Lots of my friends are on crazy diets. I’ve tried a bunch and they either don’t work, I feel like crap on them, or I lose weight and then gain it all back in a few weeks. So I’m definitely an anti diet kinda girl, but I’m really trying to be healthier. I go to the gym now with my mom or my best friend like 3 or 4 times a week for exercise classes, but it’s really hard for me to be healthy every single day. I honestly don’t know what I should really be doing besides eating breakfast and having protein, fruits, vegetables, some carbs, and fat free snacks that my mom buys. I’ve looked online, but there are so many things about diets not just basic tips about regular food to eat instead of expensive stuff we can’t afford. So do you have any tips or advice?
-Anti Diet Girl
Dear Anti Diet Girl,
It’s great to hear that you are working on being healthy without doing anything extreme. I think being healthy is all about finding a balance. Although some diets do help people lose weight, it is often hard for them to maintain that weight once they go off of that diet. It really should be a lifestyle change vs. a temporary diet. The fact that you’re going to the gym regularly and not excessively is awesome, and having a buddy system with your mom or friend can help keep you motivated. Having support is the key to this type of success because there will always be temptations and challenges. I’ve struggled with my weight at different times, and I’m willing to bet most people have too or they will in the future. But having a strong sense of self and recognizing what you can work on and what to accept and love about yourself is really important to finding that balance. We’re all a work in progress, but there are some things you can do to help you get healthier and stay that way as long as you keep at it. And, when you get off track due to holidays or vacations, just go back to these basics to help you find your way again.
1. Know Your Fats: I know you said your mom buys fat free snacks, but that doesn’t always mean they are the best thing for you.
Keri Glassman, registered dietician and certified nutritionist, says, “Fat-free versions of food replace fat with sugar, which is no better an option and eventually gets stored in your body as fat anyway.” Check out her full article (and short video) “Say No to Sugar-Free and Fat-Free Claims”
According to an article on dieting myths provided by The Students’ Center of Health at West Virginia University, “There are ‘good’ fats (i.e., monosaturated and polysaturated fats) and not-so-good fats (i.e., saturated, trans fats). So, eat moderate amounts of healthy fats from salmon, avocados, olive oil and nuts, and limit saturated fat from fried food, red meat and butter. Try to stay away from trans fats. French fries, packaged baked goods, cookies and crackers are often loaded with them—if you see ‘partially hydrogenated’ vegetable oil on the label, put it back on the shelf.”
Also, check out Shape magazine’s “5 Myths About Frozen Yogurt” to know how to enjoy a sugary exception once in a while without thinking, “Fat free means I can have as much as I want.”
2. Always Exercise Portion Control: Unless you’ve been living in cave, you’ve heard about our current obesity epidemic. One of the contributing factors to this issue is the lack of portion control and how drastically portion sizes have changed over the years through super-sized menu choices and the like. But we really need to get back to understanding proper portion sizes. So check out this handy portion chart below. Memorize it and use it so that you know exactly how much you are eating of each food. When you’re dining out, notice the portion sizes you’re being served and don’t be afraid to ask for a box to take that second or third serving home for another meal.
For more info on this, check out the Mayo Clinic’s guide to portion control
3. Understand Labels: Packaged food is highly processed and full of chemicals and often has way too much sodium and/or sugar. There are also a lot of misleading labels on packaged foods that focus only on one ingredient like fiber or whole grains, but that doesn’t mean that that item doesn’t also contain a lot of sugar, sodium, or fat. So look at the ingredients listed and remember that they are listed in descending order (most to least amount). The way these labels are worded is also confusing. For instance, when you see a label that says “calcium enriched” that sounds healthy, right? Not exactly. When something is “enriched” that means that when this food was processed, nutrients were lost and then they added them back in. It’s always better to eat whole foods like fruits and vegetables with their natural nutrients intact rather than relying on synthetic nutrients combined with chemical additions. But when you want to buy cereal, crackers, etc. think about what you’re actually putting into your body and be aware of these 9 Food Label Lies.
4. Be Smart When You Order Out: Going out to eat is fun, but we often don’t know how the food is prepared. For example, ordering a side of veggies may seem like a good idea, but you want to make sure they are steamed not fried or cooked in a vat of butter. Another example is the healthy sounding salad. Salads can be loaded with foods that derail your healthy track, so try skipping the bacon bits, croutons, fried and processed meats, mounds of cheese, and high fat/high calorie dressings. Also, remember the handy portion control chart above.
5. Make Meals & Snacks at Home: Try to make your meals at home and prepare snacks ahead of time and pack them for school, your part-time job, road trips, etc. That will help cut down on those times when your hunger leads you to junk food meccas (vending machines, snack shacks, and gas stations). Portioned out containers of apple slices and peanut butter, yogurt and berries, air-popped popcorn, almonds with dried cranberries and raisins, kale chips, edamame, baked sweet potato slices (like chips), and red peppers/carrots/celery with hummus are great snack options. Smoothies are easy to make and you can even sneak in some greens that you won’t taste. Try combining 1 cup of frozen blueberries with low fat or skim milk and a 1/2 cup of kale or spinach. It’s really delicious and you can’t even taste the vitamin rich greens!
If you like cooking or want to try your hand at it, check out Eat Fresh Food: Awesome Recipes for Teen Chefs by award-winning chef Rozanne Gold. She teamed up with teens and together they created over 80 tasty recipes. It also has lots of colorful photos and food tips, which I always appreciate. 17 Superfoods for Teens also has some great recipe ideas.
6. Drink 8-10 Glasses of Water Per Day: I’m sure you’ve heard 8 glasses rule, but medical organizations such as the Mayo Clinic now say you should drink at least 8 glasses of water. To achieve this daily, I try to drink at least two glasses of water when I wake up in the morning, and then I drink a glass of water before each meal and another one during it. When it’s hot outside and when you exercise, it’s important to stay hydrated, so buy a reusable bottle and drink up. The Mayo Clinic explains the importance of our most precious liquid by saying, “Water is your body’s principal chemical component and makes up about 60 percent of your body weight. Every system in your body depends on water…Water flushes toxins out of vital organs and carries nutrients to your cells.” (To read more about this, click here.) So if that doesn’t motivate you to grab some water, then try adding some natural flavor to it with a slice of lemon or lime. You can also add cucumber slices, fresh mint that’s been torn up, or sliced strawberries to a jug of water. Shake it all up and then let it chill for at least 30 minutes. After that it’s yours to enjoy!