Do you rely on takeout, skip meals, snack at night, and then punish yourself for not losing weight? These habits are counterproductive, our dietitians say. Here’s how to turn them around:
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1. Cook more at home (it’s easier than you think)
Making meals at home can be fast, easy and affordable. You’ll slash calories, sodium, sugar and saturated fat. “Your waistline, wallet and doctor will thank you,” says Anna Taylor, MS, RD, LD, CDE.
Getting a breakfast sandwich at a drive-through may take you 10 minutes. Making whole grain toast with nut butter and grabbing a piece of fruit will take you about three.
“For lunch, forget fast food and the cafeteria,” she says. Pack leftovers, or throw beans and tuna on salad greens.
If you get hungry between meals, pack Greek yogurt and fruit. “No need to visit the vending machine,” says Ms. Taylor.
Then “file away those take-out menus and retire your TV dinners,” she says. Instead, build yourself a healthy plate:
- Fill half of it with non-starchy veggies (raw, cooked or frozen)
- Fill one-quarter with high-fiber carbs (sweet potato, quinoa, whole grain pasta)
- Fill one-quarter with lean protein (eggs, chicken, fish, turkey, tofu, edamame)
Experiment liberally with herbs and spices. Make slow cooker, stir fry or soup recipes in advance. “Veggie prep on weekends makes weekday meals a breeze,” Ms. Taylor says.
2. Fuel yourself throughout the day — then stop
Most people who skip meals aren’t hungry in the morning or during the day because they’re still full from a large meal before bed. “If you can challenge yourself to stop eating three hours before bed, you may find that you wake up hungry,” she notes.
Eat breakfast within one or two hours of waking up, advises Kate Patton, MEd, RD, CSSD, LD. “Breakfast can be grab-and-go, to eat in your car or when you get to work, she says. Try:
- A protein shake or bar with a piece of fruit
- A hardboiled egg with fruit or a piece of whole grain toast
- ½ cup cottage cheese with ½ cup of fresh or frozen berries
- 1 container of non-fat Greek yogurt topped with almonds or walnuts
You can also prep oatmeal the night before. Measure out oatmeal, cinnamon, raisins and walnuts. Add water, then microwave at work (or add milk the night before and eat cold).
For healthy snacks and lunches, she recommends prepping and portioning on the weekend.
3. Stock healthy late-night snacks (just in case)
A late-night eating habit can be tough to break. “Start by establishing a no-eating-after-dinner rule,” suggests Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD. “First, make sure you follow a healthy, nutrient-dense diet plan throughout the day so you’re not starving by 9 p.m.”
Next, remove all your favorite night snack foods from the house to avoid temptation. “After a few weeks, you’ll be able to stop the fueling and go to bed,” she says. “Weight loss is dependent on good sleep, too!”
You can unwind with herbal tea before bed. But if you’re still hungry, try lower-carb options:
- Celery and peanut butter.
- A small yogurt.
- String cheese.
- Mixed nuts.
- A handful of colorful berries.
“I like a spoonful of crunchy peanut butter, dipped in melted dark chocolate chips and frozen,” she says. “It’s low in sugar but satisfies my need for something sweet.”
4. Swap negative self-talk for kindness (it works)
Mentally criticizing dietary setbacks won’t help you with your eating habits and will only increase your stress, says Dawn Noe, RD, LD, CDE. Positive messages, however, will keep you calm and help you handle your challenges.
“Do you talk to yourself like you would to a good friend? Or are you less forgiving and empathetic?” she asks.
Start by noticing negative self-talk. Then “flip the script” and practice sending positive messages.
Negative self-talk tends to be cyclical. “You might tell yourself, ‘I can’t believe I ate so much dessert yesterday. I’ve been wanting to eat healthier, but I can’t. Guess I’ll just give up and start over on Monday,’” says Ms. Noe.
Try reframing the situation in a positive light. “You might say, ‘I really enjoyed dessert yesterday. Next time, I’ll ask my family to share the dessert so that I don’t end up eating more than I planned,’ ” she says.
The more you practice positive self-talk, the easier it becomes. “Speak kindly to yourself!” she stresses.
Try adopting these new habits and you’ll be surprised at the progress you’ll make.