- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 3, 2006

There’s nothing like stepping on the scale in January to snap you back to reality. After a season of holiday indulgences when no food was off limits, you probably have put on a couple of pounds. Most people do. Like most people, you probably have resolved to diet. Perhaps you’ve cleaned out your cupboards and signed up for a 6 a.m. gym class.

As admirable as that seems, it’s the kind of zeal that’s hard to sustain. That’s why about 75 percent to 95 percent of dieters regain their weight, according to Columbia University Health Services Department in New York City. Instead of making your diet so difficult you can’t wait to dive into a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, take a moderate approach.

With the following five-week diet plan, you won’t lose 20 pounds in the given time. In fact, there’s no weight-loss guarantee. This plan, based on the advice and research of nutrition experts, helps you adopt a new eating or lifestyle habit each week for five weeks. Make these changes, and you’re more likely to lose weight and keep it off.

KEEP A DIARY

Recording what you eat is one of the most effective diet tools, according to Daniel Kirschenbaum, Chicago-based author of “The Nine Truths About Weight Loss” (Henry Holt).

In his research studies, people who monitored their eating and exercise regimens lost about 60 percent more than those who didn’t keep track.

Self-monitoring by keeping a food or food and exercise diary is effective for a number of reasons.

First, you’ll finally realize what you’re eating. If you absent-mindedly reach for a piece of candy each time you pass a colleague’s desk, that adds up, as you’ll discover when you tally your daily food-intake log.

Second, you may be so embarrassed by mindless eating, especially when it’s food you don’t want or need, that you break the habit.

Third, if you take note of your mood when you’re eating, you may notice some patterns. For example, if you come home from work feeling stressed every day and polish off a bag of chips, maybe you would be better off stopping at the gym on the way home.

You also can use your diary to set a target for the amount of calories you’ll consume during the day. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has downloadable files of nutrient values for hundreds of foods and food products at www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/search.

EAT BREAKFAST

Maybe this sounds counterintuitive. After all, if you skip the morning meal, you can save 300 to 500 calories. Unfortunately, that’s not the way your body sees it.

“The worst thing people can do is to skip breakfast,” says Ruth Striegel-Moore, head of the Psychology Department of Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn.

Her research among teenage girls shows that those who don’t eat breakfast are more likely to gain weight. Miss Striegel-Moore suggests the same holds true for adults.

If you take a pass on breakfast, you’re so hungry by midmorning that you’re hitting the vending machine for a candy bar, which is neither low-calorie nor nutritious.

Skipping breakfast also may cause your body’s metabolism to slow down. That’s not going to help you lose weight.

A look at successful dieters who are part of the National Weight Control Registry (open to those who have maintained a weight loss of 30 pounds or more for a year) shows that most eat breakfast daily.

Breakfast doesn’t have to be heavy or time-consuming. A high-fiber cold cereal topped with fruit such as blueberries and fat-free milk supplies protein, carbohydrates and dietary fiber to keep you satisfied for a few hours.

FREQUENT SMALL MEALS

By breaking your daily food intake into five or six minimeals, you’re less likely to become so hungry you reach for high-calorie foods. Eating minimeals also may help lower your cholesterol and level your blood sugar so you don’t have peaks and spikes.

“When you eat balanced [mini]meals, it tends to keep the blood sugar and energy levels more stable and reduce hunger,” says Amy Jamieson-Petonic of the Fairview Hospital Wellness Center in Rocky River, Ohio.

However, the benefit is only as good as the food you choose.

Take the number of calories you plan to eat during the day — 1,500, say, for an average dieting woman — and divide it into five 300-calorie minimeals. Be sure to include a fruit and/or vegetable as well as some protein with each minimeal.

Here are some 300-calorie examples:

• 1 tablespoon peanut butter.

• 4 whole-grain crackers and 1 medium-size apple.

• 1 hard-cooked egg mixed with 1 tablespoon fat-reduced mayonnaise and stuffed in a tomato, with a glass of fat-free milk on the side.

• 1 carton fat-free vanilla yogurt layered with 1/2 cup crunchy high-fiber, high-protein cereal (such as Kashi GoLean Crunch).

• 1/2 cup berries in a parfait glass.

LARGE VOLUME OF FOOD

People eat approximately the same weight of food every day, says Barbara Rolls at Pennsylvania State University. The weight of food is actually a more important consideration for peoples’ satiety than the number of calories, according Miss Rolls, a weight-loss expert.

If you serve yourself the same weight of food in a meal but make choices that are lower in calories, you’ll still feel full and be able to lose weight without hunger pangs.

Say you make a macaroni-and-cheese casserole, halving the macaroni and cheese and substituting green beans or broccoli to make up the difference. You’ll reduce the calories but not your satiety, says Miss Rolls, the author of “The Volumetrics Eating Plan” (HarperCollins).

She recommends consuming more foods that are high in water, such as lettuce, tomatoes, fat-free milk and thin soups to make the menu weightier.

GO FOR THE FIBER

You may think of dietary fiber as the stuff that keeps you regular, but this indigestible part of plant foods is important to weight loss as well.

Fiber gives you a full feeling so you’re less likely to overeat. High-fiber foods also help regulate your blood sugar. What’s more, because fiber is only in plant foods — fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans — you’re eating more healthfully when you put fiber on the plate.

Your goal should be to consume between 25 and 35 grams of fiber a day. (The higher amount is suggested for men.) To help you reach that level, Miss Jamieson-Petonic recommends eating bread that contains 2 to 3 grams of fiber per slice and breakfast cereal with at least 4 grams of fiber per serving.

Here are two recipes for high-fiber, low-calorie minimeals. Add a piece of fruit to round out each meal.

Roasted leek, tuna and bean salad

2 leeks with 4 inches of white bulb

Olive oil-flavored cooking spray

1 cup canned cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

1 6-ounce can water-pack tuna, drained and flaked

1 small red bell pepper, cored, seeded and diced

2 tablespoons chicken broth

1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard

1/4 teaspoon crushed dried oregano

1½ teaspoons white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon minced fresh chives

Cut off green tops of leeks, leaving 4-inch white bulb. Cut in half lengthwise through the stem end, but don’t trim off end. Rinse well, removing any dirt, and pat dry. Place leek halves in shallow roasting pan. Spray with cooking spray. Roast in preheated 400-degree oven for 20 minutes, turning over halfway through roasting time, or until leeks are tender.

Remove from oven. Trim off stem end. Slice leeks 1-inch thick.

Place leeks in salad bowl. Add beans, tuna and bell pepper. Combine chicken broth, mustard, oregano, vinegar, oil, salt, pepper and chives in a bowl. Stir well. Pour over leek mixture and stir gently. Makes 4 servings.

Each serving has: 195 calories; 16 grams of protein; 6 grams of fat; 20 grams of carbohydrates and 6 grams of dietary fiber.

Mushroom and chicken teriyaki

1/4 cup teriyaki sauce

1 teaspoon cornstarch

½ teaspoon fresh grated ginger root

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

12 ounces fresh white mushrooms, sliced

1½ cups shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and sliced

1 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded and thinly sliced

4 scallions, trimmed and chopped

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1 (6-ounce) package roast chicken strips

4 Chinese cabbage or bok-choy leaves

Combine the teriyaki sauce, cornstarch, ginger root and ½ cup water. Set aside. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add all mushrooms and cook, stirring, until mushrooms release liquid, about 5 minutes. Add bell pepper, scallion and garlic.

Cook until mushroom liquid evaporates and garlic becomes fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add chicken. Stir teriyaki mixture and add to skillet.

Cook, stirring frequently, until sauce is slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Arrange cabbage leaves on 4 plates. Top with mushroom-chicken mixture. Makes 4 servings.

Each serving has 170 calories, 17 grams protein, 6 grams fat, 14 grams carbohydrate and 4 grams dietary fiber.

Bev Bennett is the author of “30 Minute Meals for Dummies” (John Wiley & Sons Inc.).

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