For years, I rode the same diet rollercoaster many people do — chasing the ideal magic diet that would help with weight loss. I drank grapefruit juice every morning, ensured I had two to three glasses of water before every meal, and yes, even took a pill that was purported to burn fat while I sleep.
After attempting every last "fad" diet known to mankind without long-term success, I realized that permanent weight loss required a lifestyle change — not a short-term event. I had to change the way I viewed food in my life, including accepting these facts: I get hungry, I like to snack, and I don’t get satisfied on three moderately sized meals a day.
So my lifestyle changes began in the pantry. I knew I had to change my environment before I could change myself.
I began by getting rid of the high fat/high sugar snacks that have little nutritional value to make room for healthier alternatives that I could easily portion control. By simply getting those tempting items out of immediate reach, I could address more lifestyle issues, which eventually led to a 172-pound weight loss!
Today, as I work with clients as a registered dietitian, I understand firsthand that in order to be successful, it's important to enjoy what we're eating. Diets don't work because they are all about taking things away! They address all the things that you can't have and neglect the things you can enjoy.
To ensure your home pantry is stocked with items you'll enjoy, review your eating habits: what you eat, when you eat, and how much. This includes an honest evaluation of any cravings and/or binges as well. We can't ignore what our body craves as all food serves to either feed us physically or emotionally. Weight loss certainly doesn't happen by eating a pound of what you crave, but by balancing what you crave in a quantity that fits into your plan.
To also ensure you're meeting your nutritional needs, include a variety of the foods you enjoy, and a few flavor-enhancing items that can easily transform these basic foods into different meals.
Here's what may fill my pantry in a typical day:
- Old-fashioned oatmeal (topped with slivered almonds and sliced bananas)
- Non-fat milk
- Cinnamon and artificial sweetener to taste
I usually start the day with a bowl of cereal. I'm careful to look at the fiber content as I find those cereals with three grams of fiber or less per serving will likely leave me hungry to the point where I'll either need to eat more of it, or look for something else to eat immediately after breakfast. Whole grain foods are beneficial because it takes the body longer to break them down for digestion. This means increased staying power because blood sugar levels are less dramatically affected.
Protein is another way I stay satisfied longer, and since breakfast sets the stage for the rest of the day, having a nice combination of fiber and protein during the first meal makes the most sense. I may have a bowl of old-fashioned oatmeal topped off with sliced banana and almonds. Or, perhaps a simple whole-wheat English muffin with scrambled eggs or egg beaters and sliced melon.
- Non-fat Greek yogurt with graham crackers or
- Celery with Peanut Butter
Snacks are important for a couple reasons. First, I find that if I allow myself to get too hungry between meals, I will most likely overeat at my next meal. Also, the kind of snack can either make or break my entire day.
So I stay away from snacks that only contain carbohydrates and instead, focus on those that provide a combination of filling protein and craving-controlling carbs, such as yogurt and graham crackers or string cheese with whole-wheat crackers.
- Grilled chicken strips over a large mixed baby green salad
- Dressing: olive oil and lemon juice (salt and pepper to taste)
- Sliced apple
For lunch (two to three hours following the mid-morning snack), I strive for a big bulky salad with brightly-colored vegetables topped with a lean protein. These ingredients ensure my meal is both nutritious as well as visually appealing.
If I have leftovers from dinner, I will sometimes heat them up and throw them over a bed of mixed baby greens. I'm known for some kooky salad concoctions, but food is never wasted this way!
Frozen veggies are also a great way to add quick bulk to add fiber and volume to any meal to help you feel full which is why it's a great staple to have in the freezer.
As for protein, I like to keep grilled chicken breast strips, hard-boiled eggs, canned water-packed tuna, and even veggie burgers on hand for a quick protein boost alone or added to a salad.
- String cheese with high-fiber crackers or
- Carrots/bell peppers with hummus
Again, I focus on a combination of filling protein, fiber and carbs. So in the afternoon, I typically enjoy some cheese with high-fiber crackers or some vegetables with hummus.
- Grilled lean protein: fish, tofu, trimmed beef, or boneless/skinless chicken
- Oven roasted or barbecued vegetables (depending on time of year)
- Quinoa or yam
Dinner usually consists of a smaller portion of protein along with vegetables and a carbohydrate, such as a small yam or quinoa. On pasta nights, we always choose the whole-wheat variety with a few ounces of a lean protein of choice.
Color and bulk are important, so usually sautéed zucchini and tomatoes will make their way into the pan for added vitamins and fiber. I find that if I concentrate a majority of my protein intake during the day when I need the most staying power, I don't feel as overly full in the evening when it's time to sleep. Eating a heavy meal at night can interfere with sleep patterns, which can compromise weight loss efforts.
- Mixed berries topped with non-fat milk or fat-free whipped cream or
- Hot cocoa
For me, a typical day wouldn't be complete without dessert. Craving something sweet after a meal is certainly based on habit rather than nutritive requirements. Nevertheless, I strive to make every morsel count and have something that will complement the rest of my day. Mixed frozen berries topped with a bit of milk or even fat-free whipped topping is a great way to cool down on hot summer nights. Conversely, on cooler nights, I may opt for hot cocoa.
I've listed some items from my pantry that when combined, can make hundreds of meals interesting. Herbs, spices and special flavorings are important for the very reason mentioned in the beginning — enjoyment. You can put together the best meal plan in the world, but if the food tastes lousy, it’s likely you won’t be sticking to your plan. Therefore, my pantry will always include items that can change the flavor of other foods.
|Broth or Stock||Garlic Powder||Oregano|
|Chili Powder/Flakes||Ginger||Sugar Substitute (your choice)|
|Cinnamon||Ground Pepper||Unsweetened Cocoa Powder|
|Curry||Nutmeg||Vinegar (balsamic, seasoned rice, plain white)|
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