Monday, May 14, 2012
Living a low-cal lifestyle means putting your all into it — setting your life up in ways that accommodate your diet, such as stocking your kitchen with low-calorie cooking equipment, discovering new cooking techniques, if necessary, committing to an exercise program, and taking the time to find out as much as you can about food, nutrition, and fitness.

The very first step in a self-help weight-loss plan, though, is to look inward and figure out everything you can about yourself and about your eating and exercise habits. Then you can begin to change your bad habits and practice healthier new ones. Awareness is the first step because you have to know what you’re doing wrong before you can make it right. (See Chapter 4 for more about looking inward.)

Psyching up with goals, tools, and more

Planning and record keeping are essential tools for weight loss because they provide both structure and a way of monitoring whether your program is working for you. I treat the following tools of the trade separately in this book, but you can keep these records in one journal. That way, you always know exactly where to find each one when you need it.

  • Establishing short-term, intermediate, and long-term goals (Chapter 4)
  • Keeping a food diary (Chapter 4)
  • Filling in a weight change chart (Chapter 4)
  • Maintaining an exercise log (Chapter 8)

You can also use this same journal to write down all your thoughts and feelings while you’re trying to commit to a low-calorie lifestyle. If your journal is large enough, you can write down any interesting tips or advice you pick up along the way or even store a special low-calorie recipe that you don’t have time to prepare right now but hope to use in the future. If you want to be ultraserious with your notebook, a three-ring binder with pocket inserts and tabbed dividers may not be a bad investment.

Setting up a low-calorie kitchen

People who are successful at weight loss often cook many of their own meals as a way of controlling the types and amounts of food they eat. You can find everything you need to know to get cooking in Chapter 5, which discusses healthy eating guidelines and shows you how to use those guidelines to create a nutritionally balanced low-calorie diet plan.

Chapter 5 also contains plenty of aisle-to-aisle advice on the best foods to buy in the supermarket to create healthful, low-calorie meals, how to stock your cupboards with the most healthful convenience foods, and how to equip your kitchen with a good selection of cookware and tools for steaming, poaching, and other great low-cal cooking methods.

Planning marvelous meals

The daily menu plans in Chapter 6, and the alternative “theme” menu plans in Chapter 7, are all designed to keep your diet life interesting by including different types of foods at every meal. If you’re a creature of habit, you’ll probably pick two or three menu plans at first and repeat them day after day. That’s perfectly okay, as long as you don’t get bored. And if you do eventually get bored, you have plenty of other menu plans to choose.

I developed the recipes in Chapters 12, 13, 14, and 15, covering breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, and desserts, to fit right into the menu plans in Chapter 6. I also designed them to be appealing to friends and family who aren’t watching their weight. In other words, they taste good. They don’t taste like “diet food,” which is the beauty of preparing your own low-calorie meals from scratch, rather than relying entirely on calorie-controlled frozen dinners or liquid meal substitutes from the supermarket. After you’ve lost weight, you won’t have to make a huge transition from “diet” food to “real” food because you’re already eating real food every day.

When you cook, pay attention to the serving sizes of the dishes you prepare. If a recipe yields 4 servings, then one-fourth of the dish is the amount of food you can eat. By taking a good look at the portioned-out foods you prepare at home, you can figure out how to eyeball portion sizes when you eat out, and you can develop a good sense of approximately how many calories are on your plate, regardless of where you eat.

Exercising to burn calories and improve your health

As a dietitian, I focus mainly on food and nutrition, so to tell you the truth, it was years before I really understood just how important physical activity is to losing weight, maintaining weight, and staying as physically and mentally fit as possible. In fact, many people focus on food more than anything else when it comes to healthier living. You can only make so many changes at once and when the issue is weight control, it’s natural to look at your diet first. But I’m here to tell you now that food is one half of the calorie equation and exercise is the other half. They carry equal weight, so to speak.

In Chapter 8, you find out that strength training is just as important as aerobic exercise. This chapter also discusses the many benefits of mind-body exercises, such as yoga, pilates, and t’ai chi. Make sure you check out the long list of ailments that exercise can help prevent and cure, because it’s good motivational material for sticking to an exercise program for life. Even if you already recognize the benefits of exercise in a low-calorie lifestyle, you may have trouble actually fitting it into your daily routine. Fear not; in Chapter 8, there are plenty of tips for finding your motivation to exercise, choosing the type of exercise that’s right for you, and fitting exercise into your already crowded schedule.

As you age, staying the same shape and weight you were when you were younger becomes more difficult. For many, it’s a never-ending battle trying to stop your various body parts from getting thick and baggy. Although some health experts say gaining some weight in midlife is normal, you may not like the direction in which your body is moving. I’m with you on that one! Eating light is important for both your weight and health as you get older, but exercise is the real weapon against the stalling metabolism and thinning muscle tissue that causes your weight to creep up with age.

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