OK, the big Christmas extended feast is over, and you’ve put on a few pounds. Perhaps you’ve been a little “too heavy” for some time. So this is it – time for the diet. You’re going to cut out all starches, or all sugars, or eat only green foods, and keep careful notes, and you’re going to drop ten pounds in two weeks.
No, you’re not. Healthy eating has to be sustainable. It has to be something you won’t get bored with and cheat on. Fad diets simply don’t work – you might lose a few pounds, but your metabolism compensates, so in the long run you may end up worse off than you started. And the more you make yourself feel deprived, the more you will crave unhealthy foods.
The way to feel healthy and happy is to eat a balanced, healthy diet – then your metabolism will function properly and you won’t feel overly hungry. And, with the help of some physical activity (see the “Exercise more” section in this feature), you should be able to reduce your weight by 5% to 10% over six months or so – which is a realistic goal and a good pace for those who need to lose weight. If you weigh 160 pounds, 5% of your weight is 8 pounds – imagine eight one-pound bricks of butter. That’s quite a bit to take off your body!
But that leaves us with the question, What is a balanced, healthy diet? Here are some more general guidelines for how to eat the right amount to achieve and maintain a healthy weight – and overall good health:
- Fruits and vegetables: Eat more! The odds are very good that you don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables. And, no, that sugar-filled beverage with “10% real fruit” doesn’t count. Have 100% fruit or vegetable juice. You need variety; try to have five different kinds of fruit and vegetables each day: an apple, a serving of peas the size of your palm, a cereal bowl of salad. Also, the more colour you see on your plate (green, reds, yellow, orange), the better the variety of nutrients you will be getting.
- Starchy carbohydrates: Believe it or not, you probably need to eat more of these. The catch is that you don’t want to add fat to your diet at the same time. Baked potatoes are fine. Mashed potatoes are OK, but are usually made with butter and consumed with gravy, so watch out. Potato chips are not the best thing and should be avoided. Corn, oats, pasta, rice, unsweetened breakfast cereals – all are fine. Those nice, crunchy whole-grain products are the best kind. One-third of what you eat should be breads, cereals, and starches.
- Dairy products: Two to four servings a day of these will do. By “serving” we mean a glass of milk, a small yogurt or a matchbox-sized piece of cheese.
- Meat and alternatives: The key words here are “less” and “fat.” You should probably eat a bit less of these than you do – two or three servings (each the size of a pack of cards) per day is optimal – and you should keep the amount of fat low. But beware! People often compensate for the lack of fat by adding salt or sugars. Get some variety to keep interesting – it’s easy to get bored with chicken six times a week. Try to have fish once or twice a week.
- Fats and sugars: Of course, these are the things that taste so good… but we eat far more of them than we need to. We also eat more than we used to – nearly 20% more fat per person than in 1980, and twice as much added sugar per person as in 1980. Our soft drink consumption is seven times what it was 60 years ago. If our parents were happy with less fat and sugar, we can be too. And make sure you don’t make up for less of one by having more of the other. Add spices and herbs if you want more flavour.
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