Small Changes Can Make Big Differences
By Cheryl Forberg, RD
When was the last time you said, "I need to lose a few pounds," but didn't do anything because you didn't know where to start? You're not alone. Millions of people ride the weight loss roller coaster everyday. They perpetually jump on and off the wagon because they're too busy or too overwhelmed with scheduling, shopping, exercising and eating choices.
Whether you have 10 or 100 pounds to lose, it didn't appear overnight. Chances are you've been making some not-so-great choices over a period of time that added up to a little love handle here and there. The good news is that you don't have to change everything overnight. Integrating a few small changes, s-l-o-w-l-y, can be simple, while adding up to a big difference, in your weight and your health.
Swapping an unhealthy food, habit or lifestyle choice for a healthier option is easier than you think.
As nutritionist for The Biggest Loser for 15 seasons, I've learned a great deal about typical factors that play a key role in weight gain. These factors are what many of our contestants, as well as many Americans, have in common. They:
- Prioritized other things - such as their families, friends, and jobs - over their own health and well-being.
- Had absolutely no idea how many calories their bodies really needed (or how many they consumed each day).
- Frequently skipped breakfast and other meals.
- Didn't eat enough fruits or vegetables.
- Didn't eat enough lean protein.
- Didn't eat enough whole grains.
- Ate too much "white stuff," such as white flour, white pasta, white sugar, white rice, and simple carbohydrates.
- Didn't plan their meals in advance and often found themselves grabbing something on the go, which they ate standing up, in the car, or at their desks.
- Drank too many of their calories (some people consumed their daily calorie budgets in sugary drinks alone!) but didn't drink enough water or milk.
- Didn't get enough exercise (if any).
If this list sounds familiar, you have 10 great places to start making small changes. The most important swap though, really needs to be number one on your list - changing your priorities.
#1 Swap other people's needs for your own.
This is one of the hardest changes for many people to make. It's important to understand that putting your needs first is not selfish. Your health and happiness are more valuable than any PTA meeting or dinner party. Allow yourself to focus on you.
#2 Low vegetable and fruit intake is probably the second most common problem I see. Kicking up your fruit and vegetable intake can be easy and it has loads of priceless benefits. At the ranch we aim for four cups (total) of fruits and vegetables per day, mostly vegetables.
Fruits and vegetables supply most of your daily nutrients in the form of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, though they contain relatively low numbers of calories. In other words, you get the most nutritional bang for your calorie buck from fruits and vegetables. The exception to this would be the starchier vegetables, such as pumpkin, winter squash, sweet potatoes, and yams. These veggies are higher in calories and carbs, so you want to limit your intake to a few servings a week. Fresh produce should be your first choice, but if it isn't available or is too expensive, opt for frozen or canned versions of your favorite fruits and vegetables. Just make sure there's no added salt or sugar.
When it comes to dried fruit, though, be careful. When fruit is dried, it is dehydrated, meaning that all the water has been removed. So the calories in dried fruit are more concentrated. Dried fruits aren't as filling as raw fruits per serving size, but they are still a great option for portable, non-perishable snacks. When fresh fruit isn't available, dried fruits are great to sprinkle on yogurt or oatmeal or add to trail mix.
The Power of Antioxidants
You've probably heard a lot about antioxidants in the news lately. But what are they, and why do you need them? Antioxidants are vitamin-like compounds that help protect your body from inflammation, diabetes, heart disease, various types of cancer, and other serious health problems. Antioxidants are found in fresh vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Some of the most important antioxidants are vitamin A, which can be found in broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, collard greens, potatoes, squash, and tomatoes; vitamin C, which is abundant in citrus fruit, cranberries, green peppers, leafy green vegetables, and strawberries; and vitamin E, also found in leafy green vegetables, as well as in nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Another essential antioxidant is selenium, which is abundant in chicken, eggs, fish, garlic, and grains.
Different vitamins are used by our bodies in different ways. Some vitamins, such as vitamins B and C, are water-soluble, which means that they stay in our bloodstream for only four to six hours. It's important to eat foods that contain these vitamins every day. Other vitamins, such as A, D, E, and K, are fat-soluble, which means that they're stored in our bodies a little longer. They ensure that we stay healthy even on days when we aren't able to eat all our veggies.
Here are some easy tips to help you meet your daily fruit and veggie requirement:
Eat a vegetable salad most days of the week. Keep a container of sliced or chopped vegetables, such as broccoli, jicama or red or green bell peppers, in your refrigerator for easy snacking. Choose whole fruits rather than fruit juices. Most fruit juice contains no fiber and therefore does little to help you control your appetite or make you feel full. Try a new fruit or vegetable every week to build some variety into your diet. Choose fruits and vegetables from the six color groups: red, orange, yellow, light green, dark green and purple. This is a great way to make sure you're getting a variety of nutrients in your diet.
Here is one of my favorite recipes that will give you a huge jumpstart on your veggie servings for the day.
Egyptian Eggplant Salad
The simple earthiness of this large salad melds the flavors of Eastern and Western seasonings. It takes only a few minutes to assemble, though the preparation of the ingredients takes longer. It's a great make-ahead dish for a barbecue or potluck.
Yield: About 12 cups; 8 (1½ cup) servings
Preparation time: 1 hour
2 large Eggplants
(about 1½ pounds)
1½ heads Romaine Lettuce
1 medium Red Bell Pepper
, cut into fine dice
½ medium Green Bell Pepper
, cut into fine dice
1 English Cucumber
, peeled, seeded, and cut into fine dice (2 cups)
1 cup chopped Green Onions
(green and white parts)
½ cup chopped Fresh Italian Parsley
, without stems
½ cup chopped Fresh Mint
, without stems
2 Tablespoons Minced Garlic
¼ cup Fresh Lemon Juice
2 tablespoons Ground Cumin
1½ teaspoons Salt (optional)
½ teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes (optional)
½ cup Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper, to taste
Wash and dry the eggplant. Cut off stem end. Pierce skin with a fork to prevent eggplant from bursting during roasting. For stovetop roasting or grilling: Place eggplant directly on grill rack or over gas burner at medium heat. Grill for about 18 minutes, turning frequently to cook evenly. Remove from heat when eggplant has become very soft. Set roasted eggplant aside to cool.
For oven Roasting:
Position rack in middle of oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly coat a 15 × 10-inch baking sheet with olive oil spray. Place eggplant on prepared baking sheet and bake for about 40 minutes, turning eggplant three or four times to roast evenly. Remove from oven when eggplant becomes soft. When cool enough to handle, peel and discard eggplant skin. Remove most of the seeds and cut eggplant into chunks.
Mash garlic with lemon juice until smooth. Add cumin and salt and red pepper flakes if using. Whisk oil in a thin stream until all is incorporated. There will be about ¾ cup of dressing.
Wash and dry romaine. Cut or tear romaine into bite-size pieces and place in a large mixing bowl. Add remaining chopped vegetables, herbs, and eggplant to lettuce just before serving.
Pour ¼ cup of the dressing over salad and toss well. Season with salt and pepper. Pass remaining dressing separately.
Eggplant Factoid: Eggplants have a dimple at the blossom end, which can be round or oval in shape. An oval dimple is usually shallower, and oftentimes indicative of fewer seeds and a meatier more desirable eggplant. A deeper, round dimple frequently indicates many seeds inside, especially if the eggplant is large and mature.
Serving Size 1½ cup serving