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How to Streamline Your Nutrition

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How to Streamline Your Nutrition

There are so many diets out there that you might forget that the basics — a balanced diet and exercise you enjoy. You don’t need anything fancy to lose weight. The basics include watching calories, adding movement and eating some healthy fats, whole grains, lean protein and plenty of produce. 

This summer, don’t just commit to cleaning up your kitchen, but also focus on deleting extraneous dieting rules. Loosen the reins a bit and you’ll have an even better chance at success and making weight loss a sustainable and enjoyable process.

Here, the rules you should skip and those you should keep:

DON'T - Suffer

Many people follow self-imposed diet rules that make them unhappy, whether it’s eating eggs for breakfast to avoid carbohydrate-rich toast or cutting out dessert entirely. People become miserable during the weight-loss process all the time. But lasting weight loss teaches sustainable habits you can keep for a lifetime — and that means being kind toward yourself. If you’re following a rule that feels too strict and makes you feel unhappy, move on. 

DO - Track your food intake

New research shows people who were the most successful in weight loss spent less than 15 minutes a day logging what they ate. Logging what you eat makes you more aware of what you’re consuming and how you feel during those eating occasions. For example, the cookie you had for a snack may have been tasty, but did it help you feel full the way an apple and some nut butter might? Over time, you can see patterns in your eating habits and make smarter choices.

DON'T - Have a cheat day

There’s nothing positive you can associate with the word cheat and no food should be completely off limits for a lifetime plan. Cheat days often backfire, causing you to overeat and this can harm your metabolism. A diet should feel satisfying so you can maintain it long-term, and that includes beloved foods. 

DO - Focus on portions

No matter what the food, portions matter. The thing is, the number of portions listed on a nutrition label might not be right for you — it’s an external bit of data that has no idea how hungry you are or what you ate earlier that day. Use it as a reality check to understand the calorie and macronutrient breakdown and make smart decisions from there.

DON'T - Substitute everything

You might be tempted to substitute traditional pasta or grains with cauliflower or sweet potato or use almond flour in lieu of whole-wheat flour when baking. Cauliflower and sweet potatoes are great, nutrient-packed foods, but know that these subs don’t often save on calories. Eat them to add variety and because you can make a killer cauliflower pizza crust — not because you’re afraid of the classic variety.

DO - Reach the labels

Front-of-package claims have long been problematic, relying on of-the-moment buzzwords to prompt you to purchase. But the ingredient label tells a different story. Read between the lines and look beyond whatever the front package is telling you — instead, make decisions based on the ingredients within.

DON'T - Try a plan that worked for someone else

Every diet plan comes with its own promises — and those can be big. As such, many have steep fees to join or ask you to purchase expensive foods or supplements. It can be tempting, then, to bounce from diet to diet just because your friend, coworker or favorite celebrity did it, and spend a lot of money in the process. Abruptly starting and stopping diets wreaks havoc on our bodies and minds. Sustained changes are harder in the short-term, but better in the long-term. 

Likewise, personal success stories are enticing, but you shouldn’t blindly follow a diet just because it worked for someone else — particularly if it sounds restrictive. Everyone is different and there isn’t one weight-loss solution for everyone. What works for one person might not work for another. Keeping this in mind can help you choose to eat in a way that better aligns with your food tastes, preferences and goals — and thus, success. 

DO - Eat all your food groups

We love to hate carbs, and yet, it’s such an important food group for energy, B vitamins, fiber and your sanity. That last one (sanity) is critical: Carbohydrates raise levels of serotonin in your body, a feel-good hormone that plays a key role in mood regulation, which is why a quick carb fix can make you feel better so quickly. 

It’s certainly not a bad thing to commit to decreasing your intake of the ultra-processed carbs that are also rich in unhealthy fats and sugar (packaged cookies, for instance), but it doesn’t mean you also need to give up whole-grain toast. Unless you have a medical condition that dictates otherwise, don't eliminate entire food groups from your diet.

DON'T - Consume alcohol close to bedtime

A nightcap will make you drowsy, and it may even make it easier to fall asleep, but the overall quality and quantity of your sleep takes a dive when you’ve been drinking. While you may actually sleep harder in the first half of the night, alcohol consumption is disruptive to the second half, leading to middle-of-the-night awakenings, according to a study in the journal Alcohol. What’s more, other research finds insufficient sleep is associated with greater booze intake and a higher BMI. Poor sleep plus alcohol decreases your inhibitions, making it more likely you’ll overeat, leading to weight gain.

DO - Have a smart nighttime snack

While eating late at night generally isn’t recommended, having the right kind of evening snack can help with weight loss. Going to bed hungry can lead to poor sleep and the urge to raid the kitchen fridge. Instead, RDs recommend opting for a bedtime snack rich in complex carbs and proteins containing tryptophan, an amino acid that helps promote sleep. Examples include Greek yogurt with berries, cheese and crackers or a banana with peanut butter.

DON'T - Feel guilty

Remember food is not your enemy — even when you’re trying to lose weight. Food brings people together and has historically been at the center of many celebrations. There is room for all of the foods you love. If you are going to eat something that is technically off ‘the diet plan’ then do it, enjoy it and move on with your life. Ditching food guilt and practicing gratitude with food instead will set you up for success.

DO - Slow down

Research shows when you eat without distractions and slow down, you eat less overall. A study in the journal Nutrients showed when people (who had a normal BMI) were challenged to eat meals at a normal (6-minute) or slow (24-minute) rate, those who ate at a slow rate were fuller 2 hours after eating, had a greater suppression of the appetite-stimulating hormone ghrelin and remembered what they ate previously better than the group who fed themselves fast. That may all account for why, 3 hours after eating, the slow group ate 25% fewer calories from snacks. Chewing slowly and leaving your phone off the table are just a few of the mindful eating techniques that can amp up your weight loss.

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