Whether you're trying to lose the few pounds you gained this winter, or simply need some creative ideas to get your shopping cart—or dinner plate—in shape, there's no need to purge your pantry, eat unusual foods or completely overhaul your eating regimen. And despite what you may have heard, you don't need to fast, juice or otherwise "detox" to lose weight and improve your health.
To help you get a food and nutrition pick-me-up and infuse new life into your eating routine, why not follow this no-fail "one-day diet" plan. Rather than being a so-called diet you go on and off of, this plan is more of a sensible, specific course of action you can turn to on any given day—for example, after a weekend of overindulging, when you feel stressed or when you simply want to take off, and keep off, a few stubborn pounds. There's no need to implement all of these strategies at once, so pick and choose the ones that work best for you, whether you're home or on the go, traveling or enjoying some vacation time.
Here are six "one-day-diet" strategies to help you get back on track toward healthful eating—starting today:
1. Write it down. Be accountable and record everything you eat and drink for the day using either a small notebook, a web tool like SuperTracker or an app on your smartphone. Keeping track forces you to be aware of what and how much you're eating and drinking and can help you identify pitfalls and reinforce healthful patterns.
2. Be a morning eater. Instead of skipping breakfast, eat something soon after waking up to end your overnight fast. According to registered dietitian Janel Funk, "You don't need a big sit-down breakfast to start your day off on a healthy track." She suggests the following easily transportable options: a piece of fruit and a granola bar, a hard-boiled egg and a banana, a slice of whole-wheat toast with peanut butter and banana slices or a mix of whole-grain cereal, dried fruit and nuts. These choices "jump-start your metabolism and fuel your body," Funk says.
3. Eat a rainbow. Registered dietitian Julieanna Hever, author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition," encourages people to challenge themselves to eat every color of the rainbow each day. "Including plenty of raw fruits, salads, cooked veggies, soups, stews, grain and bean dishes can help you gain control of your overall diet and steer you towards optimal health," she says. Hever suggests the following strategies for adding more plant foods at main meals:
• At breakfast, try a green smoothie with spinach and/or kale, your favorite frozen or fresh fruits and plant-based milk. Alternatively, add fresh berries and nuts to your oatmeal.
• At lunch, start with a salad or soup, then throw sliced, fresh veggies into a wrap or sandwich with hummus, guacamole or bean spread. Or consider indulging in a veggie sushi dish.
• At dinner, toss in some carotenoid-rich tomato sauce and shredded veggies over cooked whole grains like whole-grain pasta, or simply serve whatever you made over steamed leafy greens. Have fruit for dessert to satisfy your sweet tooth.
4. Fill the gap. "Too much time between meals can leave you overly hungry or reaching for less healthy meal choices," says registered dietitian Alexandra Oppenheimer. "Adding a nutrient-packed snack from recognizable foods such as nuts, whole grains, low-fat dairy, fruit or non-starchy vegetables can bridge the gap, especially when you go at least five hours between meals," she says. Arming yourself with a between-meal snack can also prevent that famished feeling that can preclude you from making a thoughtful meal choice and eating mindfully when lunch or dinner rolls around, she says.
5. Have a little less. Taking smaller portions of food when you serve yourself at home, ordering less food than usual when you dine out or grab take-out and taking a few less bites of your normal portions are just a few of the ways to create a small calorie deficit. Choosing smaller portions of foods made with added fats and sugar can also leave more room for nutrient-rich fruits, vegetables and other foods.
Registered dietitian Kathleen Zelman, the director of nutrition for WebMD, suggests swapping big containers for small portions. "Put an appropriate portion on a small plate so you don't fall prey to eating amnesia and mindless eating because of a large container," she says.
6. Eat Real. Often, full-fat foods taste better and are more satisfying than their reduced-fat, low-fat or non-fat alternatives. Zelman and I agree that if you like full-fat versions of butter, cheese, bacon or cream, you can enjoy it in small amounts. "Think of these full-fat foods as finishing touches rather than the main part of a meal," Zelman says.
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Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN, is the founder and president of Zied Health Communications, LLC, based in New York City. She's an award-winning registered dietitian and author of three books including Nutrition At Your Fingertips. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and New York University, Zied inspires others to make more healthful food choices and find enjoyable ways to "move it or lose it" through writing, public speaking, and media appearances. You can connect with her on twitter (@elisazied) and through her new Stressipes forum on her website: www.elisazied.com.