Healthy eating tips the easy way

78036797I’m interested in eating more healthfully and hopefully losing a few pounds, but I don’t want to track everything I eat or count calories. Do you have any general tips that could help?

Many people do find that keeping a food log helps them lose weight, but if you’re not interested in doing that right now, yes, of course you can take other steps. Here are some tips:

  • The Harvard Medical School suggests cutting back on carbohydrates, particularly from sugar-sweetened beverages such as soft drinks, sports drinks and energy drinks and from refined-carbohydrate foods, including many types of bread, cereal, pasta, snack foods, and French fries and other types of fried potatoes. Instead, choose water or unsweetened beverages, and whole-grain foods that offer fiber and other nutrients. Look for at least 2 grams of fiber per serving.
  • Pay special attention to portion sizes, even if you’re eating something you consider to be good for you. A study recently published in the International Journal of Obesity showed that people tend to eat more of a food if it’s labeled as “healthy,” even if it has the same number of calories as similar options.
  • Similarly, don’t assume cutting fat is always healthier. Some low- or no-fat food products replace the fat with added refined-carbohydrate ingredients — not necessarily a benefit. And, research has shown a little fat, such as that in dressings or avocados, helps the body absorb nutrients in leafy greens. Instead, focus on limiting saturated fat and eliminating trans fat, opting instead for unsaturated fats.
  • Eat a wide variety of produce, whole grains, and beans and other legumes to get a broad range of nutrients. In particular, choose fruits and vegetables of many colors, especially green, red, yellow, orange and dark purple. The pigments in colorful produce contain vitamins and phytochemicals that are linked with a lower risk of certain cancers and heart disease.
  • Incorporate more fish and small amounts of nuts into your diet. They are good sources of protein and healthy fats, and Americans tend to not get enough of them.
  • Never shop for groceries on an empty stomach. A study recently published in JAMA Internal Medicine, a journal of the American Medical Association, provided compelling evidence supporting what you probably already know: People tend to choose more high-calorie foods if they shop when they’re hungry. Eat first and you’ll be healthier for it.

Behavior changes key in weight loss

What are some of the things people do (besides eating less) to help them lose weight successfully?

That’s an interesting question. Most people, for obvious reasons, focus on food when trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight.

But behavioral scientists studying successful weight loss have found a few strategies beyond cutting calories that seem to work for many who have lost weight and kept it off.

In a recent study in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, researchers at the University of Minnesota studied behaviors of more than 400 people who successfully lost at least 10 percent of their body weight in the past year. The researchers grouped the behaviors in four major categories:

  • Regularity of meals: People who tended to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner routinely were more likely to have better success at weight loss during the past year. They were also more likely to eat more fruits and vegetables.
  • TV-related viewing and eating: Participants were asked how often they ate snacks or meals in front of the television, how much TV they watched on an average day, and how often they ate after 7 p.m. Those who were more likely to engage in those behaviors tended to have a higher BMI (or body mass index, a standard measure of body fat based on height and weight) and higher fat and sugar intake.
  • Eating away from home: These behaviors include eating out at a restaurant (sit down or fast food); eating food provided by an employer or another employee at work; purchasing food at a convenience store or a gas station; and purchasing food items for a fundraiser. People who did these things more often had a higher fat and sugar intake and a lower fruit and vegetable intake, and engaged in less physical activity.
  • Intentional strategies for weight control: Participants were asked how often they wrote down the amount and type of exercise they engaged in, as well as the calorie content of the food they ate; how often they planned meals and exercise in order to manage their weight; and how often they used meal replacements. Those who did these things more often saw many benefits: they tended to have a lower BMI; they experienced greater weight loss in the last year; they had a lower fat and sugar intake; they ate more fruits and vegetables; and they engaged in more physical activity.

Take a look at the behaviors and see if any of them make sense to incorporate in your life. Adopting a few healthy strategies can make a big difference.