.

7. Eat and Drink Often.  I make sure to have 3 solid meals and  2 to 3 snacks a day. I try to prevent myself from reaching the "I'm-Starving-to-Death-Mode". I never, ever skip meals. When you skip a meal (or a snack), you are likely to overeat when you finally get food in front of you. Plus, eating every few hours can help keep your metabolism high and keep your blood sugar level. I also aim to drink at least 70 ounces of water a day. Staying hydrated is great for weight loss. If you are thirsty, your body can mistake that for hunger. If I find myself getting hungry between meals, I make sure I'm well-hydrated, and then eat a snack.

8. Load Up on Vegetables.  I try to eat plenty of vegetables every day. Vegetables should take up most of the plate, and shouldn't be swimming in butter, oil, or cheese. Veggies fill me up with little amount of calories and provides my body with essential vitamins and minerals. Adding vegetables into my favorite meals (spinach leaves in marinara sauce; mushrooms in chili, etc.) adds bulk without adding a bunch of calories. It's definitely a great diet trick! I also go meatless at least once a week, usually more.  Regularly removing meat from my diet forces me to get more of my calories from healthy sources such as vegetables and whole grains.

9. Adjust Diet For Exercise. When I exercise, I make sure I eat more that day than I do on days I don't exercise. I don't want my net calorie intake to drop too low, as it can make my body go into starvation mode and hold onto fat instead of burning it.  However, I am also careful not to overeat either. Exercising makes me hungry! In past weight-loss attempts, I would exercise and then eat back all the calories I burned, plus some, and then wonder why I wasn't losing any weight. This is where a food diary comes in handy.  Now I try to eat back most the calories I burned, but I am careful not to go over my net calories allotted for the day.

10. Don't Give Up Favorites. I still allow myself to eat my favorite foods; I simply take the time to figure out how to make it healthier or I just eat smaller amounts of it.  For instance, I love desserts. So I researched how to make desserts lower in calories (but not taste like it). Because I still get to eat dessert every night, it's much easier to stick to my diet. So if your favorite meal is steak and potatoes, have a 3 oz filet mignon with a side of spicy sweet potato fries and a large side salad (watch the dressing though!).  Bottom line: you can lose weight and still have your favorite foods, either in modified form or in smaller portions. Not letting yourself eat your favorite foods is a recipe for diet failure. After all, a tasty diet is a successful diet!

Helpful Links:

My Fitness Pal

BMI Calculator

Daily Calorie Calculator


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