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December 29, 2012 • Health and Fitness

10 Simple Ways to Eat Better in 2013

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From now until 2013, we’re going to take a look at some New Year’s Resolutions and a Gear Diary way to help you keep them.

New Year Resolution: Eat Better in 2013

I have been very public with my running goals and accomplishments as well as my weight loss this year on Gear Diary, Facebook, and in my daily life. As a result, I have often been asked in every forum ‘how do you do it’? The simplistic and truthful answer is ‘eat less and exercise’.

Of course it is never so simple – my exercise routine has me running an average of at least 7 miles per day, six days per week with weekend runs frequently exceeding 10 miles totaling ~2000 miles in about 8.5 months. This has allowed me to lose 90+ pounds, go from ‘couch to marathon’ and to the best shape of my life, and now has me structuring my eating in order to NOT lose any more weight (first time in my life).

In other words, my current situation isn’t normal, nor something easy done by most people. Several years ago, my wife decided to lose weight and get into shape to do the multi-day Avon Walk for Breast Cancer; she joined Weight Watchers as part of her plan. There were two big take-aways for her: track everything you put into your body, and there are simple changes you can make that will have you eating healthier right away. In other words, it wasn’t about ‘being on a diet’, but about eating smarter and paying attention to intake – a huge thing for a ‘food prep snacker’ such as my wife.

Here is my thought on diets:

If you are planning to lose weight by denying yourself entirely things you love, excluding entire food groups you enjoy, subscribing to pre-packaged meal plans, or have a plan that will leave you stranded when your pantry is bare and everyone in the house is too tired and hungry to deal with the elaborate requirements of your diet … you are on the fast track to failure.

The reality is there is no ‘one size fits all’ diet – my running regime is definitely not for most folks, nor do most have time (or money) for daily trips to the gym or space for home exercise equipment or Wii Fit or XBOX Kinect routines, or elaborate consultations with dietitians or life coaches.

But all of us need to eat every day, and the choices we make at each meal can make a huge difference in helping us meet out ‘eating better’ goals.

Here are 10 simple to follow tips to help you eat more healthy in 2013:

1. Substitute spray oil for liquid oil to coat pans: So many recipes call for a few tablespoons of vegetable oil in a pan. But many people either use non-stick pans or have seasoned their pans so they don’t need extensive oil, yet we still soak it into our foods. Spray oil provides a thin layer without piling on the added fat & calories.

2. Eat three food groups for breakfast: The old adage about ‘breakfast being the most important meal of the day’ is true, but it is even more important that you TREAT it as the most important. Rather than a quick bowl of processed cereal or a Pop Tart (there’s not much difference between the two in the long run), make sure to get in some lean protein, carbohydrates and health fats. Peanut butter whole grain toast with fruit is an amazingly satisfying start that will last much longer than that frozen waffle.

3. Beware of ‘Fat Free’ foods that SHOULD have fat: When you think basic Italian salad dressing, you should be thinking oil, vinegar and spices; you should NOT be thinking high fructose corn syrup and unpronounceable fillers. There is science showing that our ‘focus on non-fat’ is totally messing with our body’s ability to control intake. So enjoy the ‘real’ salad dressing, but in small amounts – and always on the side so you are dunking, not drowning. Also, remember that creamy dressings are ALWAYS a bad idea.

4. Portion Control is Key for Fat & Sugar: apparently our bodies’ natural ‘shut-off’ is more relaxed with fatty and sugary foods because of evolutionary reasons and historical scarcity until very recently. The video below digs into it a bit more, but the mantra should always be to control your portion size extra carefully with fatty and sugary foods. Better yet, cook them yourself to have more control.

5. Load up on frozen fruits and veggies during the off-season: I have two huge teen boys (6’2″ and 6’3″) who seem to be bottomless pits. One likes veggies, the other loves fruits. Both will eat healthy, but will also fall into carbo-ville if there isn’t a healthy choice at hand. Right now most things are out of season — or need to be imported — and are therefore expensive. Yet I can get a one pound bag of frozen broccoli for $1, and as a result I have loads of vegetables in my freezer all the time. The same is true with some fruits – the strawberries looked awful and were expensive, but we wanted some to go in our Christmas fruit salad, and the frozen ones cost less for a pound than the fresh ones did for a pint. So we had juicy strawberries at a reasonable price!

6. Fill half your plate with fruits or veggies: I did this at our company holiday luncheon, since the main fare the company provided looked like the ‘clogged artery special’. By loading up on the simple salad with low-fat salad dressing, I filled up on healthier items … also leaving room for the homemade desserts everyone brought from home. But as a general rule people compose their serving plates with meat first, starch second, then fit in the veggies. Change that up for a healthier meal.

7. Focus more on WHAT and HOW MUCH you eat than on counting calories: We try to always have a salad AND a veggie at dinner. That way when you are full it is mostly on greens and vegetables. That way having some gravy on your meat, or mashing potatoes with milk and butter isn’t so bad because you will only have a moderate sized portion. One of the big reasons people report feeling like failures on diets is the whole ‘denial’ thing. Now I know that systems such as Weight Watchers have you counting out ‘points’ and so on – and I am not arguing against that. But if you look objectively at your plate and know that most of what is there is all natural products and mostly fruits, veggies or greens, then chances are you are on your way to a healthier lifestyle.

8. Bring fruit into your desserts: the other night the boys wanted ice cream, and I gave them a challenge. We used ice cream bowls, but had to make a ‘banana split with strawberries’ but it couldn’t be larger than the normal portion. The fruit went in first, then ice cream and some chocolate syrup and finally a bit of whipped topping. Because of the fruit they used HALF the ice cream, yet were actually MORE full afterwards! And the added nutrients of the fruit give them stuff they actually need.

9. If you crave soda, have a diet soda – in a bottle: OK, so we all know that artificial sweeteners are … not good. My tip is for someone who will likely have a soda anyway: studies have shown that sugary soda and fruit drinks (Monster, Gatorade, etc) are strongly linked with obesity because they escalate the bodily desire for even MORE sugar and fat intake, making a sort of ‘obesity death spiral’. However, diet sodas don’t have the same effect. The reason for suggesting a bottle? If you have a can you feel the need to finish it, whereas a bottle will easily travel around with you.

10. Turn off the phone/tablet/laptop/TV: this one has a couple of reasons. First off it is RUDE! Take time at the dinner table to actually connect to the real people around you and set aside the ‘urgent’ tweets for a few minutes; it is good for your emotional health and social skills. The other reason is that it has been shown that by focusing elsewhere we are less aware of what we eat and tend to make worse choices. Of course, just setting aside for the sake of ‘getting it done’ and rushing through eating is just as bad. Focus on the ‘now’, slow down, and allow your body to process your food; you will be healthier and learn better habits in the long run.

Of course these are not absolutes, nor is there any guarantee that they will lead to weight loss. But they are a start – eating healthier is all about things you do and do NOT do; it is a mindset as well as an action plan. And as you can see, most of the basics are neither hard nor expensive.

Finally, a few more tips:

Caffeine is a Drug, and Performance drinks are for athletes: our kids are heavily marketed to drink high-energy drinks, then we buy them 24/7 electronic stimuli, and then we wonder why they can’t sleep. Over Christmas my brother had a big soda after dinner and slept like crap, as did my son. The next night, no soda and better sleep. The sleep research is pretty clear on this stuff. As for performance drinks, they are for when you care about electrolytes and carbs and fluids in the short-term such as a marathon … not a ride to school.

Substitute, substitute, substitute: have you ever had muffins with yogurt rather than oil? YUM! I was skeptical, but at this point we make the substitution 100% of the time. It is healthier in every way, and is just one substitution – search them out and try them yourself! Another cool one – when mashing potatoes use chicken broth instead of milk and butter. Better yet, use sweet potatoes instead of normal potatoes! When it comes to substitution, the worst thing that can happen is the recipe suffers, in which case you never do it again! And if you have any faves, tell us about them.

If you want REAL, go real!: have you ever had turkey bacon? It SUCKS! Don’t do it – if you want turkey, have turkey; if you want bacon, have bacon. The big thing here is portion control – we cooked 3 pounds of bacon for Christmas, and it lasted through breakfast, became a pizza topping the next night, and there was still some the following morning for breakfast. It was great, but there was no guilt because we only had 1-2 slices each.

Watch your ‘at desk’ snacks: if you came to my desk a year ago and asked for a snack, chances are I could have offered you a Fireball and at least one day a week would have had a bag of Peanut Butter M&Ms. Yes I know the Fireballs were pure sugar (and spice), and that a handful of the PB M&Ms had as much fat as an unhealthy meal at MacDonald’s … but of course that helped me continuously nudge my weight upwards. Now if you came to my desk you would find pistachios and perhaps some trail mix and always some apples or pears or clementines. Pistachios are awesome, and called a ‘superfood’ for good reason – plus, having to remove the shell will slow you down so you eat fewer!

That’s it! I hope everyone has a happy and healthy 2013, and let us know your thoughts on how to live healthier!

3 Responses to " 10 Simple Ways to Eat Better in 2013 "

  1. dancohen says:

    Great, thoughtful. awesome and IMPORTANT post. And the amazing thing is… small changes aren’t hard to make and can have huge impact.

  2. ucfgrad93 says:

    I like turkey bacon. Yes, it isn’t as good as regular bacon, but I don’t think it sucks. Great article though.:)

    • That is great that you like turkey bacon – with careful choices you can get some that has no saturated fat, low sodium, no nitrates and fewer than a dozen ingredients.

      But like most faux-foods, you need to be careful – you can wind up with Turkey Bacon that is as bad as the real stuff but with added nitrates on top. Also, some of the turkey bacon has serving sizes that are different in # of slices than for normal bacon.

      On the other hand I love ground turkey – my wife found an awesome turkey burger recipe a few years ago that makes for a great summer meal that isn’t as heavy as standard beef burgers.

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