by Megan Ware, RDN, LD, Shane Diet & Fitness Resorts consultant
I know that if I went into the homes of many individuals who are striving to get healthier or lose weight, I would find things like reduced-fat peanut butter, “light” bread, diet ice cream, frozen convenience meals, fat-free cheese, rice cakes, gluten-free crackers, granola bars, and so on. If this sounds like your pantry, ask yourself how many times buying products marketed for dieters has helped you to lose weight and keep it off? Do these foods make you feel satiated and satisfied and if not, why have you continued to go back to them time and time again? If you’re stuck in this rut, I encourage you to throw out everything you think you know about healthy eating and start to learn how to eat to best fuel your body and satisfy your appetite to leave you feeling energized and happy— instead of counting calories and making yourself feel deprived and depressed. You can start by following these 3 rules:
Rule #1: If you read an ingredient and your brain doesn’t register it as food, neither will your body.
Start looking at the labels of things like fat-free cheese. Depending on the brand, you can find things like potato starch, “processed cheese food,” inulin, cellulose powder, artificial colors, yeast, xanthan gum, locust bean gum… the list goes on. The only thing that should be in cheese is… you guessed it, cheese. Cultured milk, enzymes (which turn the milk into cheese) and maybe some spices. Plus, you’re more likely to use twice as much of the flavorless fat-free cheese as you do the regular variety trying to achieve the same flavor or texture.
Rule #2: Stop eating “filler” foods that have no actual nutritional value just because they’re low in calories or fat.
Does anyone actually enjoy eating rice cakes? Sure, they’re 3 calories apiece, but have you ever had a rice cake and then been satisfied and happy that you ate it? Instead of eating super low calorie filler foods, opt for whole, natural, unprocessed food filled with nutrients that are going to satisfy your tummy and your taste buds.
Rule #3: If you’re hungry, eat something!
Pay attention to your body and listen to your hunger cues. There’s a big difference between actual hunger and a craving. When you’re having a craving, you want a particular food, i.e. chips, chocolate, lasagna, etc. and only that food or something similar will do. Hunger is when anything will do. An apple, a bowl of cereal, a steak, anything. If you’re trying to decide whether you’re hungry or you’re having a craving, ask yourself, would an apple satisfy me? If the answer is yes, then you’re probably hungry. If the answer is no, but a Snickers bar would, then you’re just having a craving.
As a dietitian, if there was one tip I could give anyone trying to live a healthier lifestyle, that I think applies to everyone, it would be to start reading ingredient labels (ingredients, not calories, grams of fat, etc.). Question where your food comes from and what’s in it. The closer you can get to a cleaner, more natural diet instead of relying on boxed foods and drive-thru’s, the better off you’ll be.