I struggle to lose weight.
One of my biggest barriers to doing that is – guess what? Too many empty calories.
Too many calories, period.
I get into a “snack-trance” where I’m eating and not really noticing how much.
Thinking about this recently, I considered the difference between Tuesday and Wednesday of this week Tuesday, I blew my calorie budget while I was at work, eating things like Red Vines, a muffin, a peppermint patty, and extra rice. I ate most of that mindlessly. I was hungry when I got home.
Wednesday, I was much more on target. I ate more vegetables, stayed on target, didn’t have a muffin even though I could have. Guess what? I was actually slightly less hungry when I got home. Either way, though, I was still hungry when I got home, so why didn’t I pick better foods to eat when I was at work? And why didn’t I notice what I was eating so I could actually enjoy it?
Some time I’ll write an article about this, but for the moment we’ll leave it at this: it’s really important to be able to tell whether your mind is making you hungry out of habit, or whether your body actually needs fuel. Filling your body up with water rich, nutrient rich food will help reduce your cravings, make you feel fuller, and leave less room for unhealthy food. Snacking can actually be good for you as it helps fight hunger and prevents blood sugar crashes. You simply need to do it in a healthy way.
Just as there are lots of things holding us back from exercising every day, there are lots of things that can sabotage our desire to eat healthy foods in a healthy way. So I’ve listed some common ones. If you like, skip down to whatever catches your eye first.
The simpler, the better – the fewer ingredients you see on a package, the better. Better yet, no package.
The easier, the better – keep your healthy snacks near you so you grab them when you’re hungry, and keep them simple so they’re easy to make.
The more water, the better – which is more filling and satisfying, a bunch of grapes, or the same grapes, made into raisins?
Make it easy to eat – prepare your snacks in batches, cut vegetables small, and invest in a few small containers to pack them in.
Be aware of high starch or high sugar fruits – especially if you are sensitive to them, it’s best to avoid grapes and bananas. Better to have apples, berries, or melon.
Don’t get in a rut – just like with exercise, change it up.
Buy seasonally – it’s cheaper, and you can try out new foods.
Cut veggies, cheese, or other snacks into small pieces – you will eat more slowly.
Make your healthy snacks memorable. Use colorful foods and containers. Leave yourself notes. Put healthy foods in the prime ares of the fridge, cupboard or pantry. Make sure you bring your snacks with you by keeping them with something else you need – if this means you keep your keys in the fridge for a while, so be it!
The flavor is boring
Spices can be your best friend. Cinnamon on your oatmeal. Curry powder sprinkled on zucchini slices or carrot sticks. A squeeze of lime on that chicken breast or baked fish. If you are tired of boiled eggs, try them with yellow or spicy mustard. Another trick is to have turkey pepperoni with your boiled eggs – with each bite, have a slice of pepperoni. Low calorie flavorings like mustard and hot sauce are your allies. If you don’t mind salt, soy sauce or tamari are great options too. They add flavor without extra calories, and studies have shown that bolder flavors cause us to be more satisfied with less food. Don’t forget lime and lemon juice, or flavored vinegars!
I can’t chew very well
There are ways to make healthy snacks easier to chew. For instance, if you can’t eat carrot sticks, steam them lightly or microwave them in a closed container for 30-45 seconds. Or cut them into “coins,” microwave lightly, and sprinkle with your favorite spices.
If you like them, cucumbers, zucchini, eggplant, cooked squash, cooked sweet potato, or lightly steamed cauliflower are all easy to chew. Cut into small pieces and sprinkle with your favorite spices.
I’ve found that soaking nuts in water makes them a lot softer, too.
Nut butter on peeled apple slices is also good.
A shake made with frozen fruit and yogurt, and perhaps a scoop of protein powder, is very easy to eat and can be kept in a thermos. Just keep track of what you put in it.
I need something easy to carry
Luckily, small Tupperware style containers are not only cheap, but easy to find too! If you buy a few of them, they are pack-proof, convenient, easy to clean, and you save money in bags too. I like the kind that are basically a snack cup with a lid that screws on. I keep nuts, cut up veggies, cherries, cherry tomatoes, and any number of things in mine. Another easy to carry snack is a meal bar, or even an orange or apple. Oranges are especially good for their portability. Protein shakes can be portable, just reuse your old drink bottles. The wider the mouth, the better.
I don’t have much money
I feel you! Vegetables are both cheap, and healthy, but often seen as boring or gross. See the “Boring” section for ideas on adding interest to cheap ingredients. If you always buy in season, and also buy larger containers, you will save money. You will also save a lot if you do all the processing yourself. Cut up your own celery sticks and carrot sticks, slice your own bell peppers.
Generally, the old fashioned version of a food is cheaper than the newer variety. For example, ready to eat sweet peppers cost a lot more than plain bell peppers, which are easy to cut up. If you crave nuts, peanuts and sunflower seeds can be bought in bulk, usually at low prices. Hard boiled eggs are weight loss champions and cheap at the same time! If cheap fruit is boring, jazz it up with home made dips and by sprinkling them with spices. Or take a few kinds of cheap fruit and mix them for a salad. Same with vegetables – several kinds of cheap vegetables can be a lot more exciting as a salad.
I love junk food
So do I! The best thing to do to help control cravings is to figure out what your cravings actually are. Sure, potato chips are fatty, salty, crunchy and often irresistible. But what is it that’s the greatest thing about them? What do you miss the most if you don’t have them? If it’s the crunchy, salty aspect, you might try lower fat crackers with bold flavor, pretzels, or some smoked almonds. Watch your portions, of course, but this can help you make healthier choices. If it’s the fat you crave, thin slices of hard cheese might do the trick. Then you are getting calcium and protein too, as well as curbing your hunger. If you yearn for ice cream, try Greek yogurt with fruit, frozen yogurt, or a fruit shake, perhaps even with a scoop of protein powder added. If you just want to be able to nibble for as long as you want, air popped popcorn with spices can be a great thing. Try popcorn with cinnamon, paprika, cayenne, nutritional yeast, parmesan powder, or dried oregano. A little salt is fine too depending on your own needs. In general, changing to healthier options isn’t hard if you are creative. Swap out milk chocolate for dark, candy for berries, Ramen for bean thread noodles, and so on. Healthier food will start tasting better, too.
I hate water
That’s pretty common. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to jazz plain water up. Here are some ideas:
Lime – squeezed into plain water, it’s pretty good. You can also use lemon.
0 calorie drinks – be aware of what kinds of sweeteners are being used and how your body reacts to them.
Green Tea – it also comes in powder packets that you can stir in, giving you a host of benefits.
Iced Tea Mix – you can buy it in jars, unsweetened, and add your own flavors.
Juice – thin it out to give water flavor.
Seltzer – have seltzer instead of tonic water to help with that soda craving.
Cocoa powder – you can make a great cocoa with this, along with non fat milk and your favorite low calorie sweetener. Add cinnamon.
Herbal Teas – experiment with different strengths. Or, throw some oregano or mint leaves into plain water.
Get a Brita – if your water is cold and clean, you might like it better.
Infuse with Fruit – some water bottles have little baskets in them where you can put fruit to flavor your water.
Recipe for DIY energy drink:
Thin orange juice with water, half and half. Sprinkle with salt. Mix well. This has much more potassium than the name brand sports drinks, tastes fine (especially when cold) and works well on hot days.
Cubes of hard cheese
Cubes of hard sausage, but watch your portions
Cut up lean chicken breast, baked or dry-fried
Nuts (sunflower seeds, almonds, or pumpkin seeds are lower in calories)
Hard boiled Egg (eat with mustard or turkey pepperoni)
Carrots – baby carrots, carrot sticks, raw or lightly steamed carrot coins, with or without spices
Cut up sweet potato – bake or microwave, flavoring optional
cauliflower – lightly steamed or raw
Bell peppers – get the colored ones for interest
Sweet Peppers – a nice, lightly flavored snack
Tomatoes – grape, cherry, or cut up tomatoes
Cherries – eat with dark chocolate if you’re craving candy
Tofu – cubes of Tofu are great with either soy sauce or mustard – or roll them in sesame seeds!
Celery – chunks or sticks, nut butter and raisins optional
Pickles – dill or garden pickles are great as a snack and have probiotic benefits too!
Dried Apricots – A good source of nutrients
Berries – any kind of berry, eaten fresh
Popcorn – air popped, sprinkled with your favorite kitchen spices
Fries – cut red potatoes or sweet potatoes into fry shapes, season, and bake.
Jerky – low in fat, high in protein. Watch the salt and sugar.
Greek Yogurt – with fruit to sweeten
Of course, this is just the beginning. I hope you see a few on here that you haven’t tried before, and try them! Or put a suggestion in the comments, and I’ll add it to the list.
Bonus Tip: DIY “weight loss surgery”
This trick works surprisingly well. It’s pretty simple. Keep your portions small and try to eat small meals as often as you can. If you have to eat frequently, do that, but keep the portions at least dense. So no huge bowls of pasta or Dagwood sized sandwiches. Keep this up for a week or so. Pretty soon your stomach will shrunk and you will feel uncomfortable when you eat larger portions. You can stretch it back fairly quickly of course, but this can give you a valuable reminder that you’re eating more than you need, because you’ll feel full. Combine this with drinking plenty of fluids, and eating more slowly so you notice your food, and it will help you tremendously!
Here’s a link to some thoughts I had about dieting and how we often fight against our inner selves. Don’t Lose Weight, Win Health!
Here’s my article about different forms of low cost, convenient exercise. Spice Up Your Workout