What if you concentrated on eating more foods that are good for you rather than trying desperately to completely avoid the bad ones? Can you actually eat more and still lose weight?
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Registered dietitian Julia Zumpano, RD, LD, says you can. Here’s how it works.
Most trendy diets include some sort of restriction — such as cutting out carbohydrates, gluten or dairy products — which makes them hard to sustain. Typically, once you stop following the diet’s restrictions, the weight comes right back.
“However, if you focus on adding more nutritious foods to your meals, as opposed to restricting foods, you’ll be more likely to lose weight and keep it off,” says Zumpano. “You won’t feel like you’re depriving yourself, so you’ll be more likely to maintain healthy eating habits.”
And, if you concentrate on incorporating a certain amount of healthy food into your meals every day — like aiming for between five and seven servings of fresh fruits and vegetables — you may find that you’ll naturally limit the not-so-healthy choices.
Which healthy foods are best to add?
Zumpano recommends these foods to eat to lose weight and to improve your health in general:
- Fruits and vegetables.
- Whole grains.
- Legumes like dried beans, peas and lentils (they also can be canned or frozen for convenience).
- Plant based oils such as olive, avocado, sunflower, grapeseed or peanut.
- Nuts and seeds.
- Lean sources of protein like fish, shellfish, white meat, eggs or egg whites and tofu.
- Calcium-rich foods like low fat yogurt, cottage cheese and milk.
When adding fruits and vegetables to your meals, try to eat those first. They’ll help you feel fuller so you can cut back on your main-course portions to accommodate the extra calories.
“Keep in mind that healthy foods tend to have a lot fewer calories than other foods, so you can eat the same amount of food overall and still lose weight,” says Zumpano.
Quick tips for easily adding nutritious foods
- Add something good to every meal: Start by adding a piece of fruit to your breakfast and a salad or other vegetable to your lunch and dinner.
- Be prepared: Rinse and cut up fruits and vegetables during the weekend or at the beginning of the week. Then store them in containers in the refrigerator for easy use throughout the week.
- Make it easy on yourself: If it helps you stay on track, you can buy fruits and vegetables that are already cut up and salad that is pre-washed and bagged. Or, buy frozen fruits and veggies to keep in your freezer so you always have them on hand. Try a fruit or veggie tray for convenience to snack on or pack up for meals.
- Go for easy add-ins: Boost the nutrition in your salads by adding diced vegetables, seeds and nuts and using an oil-and-vinegar dressing. Try balsamic vinegar, lime or lemon juice for extra flavor.
Swap bad foods for healthier options
After you start working more healthy foods in, take a look at the unhealthy foods you eat and see if you can come up with healthier alternatives. Here are a few examples:
- If you typically eat hot dogs a few times a week but also like roasted chicken breast, swap out hot dogs in favor of chicken most of the time.
- Replace ice cream with frozen yogurt or sorbet.
- Replace milkshakes with fruit-and-yogurt smoothies.
- Snack on a handful of nuts or seeds instead of potato chips.
- Try whole-grain toast or cereal instead of pastries.
- Commit to changing your dinner entrée from red meats to fish once or twice a week.
- Opt for beans instead of potatoes in several meals each week.
Health benefits of adding nutritious foods to your diet
Eating additional nutritious foods and fewer foods that are unhealthy can do more than help you lose weight. It can also:
- Decrease your risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and stroke.
- Help regulate your digestion.
- Lower your cholesterol.
- Help improve your mood and reduce depression.
- Allow yourself a few treats.
“It’s unrealistic to expect people to eat healthy all the time,” says Zumpano. “But if you want to lose weight and keep it off, aim to eat healthy foods at least 75% to 80% of the time. Allowing yourself to have some unhealthy foods will help you stay on track.”
When indulging in an unhealthy treat, try to choose food items that won’t exacerbate any chronic conditions you have, such as high cholesterol or diabetes. If you’re unsure which foods are safe and which you really should avoid, talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian.