Thursday, May 31, 2012

When it comes to healthy weight control, how you eat is just as important as what you eat. The “what” is all about the actual food that’s on your plate and in your mouth. The “how” is all about how much you actually eat, how many calories are in the types foods you choose, and how to make low-calorie choices within different food groups to ensure a nutritionally sound diet.

Controlling portion size

If you can control the portion sizes of the foods you eat, you can eat anything you want. For example, if you can eat one small piece of chocolate or one small scoop of ice cream or one handful of chips, you can eat those foods every day and not worry about gaining weight from them. Right now, you’re probably saying, “Yeah, right!” because you can’t imagine being able to eat such small amounts of your favorite indulgence foods and feeling satisfied. Don’t worry. It’s a process you have to discover; it doesn’t usually happen overnight.

The menu plans in Chapter 6 call for very specific amounts of foods, or in other words, portion control. When you prepare meals using these menus for guidance, you figure out how to eyeball a specific amount of food and know that it’s an appropriate amount to eat on a calorie-controlled diet. The portion sizes represent an average number of calories for each food group. In other words, you may see 1 cup of broccoli on one menu and 1 cup of mini carrots on another. You’re free to ignore both suggestions and substitute a cup of snow peas or a cup of asparagus. That’s because, as a group, a portion of one vegetable contains approximately the same number of calories as the same portion size of another vegetable.

In addition to helping you lose weight, a good weight-loss plan shows you how to eat in a way that you’ll eventually be able to maintain your weight loss without being on such a strict diet. You won’t always have to struggle with concepts like portion size, after you figure out what eating a reasonable amount of food means. The plus side to controlling your portion sizes is that by limiting the amount of each individual food you eat, you can eat several different types of foods. Eating different types of foods not only helps ensure you’re getting a balance of essential nutrients, but it also helps keep your low-calorie diet from getting boring. (See “Keeping your energy high and your diet interesting,” earlier in this chapter, for more about balance and variety in a low-calorie diet.)

However, you can go overboard, even with the good stuff. On a low-cal diet, you can eat too much of the good stuff, such as fruit and vegetables, because all foods supply calories and even the most nutritious foods add excess calories to your diet if you eat too much of them. As a result, you need to know how to control your portions when you’re on a mission to lose weight.

When you’re home, you can portion out your food with measuring cups and spoons as a way of teaching yourself what a serving size looks like. When you’re eating out, the easiest way to figure out portion control is by using visual aids for standard serving sizes. Picture this:

  • A 3-ounce serving of meat or poultry is about the size of a deck of cards or the box that holds a cassette tape.
  • A standard muffin is about the size of a tennis ball (not a softball!).
  • An ounce of cheese is about the size of a pair of dice.

An even easier strategy for measuring just about any type of food is to count on your fingers. You can use your hand to measure your favorite foods at home and to gauge your portion sizes when you’re away from your own kitchen. For instance, a standard portion of meat is about the size of the palm of your hand. Make a fist, and you’re looking at a cup of vegetables or pasta. From the tip of your thumbnail to its second joint is about the size of an ounce of cheese. The more average-size your hand, the more accurate these measurements are. But if you’re a large person, with large hands, you need to eat a little more food anyway, so this strategy still works for you. See Figure 3-1 for an illustration of this hands-on approach.

Eating “free” foods

On a low-calorie diet, you don’t always have to eat low-calorie foods. But if you want to eat large quantities of food, then you have to make low-cal choices. That’s the premise behind any diet that says you can eat great volumes of food and still lose weight. After all, if I give you permission to eat all the spinach or romaine lettuce you want on this diet, you couldn’t possibly eat enough of either of those foods to make a dent in your diet. At the same time, you could fill up on them or other leafy greens to cut your appetite and to make sure there’s not enough room left in your stomach to fill up on too much of anything else. That’s why eating a big salad (with just a little light dressing) at lunch and dinner works as a weight-loss strategy for so many people.

You can use your own hand to guesstimate portion sizes of most foods.
Figure 3-1: You can use your own hand to guesstimate portion sizes of most foods.

The same basic concept applies when you’re choosing foods for meals and snacks and you want to eat larger quantities of food. That’s when you have to make low-calorie choices at the level of individual foods. You can choose to use up your 100-calorie snack allotment by eating a small handful of fruit-flavored gum drops or jellybeans, or, for the same number of calories, you could eat half of a pineapple, five plums, or two cups of steamed green beans with a spoonful of light salad dressing for a dip.

Of course, if what you want to eat is a handful of jellybeans, then don’t force yourself to eat fruit or vegetables. But these examples serve to show how choosing lower calorie foods on a regular basis can make room for those occasional indulgences.

When you’re dieting to lose weight, sitting down to a large quantity of food is certainly more satisfying and less discouraging than sitting down to a plate that contains only small portions. Whenever you need more than your calorie limit allows or you need to “cheat” on your diet for any reason, feel free to choose foods from this list to help fill up your plate:

  • Bouillon or fat-free broth
  • Cabbage
  • Celery
  • Cucumber
  • Green or red onions
  • Greens: escarole, mustard, collard, dandelion
  • Lettuce (any kind)
  • Mushrooms
  • Plain coffee or tea, including herb teas
  • Radishes
  • Seltzer, club soda, sparkling water, or other calorie-free drinks
  • Spinach
  • Unsweetened pickles, such as dill, “new,” or half-sour
  • Zucchini or yellow summer squash

To add flavor to “free” foods, use “free” condiments such as mustard, horseradish, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, lemon juice, lime juice, or vinegar, or sprinkle your free foods with fresh or dried herbs and spices. Garlic, onion, and hot peppers go a long way toward seasoning steamed vegetables without adding any notable calories.

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