10 Small Diet Changes to Start Making Now

To lose weight, you don’t have to put yourself on a punishing regimen. Slow and steady wins the race.

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Why is it that most people who want to lose weight think they need to make immediate, drastic changes in order to be successful? They go into a "diet mode," they try this or that fad, and they start depriving themselves of all the foods they enjoy. Eventually they feel frustrated and give up—again.

My approach has always been to focus on small changes. I believe that if you feel good about one small change, you can easily make another, then another. Success breeds success. Bottom line: You should never feel like you are on a diet—healthy eating should be part of your lifestyle, not something that you simply try out for size. Here are 10 easy adjustments to start making today:

1. Create a healthy eating schedule.

Skipping meals is never a good idea—it almost always leads to gorging later on. Get into the habit of eating three meals per day, and, depending on your schedule, including one to two snacks. Eating every three to five hours can help you keep your appetite controlled and your waistline in check.

2. Brighten your plate, naturally.

The foundation of every meal should be fruits and veggies. They're high in fiber to help fill you up, but they're not high in calories to fill you out. A good rule of thumb: If your plate lacks fruits or veggies it probably has too much of something it shouldn't.

3. Think before you drink.

Calories definitely count from beverages, including alcohol. Steer clear of sweetened beverages that offer no nutritional benefit, such as soda and fruit punch. Opt mostly for water, seltzer, 100 percent fruit juice, and low-fat or nonfat milk.

4. Give your carbs a makeover.

I can't tell you how many times I've heard people say "carbs make me fat." But carbs aren't automatically fattening: It's how much of them you eat, which type you choose, and what you top them with that could cause trouble. My suggestion is to reach for 100 percent whole-grain carbohydrates when possible (such as oats, quinoa, brown rice, and barley); the more fiber in your grain, the fuller you'll feel at meal time, which will help keep you from overeating. Also, don't eat more than the recommended portion size.

5. Go easy on the "extras" and make savory swaps for old standbys.

Sometimes it isn't the actual food that's caloric; it's what we end up topping it with that is. A baked potato can be a healthy choice, but loading it up with butter and sour cream can be a diet disaster. A simple burger topped with lettuce and tomato is a far better choice than one that's capped with bacon and cheese. Learning to love lower-calorie toppings, such as mustard, salsa, veggies, and hummus can make a world of difference. Asking for dressings and gravies on the side can also help slim many dishes.

6. Skinny your meat.

Choose leaner cuts of beef, like sirloin, have your poultry without skin, and include more fish into your weekly meals. Broil, grill, and roast vs. fry, and always be sure that your meat portion doesn't overtake your plate. Bonus: Try having a meatless dinner once a week.

7. Eat the right kinds (and amounts) of fat.

Fat is a crucial part of every meal, since it helps keep you full. The trick is to choose heart-healthy fats, such as olive oil, nuts, seeds, and avocado versus options like butter, lard, or cream, for example. Still, too much of any type of fat results in too many calories consumed, so as always, keep an eye on portion sizes.

8. Tame your sweet (and salt) tooth.

The most effective way to conquer cravings is to plan ahead. Know what you crave most, (salty or sweet?) and surround yourself with choices that could satisfy without sabotage. For example, if you yearn for something sweet around 4 p.m. daily, always have a low-fat flavored yogurt on hand; if salty is what you want, keep a serving of nuts around.

9. Share food and good times with advanced planning, and without the guilt.

Being social is such an important part of our culture, and food often takes center stage at gatherings with family and friends. The key is to learn how to dine out, go to parties, and enjoy the holidays without gaining weight and feeling awful about yourself. Try making the company more of a focal point than the food. Don't go anywhere starved, and no matter what happens, always get back on track the following day.

10. Get moving.

Stop thinking of exercise as a chore that requires a gym. Find an activity that interests you and that you can stick with. Also try to squeeze in fitness opportunities through out the day, such as taking the stairs instead of the escalator, parking your car farther away from your destination, or getting off the bus one stop early.

I remind my patients that it didn't take one month to gain 20 pounds, so they can't expect to lose the weight in 30 days. Slow and steady wins the race: It really doesn't matter how quickly you lose the weight; what matters is how long you can keep it off.

Hungry for more? Write to eatandrun@usnews.com with your questions, concerns, and feedback.

Keri Gans, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian, media personality, spokesperson, and author of The Small Change Diet. Gans's expert nutrition advice has been featured in Glamour, Fitness, Health, Self and Shape, and on national television and radio, including The Dr. Oz Show, Good Morning America, ABC News, Primetime, and Sirius/XM Dr. Radio.