Here’s the challenge when it comes to losing weight - you need to find a diet that satisfies hunger and that also can help to control cravings. So, it would seem intuitive that once you understand the two goals, you should be able to consult with a professional to create such a diet.
Unfortunately, food trends, bizarre diets, food gurus, cost, and your own emotional food demons get in the way. As soon as you hear about a new book or new gimmick, human nature will probably propel you to abandon your sensible, balanced diet to try the new "guaranteed" approach. Or, some celebrity or foodie gets a public relations machine behind them, helping to push their latest diet or detox formula into the global mainstream and you buy into it, because everyone else seems to believe in it. Or, maybe you simply find it hard to stay-the-course on a sensible diet because it’s bland or boring, or your emotions overwhelm you and food is your form of medication.
Putting aside those challenges, what kind of diet can satiate and help you to minimize your responses to cravings? The diet or food program has to include both the food and emotional components in order for it to be successful.
The number of portions you choose to eat from the following outline will depend on your gender, your current weight, and your goals. That part of the program is very personalized and should be discussed with a health professional. The outline below emphasizes "best nutrition practices."
Any and all fruits are excellent sources of a variety of nutrients and also contain varying levels of fiber. Though a number of diets suggest that you should steer clear of starchy fruits like bananas, or high-sugar fruits like watermelon, I am a firm believer that all fruits and vegetables have relevance to a balanced and enjoyable diet. Most people should consume a minimum of three servings a day, and up to five servings per day. A serving is about 60-80 calories.
The goal should be five servings of vegetables per day for most people. One caveat is that corn, peas and potatoes should be grouped within the "grains" group since they are more dense and caloric. And, yes, portion control with regards to these three choices has great relevance. But corn, peas and potatoes also are extremely satiating, so don’t avoid them completely. Portion control, and how often you choose to eat them, is key to weight control. For most other vegetables, portion control can be a bit looser. Use different “greens” to add bulk to salad, since several cups are still pretty low in calories. A single serving is 60 to 80 calories.
My top protein choices are fish, beans, legumes, nuts, nut butters (I grind nuts myself to avoid added oils), tofu, tempeh, eggs and egg whites, Greek yogurt, and milk (including almond and soy milk). Chicken, turkey (skinless), and the lean game meats, like buffalo, are fine. If you like red meat, I suggest choosing the lean cuts and limiting to one or two servings a week. I am a firm believer in meat-free days to lower your saturated fat consumption. Proteins are key to satiation and should be featured at breakfast, lunch, dinner and in snacks. Again, how much protein you eat depends on the variables and goals I mentioned earlier. A serving size can range between 100 to 300 calories, depending on meal and snack calorie goals.
Mostly choosing monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats is a good goal. Choose from nuts and nut butters (these are protein and fat combination foods), olives and olive oil, soybean or vegetable oil, canola oil and nut oils, oily fishes (which contain protein and healthy fats), avocados, flaxseed and chia seeds. This food group needs strict portion control because a gram of fat has nine calories, while a gram of protein or carbohydrate has four calories. That’s why fats are so filling. I’m a big believer in the presence of some healthy fat in each meal of the day. Some foods require fats to help access certain nutrients. This is a food group that requires measuring cups or spoons. How much of this food group you incorporate into each meal is based on total daily calorie goals.
Most people should consider having one to two servings of dairy daily, and those choices should be fortified with vitamin D and calcium. Greek yogurt has become a favorite because it is higher in protein than traditional yogurt. Milks like almond, soy and even coconut milk are fortified and you can find them with different calorie levels per serving. Small servings of hard cheese (the keyword is small) can be incorporated in your balanced eating plan. A serving size of cheese should look like two dice. A portion should be about 60 to 80 calories.
This is the challenging group for a variety of reasons. We now recognize that many grain products contain high levels of sodium per serving. Most consumers also tend to gravitate to processed "white and tan" carbohydrates, which lack fiber and cause blood sugar spikes. We also are eating very sweet grains like cereals and white pastas, and we are eating them with abandon and without tracking portion sizes or how often they are featured in our diets. The "good ones" contain nutrients, like fiber, and they do provide satiation and satisfaction. We just need to make better choices and figure out the appropriate number of daily servings. And, if you are an emotional eater, this is the food group you typically turn to for comfort. Choose brown rice, ancient grains, and remember that peas, corn, and potatoes are included in this food group. A serving size is about 80 calories.
**A “control cravings, feed hunger” menu **
Breakfast: One egg and one egg white, a 70 calorie whole-grain waffle, a small cup of mixed berries and four ounces of skim milk plus coffee.
Lunch: A large salad with several different vegetables, 1/4 of an avocado, 1/4 cup of beans, and a vinegar-based dressing, plus a piece of fruit. Or, you might make a yogurt parfait with nuts, a variety of berries, a teaspoon of chia seeds, and a half cup of whole-grain, high-fiber cereal.
Mid-afternoon snack: Cut up vegetables and hummus, or a Greek yogurt with half a banana, or a small handful of nuts and a piece of fruit.
Dinner: A dinner-sized salad with two teaspoons of tahini dressing, grilled fish, grilled vegetables, and, if you’re still hungry, a piece of fruit.
A balanced menu with variety
This approach to eating is filling, nutritious, and has variety, which can prevent food boredom and offset food cravings. If you want a treat, a good option is a few small squares of very dark chocolate, once or twice a week. You can also make a delicious chia pudding by blending one of the milk choices above and chia seeds and refrigerate overnight. Again, a big key to this plan is with the portion sizes of proteins, grains, and fats, and choosing how many portions of these specific three food groups you have daily.
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Known as The HealthGal, expert contributor Amy Hendel is a popular medical and lifestyle reporter, nutrition and fitness expert, columnist, and brand ambassador, as well as a health coach. Trained as a physician assistant, she maintains a health coach private practice in New York and Los Angeles. Author of The Four Habits of Healthy Families, you can find her on Twitter @HealthGal1103 and on Facebook at TheHealthGal. Her personal mantra is “Fix it first with food, fitness, and lifestyle.”