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Eat more lean protein.
The debate over how much protein is ideal continues. One thing that's becoming clearer is that eating a little more protein and a little less carbohydrate can help you maintain lean body mass and adhere to your dietary regimen. Why? Higher protein diets may make you feel fuller on less food. Your body also works harder to digest protein than fat or carbs, which means more calories burned. This is not a license to eat bacon-cheeseburgers, according to Cathy Nonas, RD, principal investigator for the Centers for Obesity Research and Education and author of Outwit Your Weight (Rodale). Get your protein from healthier choices such as fish, nonfat dairy, and soy products. The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) recommends getting 10 to 35 percent of daily calories from protein.
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Dine in more often.
The rise in obesity parallels a rise in the number of restaurants, the percentage of meals eaten out, and the amount of money spent on food away from home. Eating at a fast-food restaurant may be easy to do, but ultimately it's hard on your body. If you're eating out every day of the week, try cutting back. When you do eat out, choose grilled food. Skip the high-fat, high-cal fixings such as cheese and sour cream and opt for soup or salad instead of French fries. When you can, eat at home, where you have more control over what's on your plate.
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Indulge your cravings.
If you resist sour-cream-and-onion potato chips only to eat an entire bag of rice cakes, you haven't done yourself any favors. Denying a craving can lead you to eat everything but the kitchen sink in an effort to avoid eating what you think you shouldn't have. Instead, indulge in a reasonable portion of the food you crave. Take a small serving of the food out of its container, then put the rest away. Sit down and savor the extravagance. Then go do something else—away from food.
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Load up on the good stuff.
Most of us are not eating enough fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. A diet devoid of these foods is one of the reasons for the rise in obesity, according to Paula Quatromoni, DSc, RD, assistant professor in the departments of epidemiology and social and behavioral sciences at Boston University's School of Public Health. In a recent study, she compared women with different eating styles to see if it had an effect on their weight. Turns out those who ate a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains were less likely to gain weight over the years. Those who consumed too many unhealthy snacks, fatty foods, and sweetened drinks were more likely to gain.
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Always read labels.
Don't throw food in the shopping cart without reading the label. Look at how many calories are in a serving and what a serving size is. Check the saturated fat content and other ingredients like sugar. Ingredients are listed by the amount the product contains, with the most at the top of the list. If sugar tops the list, pick something else: Added sugars do nothing for your figure but make it fuller.
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Sit down to breakfast.
A muffin in the car does not a breakfast make. Why not wake up 10 minutes earlier and have a heartier, more satisfying bowl of whole-grain high-fiber cereal topped with fresh fruit and skim milk, or half a grapefruit and some whole-grain toast with a tablespoon of peanut butter? Breakfast isn't just good for your health: It may help keep you slim, too. Research shows that 78 percent of successful dieters eat breakfast every day. The subjects are part of the National Weight Control Registry, which tracks people who've lost 70 pounds and kept it off for at least a year. If successful dieters eat breakfast, you should too!
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Watch what you drink.
When the first Coca-Cola was introduced in 1915 it came in a 6-ounce bottle. Today, you'd be hard-pressed to find one that small; instead you get 20-, 32-, even 64-ounce sodas loaded with calories. You may also drink sweetened teas, calorie-laden coffee drinks, and juices that contain very little real juice but a lot of sugar. Sugared drinks don't provide vitamins, minerals, or fiber. "They also tend to displace healthier choices," says Nonas, "like fruits and vegetables." Her advice: Drink water, flavored seltzer, 100 percent fruit juice, and fat-free milk instead.
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Eat lighter bites.
You probably consume larger portions than you should. In a recent study, Lisa Young, PhD, RD, assistant professor in the department of nutritional studies at New York University, found that portion sizes at take-out and fast-food restaurants are bigger than those established by the USDA. A typical bagel is about four times bigger than a USDA serving, a bowl of pasta about five times bigger, and French fries and hamburgers anywhere from two to five times larger. "Food manufacturers offer super-size versions of everything so you think you're getting a bargain," says Dr. Young, "but all you're getting is excess calories." Don't think you have to clean your plate. Eat a reasonable amount and take the rest home.
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Get your exercise.
Did you know that the Institute of Medicine recently found that we should be getting at least an hour of moderately intense exercise every day to stay slim and protect against heart disease? This new goal came from research showing that people who are slim get at least that much. If you think getting an hour of exercise would be impossible, remember that it's cumulative. If you climb the stairs for 10 minutes, clean house another 20, and walk fast 30 more, that adds up to an hour of exercise—no gym required.
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Don't eat more than you burn.
Figure out a rough estimate of the number of calories your body uses:
Step one: Calculate your basic needs by multiplying your healthy desired weight (in pounds) by 10 (for women, 11 for men).
Step two: Calculate your energy needs for physical activity by multiplying your basic calorie needs by your activity level (20 percent for sedentary, 30 for light activity, 40 for moderate activity, and 50 for very active).
Step three: Add the calories required for digestion. Get this by adding your basic calorie needs (from step one) to your physical activity needs (step two), then multiplying by 10 percent (0.1).
Step four: Add the results from steps 1, 2, and 3 to get the calories you need to maintain the weight you want.
Originally published on FamilyCircle.com, May 2010.