Key Steps to Ensure Your Health & Fitness – Part 3: Your Diet
I don’t know about you, but I’ve lost count of the number of different fad diets I’ve tried. Some work, some don’t but most of them don’t last because they all either become boring at some point or exclude a favorite food you just couldn’t live without. Although I don’t have an earth-shattering secret to successful dieting, I have learned it has a lot to do with two things: Respect for your body and a good helping of will-power. Let’s take a look at the components of a healthy diet, defined for us by the US Department of Agriculture. They call it a food pyramid (see it at www.mypyramid.gov ), but it’s fair to say that over the years they’ve moved away from the strict idea of a broad base representing the things we eat most of and a tiny top for the stuff we should eat least. A healthy diet, USDA says:
- Emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products.
- Includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts.
- Is low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars.
The Department of Health published a new set of dietary guidelines in 2010. To download it, go to http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/Dietaryguidelines.htm.
Other diets, as you probably know, put more emphasis on reduced carbohydrate or higher protein intake, while yet more focus on a single type of food (like grapefruit or cabbage). Opinion on their long-term effectiveness is divided but what we do know is that weight gain is a direct result of taking in more calories than your body needs, so, one way or another, a weight loss program only works if you reduce your calorie intake. Good dietary health is not only about being the correct weight. You also need a balanced diet that supplies vitamins (like thiamin and niacin, as well as those with letters), minerals (iron, zinc etc) and other nutrients your body needs, which is what the food pyramid sets out to do. For example, strawberries, which also happen to be wonderfully tasty fruits, are considered nutrient dense, with lots of fiber and Vitamin C. Blueberries also rate highly, as do vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower. On the other hand, many foods, especially processed types, lack nutrients and may be high in sugar. Our bodies need some sugar – but not in the quantities most of us consume! Again, you can work out a healthy diet for yourself at www.mypyramid.gov, which actually includes a great menu planner you can get for free after registering. Now let’s talk a little about how to stick to a healthy diet. Since, as I said, many people fail on this mission, it’s worth noting the following tips, some of which come from the non-profit organization www.helpguide.org:
- Take your time planning and implementing your diet. It’s best to introduce small changes gradually rather than tackling it in one big swipe. And don’t set unrealistic targets for your weight-loss.
- Also take your time eating your food. Part of the joy of eating is the taste, not just the desire to feel full. Chew your food slowly, thoughtfully. Experience the taste!
- Plan your meals well in advance. As Helpguide says: “You will have won half the healthy diet battle if you have a well-stocked kitchen, a stash of quick and easy recipes, and plenty of healthy snacks.”
- Cut down on the size of your portions, rather than forcing yourself to eliminate foods you really love. If you really reduce the size, you can eat more frequently, which also helps to stave off hunger and craving. But when you do feel the urge to eat, think about whether you’re truly hungry or just craving for the taste.
- Have plenty of variety on your plate, especially colorful foods, like veggies and fruits. Psychologically, they just make for a more interesting and satisfying meal.
- If you can, team up with your partner or a friend to support each other, and to share recipes (and even meals!)
- Don’t give up! Everyone goes off the rails now and then by over-indulging at the ice cream parlor or something similar. Never let your inner-critic suggest that’s the end of your sensible diet. Just start over.