Small diet changes add up: part three. A few small changes in your diet every month could help you cut some calories and also make it easier to keep weight off.
Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been recommending that you make a few small changes in your dietary habits every month. The thinking behind this strategy is pretty simple. Often when people are eager to get some weight off, they try to tackle too many big changes at one time—and they simply can’t do it.
Instead, I’ve been recommending a slower, gentler approach—one that calls for a few dietary tweaks every month. The reasoning is simple: over time, small dietary changes become a part of your everyday eating habits, which means they’re more likely to stick. And when added together, the calories you save from a handful of small changes can make a big difference.
Over the past couple of months, I suggested some ways to save calories by decreasing your sugar or fat intake by controlling the size of your portions. Hopefully, you’ve found a few small diet changes that you’ve been able to incorporate into your daily life. If you’re ready to tackle a few more, here are three more small changes you can think about working on this month.
Eating more slowly allows you more time to really enjoy your food—and your digestive tract will probably thank you, too. For people who eat quickly, learning to slow down can be really difficult. When clients tell me that they usually finish their meals long before everyone else at the table, I ask them to work towards taking at least 15 minutes to finish a plate of food. To them, than can seem like an eternity. But as they keep working at it, they often find that longer, slower meals often help them to control their intake.
Why it Works: There are several reasons why this strategy may help. When you eat more slowly, you’re eating more “mindfully.” That is, you pay more attention to your meal and all the pleasurable aspects of it. When you eat mindfully, your meals may be more satisfying, which means you might be able to eat less and enjoy it more. Also, when you eat quickly, it’s often a sign that you’ve allowed yourself to become overly hungry. Hungry people tend to dig into the highest calorie foods on their plates first. If you take your time and focus on what you’re doing, you can start with the lowest calorie foods in your meal (salad, a broth-based soup, or the veggies) and fill up on those first. Overall, you may end up eating less. Another thing that slower eating allows you to do is to consume more water between bites, which may also help to fill you up.
It’s often recommended that you aim for a couple of fish meals per week, in order to get the health benefits from the omega-3 fatty acids that fish and seafood contain. Many people don’t eat fish nearly that often. Eating more fish and seafood not only helps to improve the quality of your diet, it might also help you save some calories. Fish are typically lower in calories than other protein sources.
Why it Works: As long as it’s not cooked with a lot of fat, most fish and seafood have fewer calories per serving than meats or poultry. Trading a serving of steak for some grilled seafood could save you a couple hundred calories. One study1 has even suggested that fish, when compared with other animal sources of protein, may have more “staying power.” So, eating fish instead of beef or chicken might not only save you calories at that particular meal—it might also help you to eat less at your next meal.
Whole grains like quinoa, rolled oats, brown rice, whole wheat pasta and 100% whole grain bread offer you more nutrition than refined grains, like white bread, white rice and traditional pasta. That’s because whole grains naturally contain fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that are mostly stripped away when the grains are processed. But switching from refined grains to whole grains could also help you control calories, since they are more filling.
Why it Works: First, whole grain foods may be more filling than refined grains, since they generally have a higher fiber content. High fiber foods also take longer to digest than refined carbohydrates, which gives them more staying power. And many whole grain foods tend to have fewer calories per serving than their refined counterparts. A one-cup (140g) serving of cooked whole wheat spaghetti has 175 calories, but the same amount of “white” refined spaghetti has 220. A cup of cooked white rice (150g) has about 200 calories, while the same amount of brown rice has about 155. While those amounts may not sound like much, when you make these changes consistently, they can add up to significant savings over the course of a week. Borzoei S et al. Eur J ClinNutr, 60, 897, 2006.