Diet Troubleshooting

If dieting were easy, none of us would be overweight. Hunger, cravings, and the magnet of old habits make day-to-day living with a diet a lot , like walking across a minefield. Can you make it to the end of the day without a misstep? You can if you adopt the helpful strategies for tackling these challenges in the pages that follow.

I’ m stuck on a plateau

Your weight-loss diet started out just fine few pounds in the first month, then the loss slowed down. It’s been and things have ground to a halt. You are frustrated and wonder what’s’ now on. In all likelihood you’ve hit the fabled weight-loss plateau. But before settle on that explanation, let’s look a little deeper.

Revising your goal How close are you to your normal weight? Take a look at the height-weight table at Are you near or even at what is considered normal for you? Recalculate your BM!. Are you in the range of healthy weight – 24.9 or below? Maybe you’ve lost enough. You may want to lose 10 or more pounds to get to your goal, but now’s the time to ask if that goal is realistic. You’ve done a great job. Perhaps you should shift into maintenance mode and concentrate on not gaining, rather than on losing more weight.

Are you cheating? You may claim – and even truly believe – that you are not exceeding your planned daily calorie intake, but you may be fooling yourself. Take a look at your daily food diary Have you been keeping it faithfully? Have you written down everything you’ve eaten? Or are you beginning to slip by forgetting the handful of M&Ms, the sip of your friend’s beer, the sample of sauce while you’re cooking, the forkful of pie from your spouse’s slice?

Small sips and bitty bites can add up to a lot of calories. If you have kitchen duties, you are at higher risk for careless and unconscious eating.

As the cook, you probably do a fair amount of tasting during preparation. If you clean up, you may eat the last morsel before scraping the plate, or finish off leftovers too small to be worth keeping. Avoid these tibits can, and if you can’t, write them down in your food diary.

Before you make any changes, spend a week keeping your diary scrupulously. Add up your total intake every day. See what the numbers say.

Simply reset your set point If your numbers check out and you still want to lose, you have three choices: You can eat less, exercise more, or try a combination of the two.

The most effective, and probably most pleasurable way to reset your set point is to increase your level of activity.

Resetting your set point to increase activity will not only burn calories; it will also increase your metabolic rate and thereby maximize the “burn.” This is the most efficient way to reset your set point, that place where intake and output seem to be in balance so you neither gain nor lose weight.

To add time, frequency, or intensity to your activity, try the following:

  1. Do one more set or increase the weight you lift by a pound.
  2. Walk 10 minutes longer or run just a bit faster.
  3. Add 15 minutes to your workout or a few laps to your swim.
  4. Move up to a more advanced class.
  5. Replace a low-intensity activity with one that is more challenging.

I’m having a snack attack!

It happens to the best of us. Real hunger, boredom, temptation, circumstances conspire to bring us up close and personal with a bag of potato chips or a bowl of jelly beans. We’re between meals and we know we shouldn’t but , . . .

Safe snacking Snacking need not be dangerous. If you do it furtively, desperately, in a state of denial you may find yourself with cake crumbs on your chin before you know what hit you. If you plan for snacks, you can have a supply of healthful choices from which to choose.

Any food can be a snack if you eat it in snack-sized portions; too much of any “snack food” can turn into a meal.

It all comes down to calories. One cookie is a snack; six is a mistake. The same goes for an ounce of cheese on three or four crackers versus a half-pound chunk and a boxful.

Don’t get blindsided by the yen to snack. Have a supply of safe snacks on hand. These should be low-calorie, high-bulk items that are quick and easy to prepare, if they need any preparation at all. They should have interesting textures too.

Plan for that snack When you plan your daily menus, assume that you will want some snacks and build them into the plan. Find out the per-serving calorie count of various snacks and add them to your expected daily total. But remember: you can always eat less than a serving. If you don’t end up having that snack, all the better, but if you do, those calories will be in your budget.

Practice mindful snacking. Stop what you are doing and concentrate on your snack. Measure or weight out a serving and put it on a plate or in a bowl.

Put the package or container away. Give yourself a set period of time for the snack. This is a 10-minute break, for example. You will do nothing during that time except for having the snack, and when the 10 minutes are over, so is the eating.

I’ve got a sweet tooth ache

There’s something about sweets few people can resist. If that’s what you crave, nothing else will satisfy. You can pack in a lot of calories eating around a desire for sweets, so it’s better to just go for it.

Don’t hold off until you’re dying for a sweet.

If you keep fighting the desire for a sweet, you end up throwing caution to the winds and regretting it as soon as you’ve downed the last bon-bon. Instead, make a list of safe sweets and keep some on hand.

  • Sugar substitutes, used in moderation, will satisfy most urges. Diet sodas and candies, sugar-free puddings and cookies are all possibilities. Be sure to check the calorie content before you go wild. Sugar-free does not automatically equal low-calorie.
  • Fresh fruits are naturally sweet foods and most are low-calorie choices. They’re a good source of vitamins and fiber, and they offer a lot of variety in texture. Smooth bananas, crunchy apples, refreshing melons, tangy grapefruits are all good ways to sweeten your day.
  • Try some fruit gelatin or applesauce. These low ­calorie sweets can be dessert or an energy pick-me­ up. You can even find sugar-free versions of both.
  • If nothing but the “real thing” will satisfy you, have your sweet, but have just a little. A mini-scoop of ice cream can feel like a treat. Pick a flavor you dream about, serve it with a melon baller, put it in an elegant wineglass, and eat it with a demitasse spoon. And before you sit down to this indulgence, put the carton back in the freezer.
  • Add it up and write it down. If you have a slice of cake, it will cost you, but you may decide it’s worth the price. As long as your calorie intake does not exceed your daily goal, you’re doing all right. Be sure to write down the mood, trigger, and circumstance that led you to that cake. It may help you fight the urge another day.

I get the midnight munchies

Midnight snacking is rarely part of anyone’s eating plan. It comes time when your metabolism is at its lowest ebb. You’re tired and the cares of at a day may be weighing on you heavily. If you’ve eaten dinner, you’re probably the physiologically hungry. Indeed, the midnight munchies are a prime symptom of emotional hunger, and should be treated as such.

The best thing to do when the munchies strike is to brush your teeth and go to sleep.

Fatigue will do the job if you don’t have the energy to fight the attack. If you’re not ready for bed but you’ve made a rule that the kitchen closes at 9 p.m., resist the urge to break it.

  • Distract yourself with a book or television show
  • Call up a friend and talk
  • Put on some music and dance around the living room
  • Do some stretches
  • Practice some yoga postures to relax you and empty your mind

In the belly of the beast If you can’t stay out of the kitchen, pour yourself a glass of water, pop a can of diet soda, or make a cup of caffeine-free tea to fill your stomach. If all else fails, have something to eat, but add the calories to your daily food diary and be sure to note the time, mood, and level of your hunger. If you have gone over your daily limit, try to make up for it the next day by eating less or exercising more.

If nighttime hunger is more than a sometime thing, incorporate it into your daily eating plan. Save some calories for bedtime and plan what you will eat. That way, the munchies won’t get out of hand.

If you wake from sleep with a need to eat in the middle of the night, or if you consume most of your calories in the hours from midnight to dawn, consider the possibility that you suffer from night-eating syndrome (NES). Talk to your doctor about the problem.

I’m dreading eating out

When you plan and prepare your own meals, you can exercise control over your intake. It is considerably more challenging when you eat out, but it can be done. The most effective restaurant survival strategies begin before you open a menu.

  1. Make it a special occasion. Try to limit your restaurant meals and enjoy the ones you have.
  2. Plan ahead for eating out. Stay on the low-calorie side for the other meals that day so you have some extras to spend at the restaurant. Avoid impromptu restaurant meals, including last-minute decisions to grab a bite at the neighbourhood eatery.
  3. Choose restaurants that have low-calorie options. Seafood restaurants are a good choice, as are those specializing in cuisines that emphasize vegetables and grains, such as Chinese and other Asian, vegetarian, and natural foods.
  4. Avoid fast-food emporiums and other restaurants that feature all- you-can-eat menus, buffets, and oversized meals.
  5. Go with companions who support your diet; avoid anyone who is likely to tempt you with forbidden foods or urge you to “live it up, just this once.”

Order wisely

Most restaurants these days cater to health-conscious diners. Many have low-fat selections, either as part of their regular offerings or as a separate dieter’s menu. Many kitchens are willing to alter cooking and serving methods to suit special needs.

When ordering, start with a salad, soup, or fresh-fruit first course. This will take the edge off your hunger so you can eat what comes next slowly and in moderation. Don’t be afraid to request:

  1. Fat-free or low-fat milk rather than whole milk or cream
  2. Gravy, sauce, and salad dressing on the side
  3. Butter-free vegetables
  4. Baked or boiled potatoes instead of french fries or mashed
  5. An extra vegetable
  6. Foods that are steamed, broiled, or poached rather than fried, sauteed, stewed, or braised
  7. An appetizer and soup or a salad rather than a main dish

Table manners Once you’ve ordered the meal, drink a glass of water and talk with your companions. Enjoy the social aspects of the occasion. When the food arrives, eat it slowly. Savor every bite, but remember: You don’t have to eat the whole thing. You can share with your dining companions or ask for a doggie bag. Don’t treat the doggie bag as a midnight snack. Chances are it would make an excellent second dinner for you or another person the following day.

Don’t even think about dessert until you’ ve finished the main meal.

You may just want to skip dessert and have a cup of coffee while you wait for the check. Or order fresh fruit. At the most extreme, you can share a dessert with others at the table. A forkful of white chocolate souffle or tiramisu tastes just the same as a plateful. Trust me.

It’s party time

Whether it’s saturday night social or a weeklong string of holidays, gatherings that involve food are a dieter’s nightmare. You don’t want to miss out on the fun, but you also don’t want to undo what you’ve accomplished.

With a little planning, it is possible to make it through a dinner or cocktail party without torpedoing your weight-loss plan. You may even be able to survive the tricky territory that lies between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.

Keep in mind that the best parties are about people, not about food.

Some strategies to help you out Here are some ideas that will help you make it through any social occasion without wrecking your weight-loss program:

  1. Balance party meals with super low-calorie eating at home. If you know you’ll be eating out later that day or even later that week, reduce the calories in every meal you can. Keep an eye on your weekly calorie intake.
  2. Be realistic. One meal won’t make or break your diet, especially if you plan ahead. If you let your weight-loss plan ruin your fun, you may use this as an excuse to drop out. During the holidays, it may be more realistic to set a goal of not gaining weight than to expect to continue your loss.
  3. As soon as your coat’s off, grab a low-cal beverage. If you really want alcohol, choose a wine spritzer and nurse it. A heavier drink will add calories (7 per gram, which can add up to 100 calories or more, depending on the size of the drink), and will loosen your inhibitions, including your resolve to eat wisely.
  4. Pass up the hors d’oeuvres. These tempting tidbits can add up to a full meal if you’re not careful. Zero in on raw vegetables, but skip the dip.
  5. If it’s a buffet, get at the end of the line so you’re one of the last to sit down. Take a small plate, if possible, and go heavy on salads and complex carbohydrates. Do not, under any circumstances, go back for seconds.
  6. If it’s a sit-down dinner, say no thank you to sauces, gravies, and anything else You know you should not eat. Ask for modest portions and don’t be shy about leaving food on your plate. Second helpings are out.
  7. Talk to your companions. Enjoy the occasion. Focus on everything but the food. If the party includes dancing, games, or other activities, be sure to join in.
  8. After the meal, help with the clean up or go for a walk. Whatever you do, don’t sit down. One of my favorite post- Thanksgiving dinner treats is a long walk I take with my cousins. We see each other rarely and it’s a great opportunity to catch up on family news while digesting our turkey. And it sure beats dozing in front of the TV while pretending to watch the football games.

I’ve lapsed

Okay, you had a major pig-out, you polished off the rest of the pizza, you ate all of the Valentine’s chocolates in one sitting. You somehow managed to cram two days’ worth of eating into a single 12-hour period. And you feel like a slob, a slug, a failure.

Whatever you do, don’t give up. Get back on the wagon and try again tomorrow. Don’t let a lapse turn into an excuse to abandon your diet. Instead, turn it into a lesson.

What went wrong? Ask yourself what caused the lapse. If you can identify the reasons for overindulging, it will help you avoid a next time.

  1. Was it a particular food? Add it to your black list and ban it from the house entirely. Throw out any that remains, never buy it again, and tell the friends of your diet to respect the ban.
  2. Did you have a hard day and need some comfort? Write about it in your journal. The next time you feel this way, try some stress-relieving exercise. Or make a list of non­food things that give you comfort: friends, a movie, music, a warm bath, flowers, whatever makes you feel special.
  3. Was it a particular person? Can you enlist this person as a friend of your diet or avoid him or her at times when you’re vulnerable?

Take the time to analyze the lapse. Try to trace the steps that led up to it. And then redouble your efforts to ensure you do not go down that road again.

Damage control Happily, the calorie accountant takes a long view. Every day is a new day. If you ate too much today, you can make up for it tomorrow. If it was really bad, you might need two days or even a week. Figure out the calorie burden of your lapse. Divide by 300, for starters. Can you reduce your intake by 300 calories for as many days as it takes to pay off your debt? If that doesn’t seem reasonable or likely, add some activity. Fifteen extra minutes will burn some calories and put you in a more positive frame of mind.

Above all, forgive yourself. You are only human and you are trying to do something very difficult: break old habits and establish healthier ones. This is not the work of a week or two; it’s a lifelong pursuit.

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