Living with Your Diet

Planning meals

I urged you to make menus ahead of time for every meal you plan to eat and to eat nothing you have not planned. That strategy will eliminate what is for most of us the major pitfall in achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. I call it freelance noshing. What it amounts to is letting your calorie intake get out of control.

It is of course possible to plan meals down to the last dollop of mayonnaise and still eat far more than you should.

The secret of success is to apply healthy diet principles to your meal planning and to count the calories in everything you plan to eat.

But don’t give up meal planning and calorie counting advance, make sure each day’s menu just yet, even if they sound time-consuming and is different so you don’t get bored tedious. Do it a day or a week at a time. You may not do a perfect job, but as you see the payoff in more rational eating and the beginnings of your weight loss, you will have the motivation to continue.

In time, you may be able to relax the routine, but only if you adopt the good habits that go along with the job. You will begin to know approximately how many calories are in the things you regularly eat. You will develop a repertoire of dishes and full meals that you prepare time and again. And you will abandon many of the reckless eating behaviors that made you overweight in the first place.

Menu building

An easy way to begin is to develop some menu modules – meal components that you can mix and match for variety. Look in cookbooks for low-fat ideas and recipes, and use your calorie counter. Set aside an hour or so to do this. It’ll be time well spent. Keep your calorie-counting book on hand, or dial up an online version.

In a new page of your weight-loss notebook, list all the categories of foods you can think of. For example:

  • Beverages
  • Snacks
  • Breakfast foods
  • Salads
  • Soups
  • Vegetable side dishes
  • Grains and starches
  • Pasta dishes
  • Meats
  • Desserts
  • Sandwiches
  • Quick meals

Under each heading, write all the foods you like to eat. Next, find the per-serving calorie count for each food and write it in. It’s also a good idea to indicate what a serving amounts to – how many pieces or ounces or cups or tablespoons. Leave space in each category to make additions as you broaden your food choices.

But first, cross out those foods whose calorie counts are too high. These you’ll have to say no to, at least for now.

If you find yourself crossing out foods you can’t live without try to make them more acceptable.

  • Will you be satisfied with a half or even smaller portion?
  • Is there a lower-calorie version that tastes almost as good?
  • Can you use a different cooking method to reduce the calorie burden?
  • Can you substitute some of the high­ calorie ingredients?
  • Can you use the dish as a special occasion treat?

Apply healthy diet principles

You may want to review the basics of nutrition. Take an especially good look at the food pyramid, which is a wonderful model for menu planning. Ask yourself:

  • Do your categories include foods from each of the food pyramid groups?
  • Are there enough selections that contain complex carbohydrates?
  • Do your choices de-emphasize fats and sugars, which should be eaten only sparingly?
  • Are there enough fruits and vegetables on Your list to provide variety along with the suggested number of servings? If not, add some more.
  • Have you chosen cooking methods that will reduce the fat in what You prepare?

Learn to recognize a serving

If freelance noshing is the major pitfall of a healthful diet, portion overload runs a close second. A portion or serving is the amount of any food that a person would normally eat at a single sitting. Calorie counts are based on that serving size. A plate filled with a half-pound slab of beef and a huge mound of mashed potatoes is literally enough to feed a crowd, or a least two or three people.

Educate yourself about portion sizes of everything you eat. You can get this information from food packages, any calorie counter, and from the u.s. Department of Agriculture,

You won’t always have access to a label, so it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with what a serving looks like on your plate. This will be especially important when you eat out, either in a restaurant or at another person’s house, when you have less control over how much is served. The best way to do this is to dedicate some time in the kitchen, weighing and measuring out your favorite foods. Once again your calorie counter is a vital reference.

If you don’t already have one, buy a kitchen scale. Sets of graduated measuring cups and measuring spoons are essential too.

Begin by filling a plate with what you think is a serving of meat, vegetables, and a starch. Then weigh or measure each one, as appropriate, to see how close you come to the “correct” definition of a serving . You may be surprised.

If you’re overestimated serving size, weigh or measure out the correct amount and rearrange the plate. Look at it. Commit that picture to memory. Next, measure out one tablespoon of butter and put it on a plate. Do the same with one tablespoon of jam or jelly. You could even spread these on a slice of bread and see how far a tablespoon goes. Is this about how much you usually use?

Measure out a cup of yogurt. A half-cup of ice cream. Put each in a bowl and look at them. (Now put the ice cream back in the freezer or find someone else to eat it.)

Weigh a bagel. How much more does it weigh than a slice of bread? Two times as much? Three? More? If you’re a muffin eater, weigh one of the giants you have with mid-morning coffee and see how it compares to the one in your calorie counter. Is it twice as heavy? Then double the calories.

Cut a 1-ounce chunk or slice of cheese. Pour an ounce of your favorite breakfast cereal into a bowl. You get the idea, Do this as often as you have to with all the foods you typically eat.

Once you know how to recognize a serving on your plate or in your hand, you’ll be better able to know how much you are really eating.

Portion-control patrol

Restaurants usually control portions by filling plates in the kitchen, although how full a plate is can range from minimal to heaping. In many homes, the usual custom is to set out large serving pieces containing more food than will – or should – be eaten at that meal, and to fill plates from there.

A simple way to exercise portion control is to fill your plate in the kitchen and then carry it into a different room to eat it.

Filling plates in the kitchen serves two purposes:

  1. You can use a scale, measuring cups, and measuring spoons to monitor portion size. You may want to do this all the time or just for a while until you learn to recognize a serving on your plate.
  2. It keeps extra food out of sight and out of reach. If you want more, you have to actually get up and walk back into the kitchen and deliberately serve yourself. That gives you time to think: “Am I really still hungry? Do I really want more lasagna?” In most cases, the answer is “No.”

The answer to seconds should be NO! If you have planned your menus based on single servings and allowed yourself, that number of calories, second helpings amount to a second meal. And that’s a meal you can’t afford.

Soup and Other filling starters

When planning meals, think about the sequence of what you eat. If you begin with filling but low-calorie foods – that is, foods that are less calorie dense – you will be satisfied with smaller amounts of foods that are more calorie dense.

Soups and salads are excellent first courses. The liquid in the soup and the bulkiness of the lettuce and other salad vegetables will make you feel full before you get to the main course. Drinking a glass of water or other low-cal beverage is another good idea.


Schedule your mealtimes and stick to that schedule. Don’t forget to schedule your snacks. This is the best way to prevent freelance noshing. You definitely want to get out of the habit of eating when you are not hungry, but waiting too long for hunger to develop holds its own dangers. Feeling like you are “starving” too often leads to wolfing down your food. The result is that you eat far more than you intend and don’t even notice that your hunger has passed.

The best time to eat is when you are hungry but not ravenous.

You may not be able to exercise total control over mealtimes. The needs of others in your household and requirements of your work may dictate when you eat. Do it as well as you can. Look at the food diary you kept for a week before beginning your diet. Are there any clues about times of day when you felt most hungry? Were there times when you were too hungry and ate irresponsibly as a result?

How many meals a day?

The traditional number is three, but most of us actually eat more than that. Remember, a snack id a meal. You can try to impose a three-a-day schedule, but don’t assume this is the best way to go. There is evidence that more frequent but smaller meals are an aid to weight loss. Not only do you get the digestion benefit – it takes calories to burn calories-but you also stave off ravenous hunger and develop the habit of eating less at each sitting.

Whatever you do, don’t skip breakfast. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. It’s tempting to “save” some calories by eliminating this meal. Don’t.

Your mother was right: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Unless you’re a midnight snacker, morning finds you at the end of the longest between­meals stretch. The calories you consume at breakfast will save you from overdoing it later in the day.

Breakfast doesn’t have to be huge and it doesn’t have to take a lot of time. You can have a diet shake, poured from a can or one you blend yourself with yogurt, banana, a tablespoon of wheat germ, and an ounce or two of fruit juice. Or it can be a slice of whole-grain toast with a swipe of jam and a piece of fruit. Add a cup of coffee or tea, if that’s what you like, or have a glass of water. It’s your best insurance against “needing” a megamuffin by mid-morning.

Dealing with hunger

Hunger is the bogeyman that lurks in every dieter’s background. Or, I should say, fear of hunger. When you eat, and especially when you eat unwisely, are you really hungry? Or are you eating because you’re afraid you’ll get hungry if you don’t? Are you responding to physiological hunger or to an emotional hunger or other trigger?

Try to get into the habit of evaluating the hunger messages your brain sends out. How long has it been since you last ate? Did you eat breakfast? What else is going on right now? Are you bored, tense, anxious? Before you answer your hunger, take out your weight-loss notebook and write about it. Note the time, mood, and circumstances and anything else that will give you insight. This is another act of mindfulness designed to help you deal with the challenge.

While you are eating

Physical fullness and mental satiety are not necessarily the same thing. Remember, it takes about 20 minutes for your brain to process and send the message that you are no longer hungry You can shovel in a lot of food during that time if you’re not careful. This is one of the best reasons to eat slowly. If you finish your meal before the 20 minutes elapse, you’ll leave the table a lot fuller than necessary.

Your stomach can hold about 6 cups of food at a time. When you feel” full, ” you’re probably nearing that capacity.

Listen to your body. Are you satisfied enough to stop eating? Do you want to continue because you are still hungry or because you’re on a roller coaster and don’t know how to stop it? Do you want more of the taste or more of the food? If it’s mostly the taste you’re after, take small bites and savor each morsel.

Eating slowly – pausing between mouthfuls and courses – is an effective strategy for dealing with hunger. It helps you tune into the subtleties of satiety.

Reschedule mealtimes

If you can be certain that what you’re feeling is “real” hunger, you may want to consider changing when you eat. If a half hour will make the difference between simple being hungry enough to eat a horse, plan meals a half hour earlier. If you can’t seem to make it to the next meal without freelance noshing, schedule a series of small meals instead of three big ones.

Make sure any eating you do is deliberate. Schedule, plan it, and eat what and when you intend to.

Keep track of everything that goes into your mouth and tote up the calories at the end of the day. Compare the total to your daily goal. If nothing else works, have a little something, but do it mindfully. Choose a food that will take the “edge” off your hunger. Look at the number of calories you’ve consumed so far that day and how many you have left before you reach your limit. Decide how much you can afford to borrow from later in the day. Measure out the amount, put it on a plate, and give all of your intention to eating it. Munching while you’re doing something else is a way of denying that you’re eating.

And when you’re done, write down the calories you consumed. To keep yourself honest, you should subtract those calories from another meal that day so your daily total is unchanged. It’s a little like borrowing from Peter to pay Paul.

Dealing with cravings

Don’t mistake hunger for a craving .Hunger is, or should be a physiological response: Your body needs fuel. A craving is a psychological response: You feel like something sweet or crunchy or gooey or whatever. Visions of devil’s food cake swim in your head. You’re thinking about salted peanuts or a nice juicy steak. Stop! Distract yourself. Do something else. Try one of these anti-craving strategies.

  1. Pull out your food blacklist: If the food you crave is on it, remind yourself that you simply cannot eat this.
  2. Substitute: Try to find something that will satisfy the sensation without packing the same calorie load. Potato chips are crunchy, but so are thin slices of raw carrot. Chocolate is sweet, but so are strawberries. And if it must be chocolate, how about chocolate low-fat yogurt or chocolate skim milk?
  3. Distract yourself: If you can’t get a craving out of your mind, take your mind – somewhere else. Go for a walk, call a friend, pick up a book or magazine, get back to work, put on some music and dance.
  4. Try a delaying tactic: Cravings are usually a passing fancy, so it’s worth trying to wait them out. See if you can put it off for 5 minutes. If you get through that, try another 5. The chances are good that the intensity of your craving will have subsided. If you can make it through 20 minutes, you’re probably home free, since cravings tend to evaporate after that amount of time. That’s one sure way to tell the difference between a craving and true hunger.
  5. Get support: Talk to one of your diet friends. Say you are in the throes of a craving and need some help.
  6. Save it as a reward: Say no now, and promise yourself you can have it when you have reached one of your milestones. If you can get through the week without giving in to your craving, make a date with it for Saturday night. And be sure to dress it up for the occasion. That means not eating it out of the bag or box. Take out your nicest plate or bowl, arrange the table in an attractive manner. And then sit down and eat this very special treat.
  7. Have just one bite: If all else fails, and it’s eat it now or go off your diet, you may as well give in. Give in, but don’t go crazy. Have a bit, a small bite. Taste it. Savor it. Then ask yourself, was that as good as I dreamed? Is that enough for now? Chances are the answers will be “No” and “Yes,” in that order.

At the supermarket

Food shopping can make or break your diet. If you do it the right way, it can be a major diet aid. Think of it this way: If you don’t buy it, you can’t eat it. Make a shopping list before every trip to the store and do not buy anything that’s not on your list. The lower-calorie foods you found can form the the basis of your list. Your daily or weekly menus are the contents.

Once you get to the market, be sure to read the label of everything you plan for Look at per-serving calorie counts, fat and sugar content, and keep an eye out for hidden trans fats.

Spend time exploring the produce department. Fresh fruits and vegetables are your best friend s. They are excellent sources of complex carbohydrates. They tend to be high bulk, low calorie-density foods. They add color, variety, and interest to meal. They are refreshing. They provide a wide range of textures. They are excellent snack foods. Make a quick detour when you get to the candy, cookie, and baked good aisle. There is nothing there that you need.

Whatever you do, never shop on an empty stomach. There’s nothing like being hungry to tempt you into foolish purchases.

You and your refrigerator

For most people, the refrigerator is “ground zero” in the war against overweight. That where the food is, making it the most dangerous spot in the house. Short of putting a lock on it and hiding the key, what can you do to make your refrigerator safer?

Clean it out

On the eve of beginning your diet, take everything out of the refrigerator and freezer and get rid of anything you know will cause trouble. Double fudge pecan swirl ice cream? Toss it. Chocolate syrup? Give it to your neighbor. Whipping cream? Give it to the cat. Maraschino cherries? You Won’t be making ice cream sundaes, so you don’t need them. You get the idea. Every refrigerator has its own “regulars” that should be banished. Take a look at what’s in yours and do some serious triage. Maybe it’s leftover pizza or sour cream clam dip, maybe it’s a lifetime supply of jams and jellies or cold meatloaf or a container of creamy cole slaw. Whatever it is, its all got to go!

Take inventory

Make a list of everything that survived the cut and tape it to the door. Every time you add something, write it on the list. And every time you make a withdrawal, note that on the list. Stopping to write things down is a good way to make you more mindful of what you do with what’s in the fridge.

Rearrange the contents

Now it’s time to put things back in the refrigerator, but arrange them strategically. If you’re in the habit of opening the door and grabbing the first thing that catches your eye, make that thing something you can eat without doing too much damage. If you had to leave some high-calorie items (for the sake of others in your family or for other practical reasons), make them hard to reach. For example:

  • In the freezer, put the ice cream behind the ice cubes.
  • A pitcher of water should be front and center, and the bottle of fruit punch in the back.
  • Butter is better on a lower shelf. The same goes for cheese, cold cuts, and other fatty foods.
  • Leftovers, if you must have them, should be kept in tightly closed containers. (It’s just too easy to reach for a morsel in an open dish or one that is lightly draped with clear plastic wrap.)
  • Pride of place should go to fruits and vegetables: If they’re easy to get at, you’ll reach for them first.

Never eat while standing in front of an open fridge. Not even just for a taste or to “check” if something is still fresh and edible.

If you plan to eat something, open the door, take out the food or ingredients, close the door, and set the food down on a table or counter. Prepare it, put it on a plate, bring the plate to another room, sit down, and then – dig in. If you cannot wait to go through these steps, that’s a sure sign you have a problem.

Try to break the habit through mindfulness. If that does not work, talk with your doctor or other professional, join a support group, and focus on conquering your eating compulsion.

Decorate it

Get yourself some refrigerator magnets and turn the door into a weight-loss bulletin board. Post your inventory withdrawal and deposit list, and a revolving array of the goals and positive changes you put on index cards. Add some photos you clipped from magazines of bodies you’d like to call your own. If you prefer, put up cartoons and anything else that will lighten your mood and keep you motivated.

Do it again

Especially if you live with other people, your refrigerator is an evolving creature. It’s a good idea to repeat the pruning, inventory, and rearrangement on a regular basis. You may need to do it once a week or may be able to make it a monthly routine. Whenever it starts looking like a minefield again, get in there and defuse it.

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