Five Things To Do Before You Diet

Most people think that dieting means deprivation, and that success is a never ending vigilance based on denial. Breaking the chain of failure sometimes can be as simple as recasting ideas into less traumatic concepts. Cooking a lot also means eating a lot, and the result over thirty years for me had been more weight, higher blood pressure, high cholesterol, heartburn and high blood sugar. A few years ago, I decided to do something about it. While I can’t say I’ve slimmed down to svelte proportions, I did lose twenty-five pounds and have kept them off, and am much healthier than a few years ago.

Like many people, calorie-counting and prepared meals are just not in my lifestyle, but I did find some ideas that worked for me. These five ideas might jump-start your own healthy changes.

Lose empty calories—One of the first things I did was cut way down on empty sugar calories from soft drinks, fruit drinks and juices. Most of my carbonated fix was changed to seltzer water and lime, or just a bit (1 ounce) of orange or cranberry juice added. I started by substituting half a soft drink for seltzer and after awhile, I actually preferred the more diluted (but just as fizzy) drinks. That one change probably shaved 1200 calories off my weekly total. And don’t think that diet drinks are the answer. Most artificial sweeteners trigger the same metabolic reactions in your body as actual sugars, and the end result can be almost as bad as not giving up sugar at all.

Become more moderate—Eating half your usual amount of a treat, or substituting something with less calories is better than skipping things altogether. The urge for a second (or third) helping might be a difficult habit to break, but by starting with less on your plate, those second helpings tend to be smaller too, and the total result will be fewer calories. Substituting higher-calorie treats with others that are just as fulfilling on a regular basis can make a real difference without feeling like deprivation. Changing out a 300-calorie donut for a 100-calorie biscotti might seem like a small help. but if your routine includes a coffee break at mid-morning, a change like that saves 1000 calories in a workweek.

Don’t be fooled by low-fat substitutes—Fat has become a dirty word, and all the evils of weight gain have been heaped on fat. But most lower-fat versions of things make up the difference with more sugar, or the difference is so small (cutting half the fat in a Triscut only changes the calorie count by 5 calories a serving) that substitution is no real change at best, and a marketer’s manipulation at worst. It’s true that transfats are really bad for you, saturated fats aren’t that good for you, but plenty of fats are unsaturated—olive oil, avocados, and most oils used in baked things are not saturated (with the exception of lard, but that is used less and less these days). Fat is just another element in the makeup of nutrients that we need. And we need fats to make our bodies work correctly. Instead of substituting low-fat alternatives, just eat less, and check the labels to see if the different versions of a product really make a difference in real calories.

Avoid highly processed foods—canned soups, deli-style lunch meats, snack foods, and fast-food meals contain high amounts of sodium, and are high in calories too.

Create new habits—We are creatures of habit, and routine is good for our bodies, but not when you develop unconscious strategies for dealing with stress, boredom, or moods of all kinds with food. I realized that a lot of my snacking was habitual. I eat when I am bored; I eat when I am frustrated with work; and—probably the worst—I eat as a reward. Skipping lunch does not qualify as a virtuous act that should be rewarded with an extra-big dinner. Finishing a task or winning something is no excuse for eating. It is just a habit, and if you take a dispassionate look at how you go through your day, you’ll probably find routines that can be displaced with other, less food-imbibing activities.

Cook at home—The best way to become aware of what you put in your body is to make the meals yourself. Cooking takes energy,