Does dieting often feel like one big don’t? Don’t eat chocolate, don’t eat carbs, don’t drink, don’t eat out and, apparently, don’t ever take a vacation to Italy. What a waste — especially when such restrictive eating is a one-way ticket to weight regain, the route we all try so hard to avoid. “We’re bombarded with messages about foods that are ‘bad’ for us, but a better strategy is to focus on things you should eat and do to feel healthy and lose weight,” says Nanci Guest, a Toronto-based dietitian. We couldn’t agree more. So we went to the experts, pored over the latest research and threw all the don’ts out the window. The result is a radical new way to eat, designed to help you shape up and slim down.
Do build a better breakfast
It’s no secret that eating breakfast kick-starts your metabolism and increases weight-loss success. But research shows what you put on your plate in the morning is just as important. That’s why we’re all over the 1-2-3 diet secret, which combines whole grains (1), protein (2) and fruits or vegetables (3). “This combination is satisfying and filling and prevents cravings between meals,” says registered dietitian Elizabeth Somer, author of Eat Your Way to Happiness, who tipped us off about the strategy. “People who eat a 1-2-3 breakfast have an easier time losing weight and keeping it off.”
Make it a habit: Follow the 1-2-3 diet secret when making your grocery list, and aim for many items in each category. That way you have lots of combos to choose from, like whole-grain cereal with a banana and milk, or whole-grain toast with a poached egg and a slice of pineapple.
What’s the 1-2-3 diet secret?
Simply put, it’s a foolproof strategy to eat your way to weight loss and get healthy while you’re at it. The best part? It’s super easy! When you prepare a meal or snack, just think 1-2-3, and include one thing from each group.
1. Start with whole grains or a healthy starch.
2. Add protein (the leaner the better).
3. Finish it off with fruit or veggies. And you’re done.
Do get lean with protein
We’re not talking Atkins Diet levels here, but studies show that upping your protein intake can boost your chances of weight-loss success. Researchers at the University of Illinois report that dieters who stick to a plan of 40 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent protein and 30 percent fat lose more weight — specifically more body fat — than those who got more of their calories from carbs. And a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who included more protein and fewer carbs in their meals consumed 441 fewer calories a day.
Make it a habit: At every meal or snack, ask, “Where’s the protein?” If you don’t see it, add it. A handful of nuts or a couple pieces of cheese will do the trick.
Do swear by whole grains
Whole grains are nothing short of a diet superfood. Australian scientists recently reviewed 25 years of research and found people who eat lots of them have lower body mass indexes (BMIs) and smaller waistlines than those who eat only refined grains like those found in white bread, pasta and rice. Why are whole grains so superior? They’re packed with nutrients and fibre, so they take longer to digest, says Andrea Holwegner, a registered dietitian in Calgary. In contrast, refined white grains hit your system quickly, causing insulin levels to rapidly rise and fall. You end up more tired and hungry than before. That’s why a white-pasta lunch leads to an afternoon meltdown at the vending machine.
Make it a habit: Next time you grocery shop, make a pact with yourself. If whole grains don’t top the ingredients list of a cereal, pasta or bread, put it back on the shelf. Look for whole wheat, barley, oats, brown or wild rice, spelt or quinoa. And when making pancakes or muffins, try using a mix of 1/2 whole-wheat flour and 1/2 white — your taste buds won’t know the difference.
Tip: Beware of imposters. “Enriched wheat flour” is just a fancy name for white, and “multi-grain” may just be white flour with
a few token grains thrown in.
Do stock up on one-ingredient foods
“The more processed foods you eliminate from your diet, the more weight you’ll lose,” says Somer. Why? Because processed foods — like cheese slices, frozen waffles and cold cuts — are more likely to be high in calories, refined sugar and bad fats but low in nutrients. With unprocessed foods, it’s the opposite: they usually pack more healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants. Where to find these elusive real foods? Look for labels that list only one ingredient or, better yet, no label at all.
Make it a habit: Once a month, avoid the inner aisles of the grocery store and shop just the perimeter for fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, meats, whole grains and dairy products. When you do venture into the aisles, always check the labels.
Do curb cravings with H20
“Our bodies often mistake thirst for hunger,” says Holwegner, so if you’re not reaching for water throughout the day, it’s only a matter of time before you go for cookies or potato chips instead. And of course, it’s better to sip water than sugary drinks: a recent UCLA study found that adults who drink one or more sodas a day are 27 percent more likely to be overweight. In contrast, research shows that dieters who replace sugary drinks with water instead of with diet soda consume fewer calories and lose more weight than those who stick with the artificially sweet stuff.
Make it a habit: Pour yourself some water at every meal. Keep a water bottle with you and snack on fruits and vegetables (which can be over 90 percent water) during the day.
Test yourself: Want to be sure you’re flush with water? Check your pee: if it’s colourless or only slightly yellow, you’re on track.
Tip: Pack portable proteins. When you’re on the go, keep snacks like almonds, cheese or plain yogourt in easy reach. Pair them with fruits and vegetables to keep cravings away.
Do dine like a Mediterranean
Bring on the anchovies, artichokes and (whole-grain) bruschetta: a study in Nutrition that looked at the eating habits of more than 3,000 men and women found that those who favoured a Mediterranean diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, olive oil and fish were 50 percent less likely to be obese than those who didn’t.
Make it a habit: At your next dinner party, serve a Mediterranean-inspired feast: choose a main dish like whole-grain linguine with walnut oil, mushrooms, arugula and romano beans, or grilled fish alongside steamed rapini in olive oil and garlic. For dessert, keep things succulent and simple with a bowl of sweet cherries and a light prosecco cocktail.
Do supersize your salad (the smart way)
Think you can’t go wrong with a salad? Incorrect. “We take a healthy mix of veggies and greens and turn it into a cardiac disaster by smothering it with croutons, bacon bits and fatty salad dressing,” says Somer. But when done right, a salad for lunch or dinner helps you get essential servings of vegetables, and you feel satisfied and full on fewer calories.
Make it a habit: Start with greens like spinach, arugula or frisée. Add heaps of brightly coloured vegetables like carrots, cucumbers, red onions, peppers, beets and fresh herbs, and top with a protein source like grilled chicken, black beans, tuna, a hard-boiled egg or grilled tofu. Dress it with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and Dijon mustard. For the complete package, serve with whole-grain baguette.
Do embrace accidental exercise
Who says you must work out on purpose? There are lots of ways to sneak in exercise and burn extra calories without even noticing.
Make it a habit: Here are just a few of the ways you can seize opportunities for accidental exercise in your daily life.*
At home: Walk the dog (20 minutes, 115 calories), clean the house (one hour, 255 calories) or do some gardening (one hour, 240 calories). At work: Commute by bike (one hour, 450 calories), take the stairs (three minutes, 33 calories) or join the company softball team (one hour, 287 calories). On the weekend: Park a few blocks away from the restaurant and walk the rest of the way (10 minutes, 58 calories), or dance the night away with the girls (two hours, 795 calories).
*Estimated calorie expenditure for a 150-pound person.
Try It: Fibrelicious pizza Top a 6-in. whole-wheat pita with 2 tbsp tomato sauce, 1/4 cup black beans, 3 wedges marinated artichoke hearts, 1/2 cup broccoli and 1/4 cup cheese. Total fibre: 10 g.
Do down-size your dinnerware
Do you usually eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full? According to researchers at Cornell University, visual cues like plate size determine when you think you’ve had enough. The theory also holds true for glasses, snack bowls and even spoons — the bigger they are, the harder your diet will fall.
Make it a habit: Use smaller bowls, plates, glasses and utensils. And given that most cereal servings are only one cup and most bowls can hold two or three, eat your bran flakes out of a mug instead.
Extra credit: At lunch and dinner, keep portions in their place. Fill half of your plate with vibrant veggies, a quarter with a smart protein (like chicken) and the last quarter with a whole grain or healthy starch (like a whole-wheat bun or half a sweet potato).
Not sure what a portion looks like? Here’s an easy guide: One serving of meat or fish = a cellphone or deck of cards. One serving of pasta or cereal = a hockey puck. One serving of fruits or vegetables = a tennis ball. One serving of cheese = your thumb. One serving of butter or oil = the tip of your thumb.
Do pick three red flags
Pop, alcohol, potato chips, your mother’s homemade chocolate brownies . . . Try to identify three food items that consistently wear down even your strongest resolve. Once you determine what they are, commit to being more mindful about eating them. It’s about moderation, not elimination.
Make it a habit: Knowledge is power. If you expect cake at dinner, have more greens at lunch.“ I advocate healthy and soulful eating,” says Holwegner. “It isn’t only about nutrition: it’s about eating foods you enjoy so you have a positive relationship with food — not a guilt-ridden one.”
Do lift weights to lose weight
Are you afraid lifting weights will make you too muscled? Think again. Resistance training builds lean muscle, a huge weight-loss do, says Ottawa personal trainer Connie Beaulieu. “The more lean muscle you have, the more calories you burn.” A recent Southern Illinois University study confirmed that overweight people who do resistance training — even for as little as 11 minutes, three times a week — increase the amount of energy they burn by 127 calories a day.
Make it a habit: Try a session or two with a personal trainer or ask the staff at your gym for advice. Aim for two full-body strength workouts a week.
Extra credit: Go heavy! A study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that women who did two sets of eight reps with heavy weights burned nearly twice as many calories after their workout than those who did two sets of 15 reps with light weights.
Fact: According to Cornell University researchers, you make over 200 food-related decisions a day (that’s at least 1,400 a week). Don’t beat yourself up if you stray once or twice. Remember, it’s about progress, not perfection.
Do move on from setbacks
Next time you find yourself holding an empty carton (or two) of Ben & Jerry’s, remember the wise words of Confucius: “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”
Make it a habit: If one meal or snack is a bust, commit to hitting a healthy home run for the next one. “There are 21 meals in a week,” says Andrea Holwegner. “Even if two of them are disasters, you still score over 90 percent.” As far as we’re concerned, that’s an A+.