Diet Tip

It's all about Balance

During the holidays it's easy to be tempted to indulge. Don't sweat it. Just remember it's all about balance. If you have a high-fat meal one time, balance it with low-fat meals. I have a number of extremely healthy meals -- such as stir-frys and omelettes -- I can prepare when I need a big belly-filling meal that's extremely low in calories.

For example, I can do a huge omelette stuffed with onions, mushrooms, peppers, zucchini, and tomatoes for under 200 calories. Even adding a couple pieces of low-calorie whole wheat toast to that -- with sugar-free jam -- I'm still under 300 calories and it's a wonderful meal. And extremely healthy with lots of vegetables and fiber.

Know Thyself

What kind of person are you? Are you easily swayed by temptation? If so, be careful: know your weaknesses and plan ahead so you don't get caught in a bad situation.

For instance, if you have a weakness for desserts, don't go out to eat at the Cheesecake Factory where you'll be tempted to have a high calorie dessert.

Another good tip is to come prepared with your own solution. Say you've been invited to someone's home for a party. You know there are going to be fattening foods offered, especially those delicious -- but ridiculously unhealthy -- appetizers. You don't want to go off your diet, yet you don't want to be rude either. So bring your own healthy appetizer!

A variation of this is to bring your own healthy snacks when you and your friends go out. They can indulge and you can feel like you're participating, but when they dive into that huge container of popcorn or those loaded nachos, you can pull out your celery sticks or apple slices or low-fat crackers.

Make meals seem bigger

Want bigger meals without extra calories? Yes you can eat extra helpings of low calorie foods like salad (as long as you don't add high-calorie toppings), but here are some other tips:

Use smaller plates. Use smaller plates and bowls when serving food -- this will make a smaller meal seem much larger. Putting a single sandwich in the middle of a dinner plate will make it seem wimpy and even if it's enough food, you'll feel like you're being cheated. Put that same sandwich on a lunch plate or even a saucer and it will seem more substantial!

Multiple items. When you prepare a meal, make a whole meal out of it with multiple items: an appetizer, a salad, an entree, a side dish, a bit of fruit, dessert, etc. Even if each of these items is small and the total is within your calorie budget, the net effect of all the different items will be the perception of a much larger meal. I used to just do a couple sandwiches for lunch -- and I'd find myself snacking later, or eating more dessert or nuts or something high calorie because I felt like I hadn't eaten enough. But now I make a lunch that's overall lower in calories but has multiple elements: a sandwich or two, some yogurt or cottage cheese with fruit, a salad, some chocolate chips for dessert, etc. This feels like I'm getting a lot of food and it takes longer to eat, though the reality is it's less calories than my old style lunch!

Soft Numbers

I'm a precision guy: I like hard numbers. But I've learned with dieting that everything is an approximation anyway and soft numbers are healthier.

For instance, when giving yourself a weight goal, give yourself a range. My weight goal is to stay under 150 pounds. Sometimes I'm several pounds under that, sometimes I creep up right to that. But I don't sweat it: your weight will vary a little no matter what you do and it's not healthy to stress over such details. By giving yourself a range you can still be "on target" and yet there's flexibility.

I do the same with my calorie targets. Lunch, for instance, is around 500 calories. Sometimes it's only 475 if I'm not too hungry or happen to have a high-volume meal that's low-calorie, while other times I might be closer to 600. I find this a lot less stressful than trying to hit a specific number with each meal.

How to Eat Pizza

I used to think high-calorie foods like pizza were completely off-limits. (They definitely are the way I used to eat them: I could polish off a whole pizza in one sitting!)

Then I created my own low-calorie versions which are pretty tasty, but occasionally I just get a craving for really bad-for-you pizza (like pepperoni). Traditionally I buy take-and-bake pizza, so I tried lightening that (I get Papa Murphy's Delight pizza and tell them to use half the cheese they normally do).

This works, though it's still pretty high in calories and saturated fat. The key problem is that while for one meal it's not a problem, I always have leftovers, which means several high-fat meals within a few days. Not only does that leave me hungry (the pizza meals are low in volume but high in calories), but it's a lot of saturated fat within a few days.

My solution? Buy pizza by the slice instead of a whole pie! It's still outrageously high-calorie and unhealthy, but once in a while (say once or twice a month) it's a nice treat and as long as you're good the rest of your meals, it works. Bundle a slice or two with a salad and some fruit so you feel full and it's a nice lunch.

Grocery Shopping Tips

Here are some tips for healthier grocery shopping:

Don't shop when you're hungry. This is very important because you definitely don't make the best choices when you're hungry.

Take your time. Don't be in a rush to shop as you won't make good decisions and you're actually more likely to overbuy.

Walk the entire store. Not only is walking through the entire store good exercise, but you'll be more inclined to discover new foods that you wouldn't have noticed before.

Read nutrition labels. I've been amazed to find that the specifications of even ordinary foods -- like canned tomatoes -- can vary dramatically by brand.

Try new foods (especially vegetables). Be brave and adventurous. If you see a vegetable you've never heard of or tried, either make a note to research it later, ask someone at the store about it, or just buy it and try it! You may not like it, but you never know -- you could discover a delicious, low-calorie food.

Stay away from prepared foods. Be wary of the in-store deli, bakery, or restaurant: you have no idea how those foods are prepared (most likely with tons of oil and extra fat). You're much better of making similar foods at home yourself, where you can control the ingredients.

Do you have some tips of your own? Let me know and I'll post them to the site!

Being good while eating out

Most chain restaurants have nutritional information available on their website. Download this info in advance and figure out one or more healthy meals and write these down (including any modifications such as omitting mayonnaise on a sandwich) and carry this list with you.

That way when you decide to go to that restaurant, instead of being tempted by what's on the menu, you'll already know what is safe to order. This is much easier than trying to do calorie calculations after you're there or trying to guess what meals are actually healthy (you might be wrong).

I usually figure out a few different meals in advance to fit different moods, such as a healthy salad if I'm not especially hungry, a lean sandwich with fruit for a lunch, or perhaps a grilled chicken or fish with steamed vegetables for an evening meal. You can make these kinds of decisions on the spot, but it's a lot smarter to do in advance when you've got all the nutrition info in front of you and you aren't starving.

I usually stay away from desserts at restaurants -- most are not healthy and have hideous amounts of calories. Instead, I wait until I'm back home where I can fix my own healthy low calorie dessert. If you're really needing a dessert and can't go home, a bite or two of a friend's dessert usually is okay (or package the leftover and take it home if you're by yourself). But be sure you actually do limit it to a bite or two. That's hard to do, so I keep a few 100 calorie chocolate chip granola bars in my car just in case I need some carbs or have a serious sweet craving.