I hate dieting. I’ve always hated dieting. You know why? Because I love food. Especially unhealthy food. I love carbs, I love fat, I love sugar. Give me a piece of nutrition-free white bread slathered with real butter, sprinkled with overly-processed white sugar, and topped with bacon and I am a happy camper.
But I also hate not fitting into my pants. I hate having a visible pantyhose line at my waist when I wear a jersey dress. I hate having to decide whether to hike the top of my underwear over my muffin top or whether to let my muffin top hang over the top of my underwear. I hate thigh chafing. I hate the 20 pounds that have crept up on me since I hit my mid-40s.
And so, hello diet.
Diets are hard for me because I don’t like a lot of healthy foods. I dislike nearly every kind of fruit and vegetable. Snacking on carrot sticks and celery is cruel and unusual punishment for me. Serving myself a larger portion of vegetables and a smaller portion of starch at dinner is completely unsatisfying. But after much trial and error, I’ve come up with a few ways that help me to watch what I’m eating and to eat healthier. Hopefully they might be helpful to some of you, too!
Watch your portion size
I am a typical American in that I eat much more of everything than I should. For lunch, I’ll often have a bowl of soup. By which I mean a can of soup. By which I mean roughly 2.5 servings of soup. And it never occurred to me before that I’m eating nearly three times what I should! So before I serve myself, I think about what the “correct” portion size is. If I’m eating some kind of prepared food, I read the label, and if the package is 2 servings, I only eat half. It also helps to calculate the calories – that can of “healthy” soup touts itself as 100 calories per serving, but if I eat the whole thing I’m getting 250 calories!!
Watch portion sizes on side dishes, too. That big scoop of mashed potatoes or rice is definitely larger than a single serving, and three pieces of bread is three times what you should be eating.
Use side dishes as appetizers
My husband works late hours, so I’ll often feed the kids early and then he and I will have supper after they go to bed. But I’ll usually make us an appetizer to tide us over – often something not terribly healthy, like a plate of nachos or a bowl of lobster bisque. But having an appetizer wouldn’t change what we ate for dinner, it just added on those extra calories. So now, if I’m hungry before dinner, I’ll try to eat one of my dinner side dishes as an appetizer and then just leave it off my dinner plate. If the dinner menu is salmon, rice pilaf, and peas, for example, I’ll heat up one serving of peas and eat it early, then I’ll have just the salmon and rice at supper time. Or if we’re having spaghetti and meatballs with salad, I’ll eat my salad early, or maybe I’ll have a couple of meatballs and then have plain pasta at supper. That way I’m not adding extra calories, I’m just spreading them out.
Eat treats sparingly every now and then
Nothing makes me binge like feeling totally deprived of the “good stuff,” so I allow myself a treat every now and then. I just try to be very reasonable about it. On Halloween night, I picked out one of my favorite (snack size!) candy bars from the kids’ bags and let myself enjoy it. On my son’s birthday, I took a very small piece of cake and savored it. Once or twice a week I’ll let myself have a small cocktail or glass of wine. Don't let yourself feel guilty about it, though.
Write down everything you eat for a week
A good way to start a diet program is to be aware of what – and when – you’re eating. You may feel like you’re not overeating at all, but when you write down every single thing you put in your mouth for a week, you may realize where those sneaky little calories are creeping in. You take one piece of candy from the receptionist’s candy dish twice a day – not much, but when you add it up, that’s 2,000 calories a week!! You grab a small Dunkin Donuts coffee with cream and sugar every day on the way to work – at 120 calories a pop, you’ve just added 600 calories a week, and that’s not counting the 200-calorie Starbucks Coffee Frappuccino you “splurge” with on Saturday morning.
Weigh yourself once a week ONLY – and write it down
If you’re like me, your weight fluctuates a couple of pounds on a regular basis. So don’t weigh yourself every single day – you’ll drive yourself nuts. Pick a day of the week and weigh yourself first thing in the morning on that day, every week. And write it down. Make a graph, even. Gaining back a pound or two every once in a while is a lot less frustrating when you can see the general downward trend.
Use snack tricks
When you’re DYING for a snack – absolutely MUST eat something, RIGHT NOW – make yourself wait five minutes. Set a timer. And while you’re waiting, drink a big glass of water. If, at the end of that five minutes, you’re still dying for a snack? Go ahead and have a small, sensible snack. Try to go for fruit and veggies if that will satisfy you. Even a small glass of milk can be a satisfying snack. If you must, go for sweet or salty snacks – but don’t ever snack right from the bag. Prepare ahead of time – get some snack-sized Ziploc bags and fill them with small snacks: four Ritz crackers, a handful of roasted peanuts, a single Oreo, a couple of cheese cubes, half a dozen M&Ms. Don’t stuff it in your mouth, either. Nibble it, savor it, make it last.
Put the good stuff on top
This is actually a trick I learned from Oprah – I saw an interview with her personal chef one day and she suggested using unhealthy but delicious foods like cheese and nuts and bacon by putting them sparingly on top of a dish instead of mixing them in – you can use much less but taste it more. So sprinkle a tiny bit of shredded cheese on top of your mashed potatoes instead of baking the cheese inside, top your salad with a couple of crumbles of feta and a few pecans instead of stirring in a big bunch, bake a chicken breast with just a sprinkle of panko and parmesan instead of coating the whole thing, crumble up half a piece of bacon on top of your scrambled eggs for breakfast.
Dieting still isn’t fun, and it isn’t easy, but these tips help make it a little more manageable for me, and I hope they help you, too. Happy dieting!