Everyday, we encounter a huge array of food options. A small corner store often has hundreds of different drinks to choose from. Grocery stores present us with endless, exhausting aisles of options. Menus, even in small restaurants, can be several pages in length.
On top of all this, we are constantly hit with a barrage of information about food:
- advertising convincing us that we should give in to every craving
- diet gurus trying to get us on to the latest trend
- health experts warning us about today’s big food scare
With so many options, and so many conflicting sources of information, it is hard to figure out exactly what “eating healthy” is, and it’s even harder to avoid overeating. However, there are a few basic pieces of information we can arm ourselves with that will go a long way towards allowing us to cut through the overdose of choices and advertising claims, and enter into a lifetime of healthy eating habits.
The Golden Rule of Healthy Eating
If there were a pyramid of keys to eating healthy, the stone at the very top of that pyramid would be moderation. Eating everything in moderation is absolutely essential to good health, and ignoring or overlooking this simple fact often leads to obesity and other health problems.
How to Moderate
One of the main reasons we tend to overeat is that we don’t pay attention to what we are eating and we don’t pay attention to our bodies when they tell us that we’ve had enough.
- Always eat consciously and slowly. In this way, we become aware of how much we have consumed, and we know when we’ve had enough.
- Avoid taking second helpings at meals.
- Don’t order the largest sized item on the menu at restaurants.
- If you snack, never directly out of the bag of chips or box of cookies so that you don’t know how much you’re eating until it’s all gone.
A great way to become aware of what we are eating is to understand portion sizes. Most of the time, we eat three or four times the amount recommended on food labels. Below, you will find a rough guide to healthy portion sizes:
- A portion of meat or protein is 3 oz., roughly the size of a deck of cards. We should be eating no more than 2-3 portions a day. Ideally, these should come from lean meats like chicken or fish, or from non-animal proteins, like legumes and tofu .
- A portion of dairy is equivalent to 1 cup of milk, or 1.5 oz. of cheese – roughly the size of a golf ball. We should be eating no more than 2-3 portions a day.
- A portion of fruit or vegetables is about equivalent to the size of one medium apple or orange, or a ¾ cup of vegetables. We should be eating 5-10 portions a day. However, fruit is high is sugar and should be consumed more moderately than vegetables. While 3-5 servings of fruit a day is plenty, we can easily enjoy 6-8 servings of veggies without compromising weight loss goals.
- Food guides tend to recommend 5-12 servings of grain products a day. This may seem like a lot, however, a serving size is equal to only ½ a cup of cook rice or pasta, 1 slice of bread, or ½ a bagel or scone.
With portions like that, it’s easy to see how those carb calories pile up fast! Just don’t forget that a healthy diet does require some carbohydrates. The problem with carbs is that they are usually full of sugar, and are highly addictive. Maintaining a healthy carb intake may be the biggest dietary challenge for many people, but remember:
- moderation is key
- listen to your body
- stay in control
Timing is Everything
Another key to eating moderately is to control when we eat. We now know that people are much better off eating 5 or 6 small meals a day. When you eat a large meal, your body can’t handle all the nutrition that is being taken in, thus much of it gets converted into fat and goes to waste. However, if you eat several small meals a day, your body will process the same amount of food more efficiently, resulting in healthy, natural weight loss.
It is also important not to eat before bed. Although late night snacking is tempting, it is one of the worst things you can do for your weight and your health. Try not to eat 3-4 hours before you go to bed, because anything you do eat will just get stored as fat while your body snoozes. Enjoy the pleasure of waking up hungry in the morning and eating a good breakfast.
Never skip breakfast. This will just make you feel rotten, and more likely to pig out later in the day. The final key that locks the door against overeating forever is to avoid starving yourself. Once you get really hungry, your next meal will almost inevitably be a large, fatty one. By eating moderately and consistently throughout the day, you will actually eat less, your body will process food more efficiently, and you will lose weight without feeling hungry and miserable.