There's more to eating smart than just counting calories—healthy choices can mean the difference between a "quick-fix" and lasting, meaningful weight loss
IMPROVE YOUR HEALTHY EATING HABITS
Eating smart is one of the most important things you can do to keep weight off. Studies show that low-fat, low-calorie eating habits are key to keeping the weight off for the long haul. Cutting back on fats makes your body work harder to use the energy it gets from the foods you eat. That means more calories get used and fewer get saved as fat.
There’s more to eating smart than just counting calories; healthy, balanced meals are also important. An 8-year survey asked people who lost weight and kept it off what they ate in a typical day. The survey found that successful weight losers eat from all the food groups. It also found that they eat more vegetables than any other food group.
The eating habits of people who participated in this survey changed over the 8 years. At the end of the survey, people were eating more vegetables, meat, and beans than at the start. They also ate less dairy and less carbohydrates. Still, for the whole time period, successful weight losers ate more than one serving per day from each food group—with vegetables as the largest portion. In fact, by the end of the study, those who lost weight and kept it off were eating almost 4 servings of vegetables per day. That’s about twice as much as they ate from any other single food group.
WHAT ABOUT LOW-CARB DIETS?
You may have heard about low-carbohydrate diets. Low-carb diets are designed to reduce the main source of energy for your body and force it to burn fat stores instead. This approach can be useful for short-term weight loss; it may even work long-term for some people. Still, in a survey of people who lost weight and kept it off, only a few relied on a low-carb diet. What’s more, people who ate fewer carbohydrates were more likely to gain back the weight they lost.
In contrast, more than 3 out of 4 people in the survey ate the recommended fat intake or less. Your body processes different nutrients in different ways. Fats convert to body fat more easily than carbohydrates, so eating fewer calories and watching your fat intake is probably more effective long-term to keep your body fat from coming back.
Low-carb diets may have other problems as well. Because low-carb diets are fairly new, no one knows for sure if they have long-term health effects. The typical low-carb diet restricts you to less than half of the carbohydrates recommended by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). In the short term, cutting the necessary carbohydrates may make you tired, dizzy, or nauseous. It may also lead to headache or constipation. Some health experts are also concerned because long-term reliance on a low-carbohydrate diet may lead to eating more fat. Increased fats, especially saturated fats, may raise your risk of heart disease.
For most people, the key is to eat a balanced diet of healthy foods that are low in calories and low in fat. This is likely to be the most sustainable strategy for long-term weight loss. Consult with your healthcare provider to know what is best for you.
EAT AT HOME
Preparing your own meals can help you lose weight and keep it off. You know what goes into the meals you make and you control the size of the portions you serve. In previous months, we gave you some shopping tips for healthy eating and talked about how to serve food so you won’t be tempted to eat more than your healthcare provider recommends.
Many long-term weight losers eat most of their meals at home. In a study of people who lost weight and kept it off, the average person ate only two to three meals a week in sit-down restaurants. They ate fast food less than once a week.
Of course, it’s OK to dine out sometimes. Just remember to make smart choices when you do. You may want to revisit some of the tips we gave you for choosing a meal in a restaurant.
This month, you may want to try out some new healthy recipes. Many sites have search or index features, so you can find a recipe that’s right for you; such as recipes that fit with your prescribed meal plan, use your favorite foods, suit your special needs, or fit with the style of meal you want to cook. Some are organized by course, calorie count, or cooking time. Below are a few links that can give you a wealth of meal ideas:
- Healthy recipes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This site is full of links to resources for healthy eating. These include heart-healthy recipes, easy meals, ethnic foods, and tips for adding fruits and vegetables. Some are designed by nutritionists or professional chefs.
- Weight maintenance recipes from the Mayo Clinic.
- Healthy recipes from AllRecipes.com. These recipes include low-calorie, low-fat, and high-fiber selections.
- Find new recipes that fit with the meal plan outlined by your healthcare provider. Try to choose something that looks fun to cook and you could eat a few times a month and still enjoy. Try to prepare at least one home-cooked meal each week. By the end of the month you may find a number of new delicious, nutritious meals that you like making for yourself.