Deliberate Choices, Not Deprivation

As Web MD points out here, two mistakes that people often make are snacking mindlessly, or not snacking at all.  Eating small portions of nutrient-dense food in-between meals stokes the metabolism and helps prevent binges.  Try to eat snacks with a mixture of protein, high-quality carbs, and good fat, like hummus made with olive oil on whole-wheat crackers. This will give you an energy boost and help avoid binges when sweets appear.

I remember well the temptation of ice cream or other treats in the office kitchen at 3:30 in the afternoon.  At the magazine publisher where I worked, the test kitchen would share their creations–everything from ice-cream cake to homemade doughnuts with chocolate drizzle.  I knew I’d feel sick after eating a whole doughnut, but I did it anyway!

That’s when I recommitted to stocking up on healthy snacks.  If I eat light fare every couple of hours, my energy stays high, my metabolism gets a kick, and I’m happy just having a bite of dark chocolate or a bite of a doughnut instead of a whole one–or even passing on the doughnut.

Pay attention to what your tastebuds are telling you.  Do you crave something sweet?  Try having a small glass of cranberry juice with dinner.  Do you want a crunchy texture?  See if you can satisfy it by adding wheat germ to your cereal or yogurt.  Do you miss chocolate? Let yourself have two bites, or try a high-protein chocolate drink made with whey.

Above all, be creative with whole foods and fresh ingredients.  Try slicing ripe tomatoes into whole-wheat pasta with olive oil, garlic, basil, oregano, and a dash of sea salt or crushed red pepper; serve hot or cold.  Be playful with color, texture, and taste, so you won’t get bored and eat mindlessly.

Food is meant to be experienced, enjoyed, and savored.  Let food prep be as much fun as the meal itself.  Enjoy selecting ingredients, herbs and spices in whatever combination suits you.  Cooking is creative–get your senses involved.  If you’re famished, have a light snack while you’re cooking, so you won’t overeat.  For example, nibble on some olives.

Deprivation and crash dieting are self-sabotaging, but all too common. behaviors.  We can’t cut out entire food groups, nor should we.  I remember the fat-free craze of the ’80’s and ’90’s, with products such as Snack Wells cookies.  While low-fat, they were still high in sugar and simple carbs.

It’s important to get enough fat, protein, and carbs, but the right kinds.  Aim for nutrient-dense foods like fish, lentils, olives, nuts, avocado and quinoa, to name a few smart choices.  Treat yourself to a colorful Greek yogurt and berry parfait for dessert.

If you’re going to cut out a ‘food group’ entirely, let it be trans fats, which raise bad cholesterol (LDL) and lower good cholesterol (HDL).  Other than that, let yourself enjoy the occasional pat of butter, maybe as a special treat, opting for olive oil the rest of the time.  If you want to have a candy bar a week, really enjoy that candy bar.

If you’re craving full-fat dairy, just work it into a rounded diet.  As long as you aren’t eating several foods high in saturated fat on a daily basis, it’s fine, our bodies actually benefit from a certain amount of saturated fat.  Just don’t overdo it!  If you choose to eat animal-based products–eggs, dairy, fish or meat–still aim to eat a mostly plant-based diet with plenty of vegetables, fruit, beans, nuts, and whole grains.

Balance is key, and making active, mindful choices is an important part of gaining balance.  So enjoy putting your meals together.  Let it be creative and fun.  Then savor the flavors, really take the time to experience your food.  This will let you eat more consciously, to be mindful of both quality and quantity, and above all, to enjoy it.

Wishing you happy, healthy dining!

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