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Healthy Eating for Weight Loss
By Kevin Brown

An estimated 45 million Americans go on diets every year. For many, the diet starts as a New Year resolution. Whether you fall into that category, or you just want to begin eating healthy to lose some weight, you might be wondering where to start. Susan Zikos, RD, LDN, CDE, the Diabetes Educator at Ohio Valley Hospital and a registered Dietitian, offers advice on how to eat healthy and lose weight.

Just for Starters
Begin your weight loss journey with a visit to your primary care physician and a registered dietitian.

“Either can make these steps more understandable, help you set goals and suggest proper caloric intake,” Susan says. “They can also suggest substitutes for high fat and high carbohydrate foods, as well as recommend specific weight loss goals, timing and exercises to achieve the goals. Follow-up visits help to add more accountability.”

“In addition to eating a healthier diet, you need to add 30 to 90 minutes of moderate exercise to your day, including cardio and strengthening exercises. Try to increase your activity level each day," Susan recommends.

“Use technology like the My Fitness Pal app on your smart phone to help track food intake and exercise activity,” Susan suggests. “An activity tracker such as a Fitbit or a digital pedometer also will help you track your exercise levels and progress. If you aren’t technology-oriented, just keep a record on paper.”

Choosing Healthy Foods
“Healthy foods are fruits and vegetables, lean meats (not fried) and dairy, whole grains with higher fiber content and healthy fats,” Susan explains. “Healthy foods provide the body with the energy it needs for optimal functioning, without adding too many calories which will cause weight gain. There will not be too many fats, which have more than double the calories by weight than either protein or carbohydrates. They also will not have too many carbohydrate foods, which cause exaggerated insulin production and more hunger.

Susan recommends visiting www.ChooseMyPlate.gov from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which offers heathy eating suggestions.

“By using the information from the Choose My Plate website, you can add healthier foods to your diet such as more fruits and vegetables, less starchy foods, more lean protein, as well as changing “white foods” like pasta, breads, and rice to whole grains,” she says.

“If you need help developing a diet plan - and most of us do - follow a plan that has already been set up,” she says. “Guidelines from the Mediterranean Diet, or the DASH Diet, will help set you straight on the types of foods that are good for your body. They generally steer you away from processed, fried and convenience foods to more natural foods like fruits and vegetables, lean meats and some whole grains,” she explains.

Spicing It Up
If you are thinking that a “healthy foods diet” sounds a little bland, there are ways to spice it up.

“Spices, lemon juice, hot sauce, vinegar, garlic, onion, dill pickles and condiments add flavor to foods,” Susan says. “Trying new foods and vegetables encourages the taste buds to work better. Also, look at different cooking methods. Vegetables, for instance, taste better if they are still green and firm, not olive-green and soggy. They can be boiled, steamed, sautéed, grilled or even roasted and still be considered healthy (as long as you’re not tossing them in too much fat). The same goes for most meats. Notice that 'breaded and fried' is not included in this list. That particular cooking method adds fat and carbs, and doubles the calories in the food. Sometimes, though, you can use an air fryer and get that crisp taste without adding extra fat,” she says.

Desserts and Snacks
As far as dessert and snacks, Susan says that they are a part of life, but they should be occasional.

“Many successful dieters plan for snacks and desserts in their diets, so that they do not go over their caloric goals. If you do 'slip' and have too many calories in a day, don't be discouraged, just continue on. Tomorrow is another day. Maybe a little less food or a few more minutes of exercise will put you back where you want to be,” she says.

Setting Goals
What about goals? Susan says that you have nothing to work for unless you set a goal. She recommends the SMART goal system:

  • Specific: “Rather than simply saying, ‘I’m going to eat better,’ specify how you will eat better: ‘I will eat a non-starchy vegetable twice a day.’”
  • Measurable: “Keep track when you have the vegetable at each meal, so you’ll be able to clearly know when you succeed.”
  • Attainable: “It doesn't help if you say, ‘I will eat vegetables and nothing else this week,’ if you don't think that you can do it. (And you shouldn't!)
  • Relevant: “Make sure that your goal will help you with your healthy eating journey. Eating more vegetables will help fill you up so that you are not as hungry. They will also give you more vitamins and fiber than extra bread or fries than you might otherwise have eaten.”
  • Time-bound: “This is your goal for this week. You can choose to pursue this goal again next week, or you can set a new goal. It's easier to commit to a goal -- and be successful -- if you do it for a set amount of time.”

Changing Your Lifestyle
Finally, Susan says that the goal is to change your lifestyle to make it healthier.

“There should be a change in the mindset that allows us to eat healthier and with fewer calories forever. Weight loss will follow at a slower pace than with a cleanse, keto or other diet, but it will be sustainable over the long haul. Most diets fail because they are just that - diets, which will come to an end - with you going back to your old eating patterns and eventually regaining the weight.”

For more information about healthy eating and weight loss, or to seek Nutrition Counseling services, call Ohio Valley Hospital at (412) 777-6205.

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