By Laurel-Lea Shannon
If you’ve stepped on the scales lately and cried, “YIKES!,” you may panic and decide to restrict your food intake to lose weight. Stop! Don’t do that. If you do, you’ll trigger your metabolism into conservation mode.
Our bodies are designed to survive times of famine. When you restrict food intake, your body becomes more efficient at squeezing every last calorie out of what you eat. Do you know someone who puts on weight every time she looks at a donut? Chances are she has a lifelong habit of restricting calories, or eating most of her daily calories late in the day. If you’ve gained a few pounds over the winter, don’t despair, but don’t diet either. Instead, eat smart.
Maintaining a healthy weight is more of an art than a science—it’s more than just balancing calories in and calories out. How you metabolize food depends on many factors such as: your thyroid function, stress levels, hormones, genetics, serotonin, insulin, physical activity, and the quality of your food. When these are in balance, your weight will be too.
Here are a few eat smart guidelines that will help you keep healthy, allow you to lose pounds if you need to, and maintain your optimum weight all year long. Remember, everyone is different. You need to experiment to find the right combinations for you.
Protein at Breakfast
If your mom told you that breakfast was the most important meal of the day, she was right. But you’ve got to select the right foods. Research has shown that women who eat protein at breakfast (eggs, protein powder, a chicken breast, yogurt with protein powder, or fish) burn 25% more fat and feel fuller than women who eat skim milk and cereal for breakfast. Filling up on protein and healthy fat at breakfast may be the single most important change you can make to lose weight and keep it off.
Healthy Fat is Your Friend
Fat has been given a bad rap. Next to eating protein at breakfast, making sure you get enough healthy fat every day is the most important thing you can do for your health and for weight loss. Low fat diets promoted by the medical community since the 1980’s, clearly don’t work. North Americans are fatter and less healthy than they were 30 years ago. You need good fats, especially omega-3 fats, found mostly in fish, for optimal health. They protect you from heart disease, reduce inflammation, and treat a number of chronic diseases, including depression. Monounsaturated fats—found in olive oil, tree nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews) and avocadoes—help reduce inflammation, and make you feel full longer.
Snack as Needed
When you’re up a few pounds and in panic mode about losing that weight, snacking sounds counterintuitive. You want to eat fewer calories, right? Not exactly. Weight gain means your body is out of balance. What you want to do is correct that. Starving yourself just throws your biochemistry further out of whack. If you’re hungry mid-morning or mid-afternoon, snack. But don’t snack on cookies and muffins. Try healthy snacks that contain protein, and aim for less than 180 calories each.
Skip Empty Calories
Soft drinks and alcohol are loaded with empty calories. Skip them. Red wine is okay but only in moderation. Meaning 1 glass per day. Also, don’t drink fruit juice (it’s laden with fructose, another form of sugar) If you love lattes, keep that habit in check. Even if you order lattes with skim milk, they still pack a calorie load without much nutritional benefit.
It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, can the pop—regular and diet. Dr. Mark Hyman recently reported a link between artificial sweeteners, diabetes and weight gain. Don’t use them. They are bad for you. Instead, use small amounts of unprocessed sugar (you can get that at your local health food store), or Stevia, a calorie-free natural herb that is about 200 times sweeter than sugar.
Get Rid of White
Where possible, eliminate white foods from your diet: white flour and products made from white flour (white bread, cookies, cakes, muffins), potatoes, pasta and white sugar. These foods aren’t as nutritionally robust as whole foods, and your body metabolizes them more quickly, meaning you’ll be hungry soon after eating them and they will turn into fat more quickly. Instead, load up on yams, and whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, whole grain breads and pastas.
Eat Your Vegetables
Vegetables are loaded with vitamins and minerals and are a good source of fibre. Eat a variety of these, several servings every day.
Get Enough Sleep
Lack of sleep is implicated in depression, diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, high blood pressure, dementia, and weight gain. Why? Because when you don’t sleep well or long enough, your cortisol levels raise. Cortisol is a hormone that is released as part of your fight or flight response to danger. It’s there to protect you, but when you’re constantly stressed, there’s too much cortisol. That damages the body by releasing adrenaline and sugars into the blood stream, which undermines your health and can lead to weight gain. Sleep repairs your cells, tissues and muscles, regulates your hormones and reduces stress.
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