A Bite is Not Enough

The USDA recommends that we eat less by avoiding oversized meals. I couldn’t agree more, especially in a culture of all things supersized.

However, as I mentioned in a blog post last week about my health calendar experiment, I find that eating more meals, as opposed to fewer of them, helps maintain body weight and thwart potential tummy aches and pains. By eating balanced meals 3x/day and interspersing healthy snacks in between, the body’s metabolism stays steady and there are fewer hunger pains to be satiated by junk food.

For those struggling to lose weight – and specifically in the range of 5 to 15 pounds –the natural tendency may be to eat less, in less healthy ways by skipping meals, skimping on meals, and focusing solely on fewer calories. Exercise notwithstanding, the prevailing notion is fewer calories = weight loss.

In the process of skipping and skimping, however, key nutrients could get bumped off the plate, leaving the body short on energy and high on hunger. Not only might this slow down the body’s metabolism, but there may be a tendency to snack on “empty calories” – less nutritious foods that fill our tummies but fail to provide essential ingredients to feel good.

The next time you skimp or skip, think about healthier eating strategies like the ones below.

Think of food as fuel. According to Harvard School of Public Health, most people should aim for 9 servings (at least 4½ cups) of vegetables and fruits each day, and potatoes don’t count. Not only does a diet rich in these nutrients provide health benefits like lower blood pressure and lower risk of heart disease, but it makes us feel better, too!

The USDA has great guidelines as well. When eating a meal, fill up half your plate with fruits and vegetables. In addition, make half your grains whole grains, and switch to fat-free or low fat (1%) milk.

Watch the snacks. If you skimp at meal-time, the tendency may be to snack on “fillers” during the day. For example, cheese and crackers or pretzels may be convenient and pleasing afternoon snacks. Pretzels, specifically, are low in fat and taste good. However, there’s very little nutritional benefit to eating them (and lots of sodium). Cheese and crackers are actually high in fat and again, offer few nutrients to fuel your way through the day.

If you pass on eating half of a healthy lunch to “avoid the calories,” try not to compensate later with a snack void of nutrients.

Eat breakfast. Though it’s beneficial to eat three meals a day, it’s especially important to make time for breakfast. Your body’s metabolism slows down during the night, and breakfast picks it back up! Moreover, you need good food to boost your concentration and alertness, not a cup of coffee to mask it temporarily.

On the last day of my mom’s recent visit, she said she would skip breakfast and later eat the breakfast cookies offered on her morning flight. Though cookies might be lower in calories than a bowl oatmeal or scrambled egg and toast, they don’t compare to a nutritious alternative. Breakfast cookies are just that – cookies that are rich in sugar. And they will leave you feeling sluggish soon after they are digested!

Know your weaknesses. We all have weaknesses! My recommendation is to “treat yourself” on occasion, in moderation, so that weaknesses don’t become obsessions that result in unhealthy binges. Mine happens to be sweets, and I allow myself the occasional dessert without beating myself up. Not the whole pie – but a slice!

Likewise, if you do indulge on occasion, cut yourself some slack and move on with your day. Better yet, turn the weakness into a strength. Get back on a healthy track by eating better at the next meal and exercise in between. Walking off your weakness may be a good incentive to stay physically active!

Think less about calories and more about balance. Try to design meals around a balanced mixed of food types – vegetables, fruits, protein, grains and dairy. Counting calories and grams of every morsel you eat can be daunting. A variety of macronutrients –carbs, fat and protein — is a good way to eat healthy and wholesome meals that break down into much-needed energy.

Kick the Coke. We Southerners like to refer to all soft drinks as Coke, but regardless of your sugary beverage preference, try to live without it. These are empty calories that provide no benefit to your health and wellbeing other than a temporary and short-lived buzz.

Most of us don’t get enough water each day, anyway, so even if we’re avoiding sugar by consuming diet drinks, it shouldn’t come at the expense of the beverage we need and utilize most.

Melinda Hinson