For many, just the idea of losing weight can be discouraging. With the endless advice and trends that exist today, configuring a nutritious diet to lose weight and maintain it can be challenging.

“We live in society that believes lower calorie food means more weight loss and ultimately better health,” said Kristen Kizer, R.D., L.D., a registered clinical dietitian at Houston Methodist Hospital. “While this is true in some respects, to be successful at both losing weight and keeping it off, it’s important to focus on the nutritional value, not just calorie value, of your food.”

Kizer recommends these five tips for anyone who is dieting:

  • Focus on real foods. Real foods are foods that could have been eaten 200 years ago before the rise of processed foods. Think of foods on a spectrum based on how processed they are. An apple is a real food, apple sauce is somewhat processed but still good, whereas an apple toaster pastry is very processed. Real foods contain the necessary vitamins and fiber to help keep the body running smoothly. Check the nutrition facts, but also give even more consideration to the ingredients list. Generally, it is better to consume food with fewer ingredients. If the ingredients cannot be pronounced or bought in a store, chances are the food isn’t as real as it claims to be. Real foods will help dieters feel better and even sleep better. In addition to their nutritional quality, real foods tend to be much less addictive.
  • Stop when you’re full. We’ve often been told, and Kizer confirms, that once food is swallowed, it takes about 15 to 20 minutes for the body to register it. Remembering to put down the silverware between bites and eat slowly and mindfully to help offset the stomach to brain delay. And throughout the day, Kizer suggests thinking of hunger on a scale from one to ten – one being starving and 10 being painfully full. “Check in with your hunger scale often,” said Kizer. “Time meals and snacks accordingly so to avoid prolonged hunger and overeating.”
  • Everything in moderation. While portion size is a major problem in America, more often than not, our eyes are bigger than our stomach. To keep yourself in check, remember that restaurant meals are usually higher calorie and try splitting an entree when eating out. When eating at home, serve yourself on a smaller plate to give yourself the illusion of eating just as much.
  • Hydrate. Drinking water can help control hunger by engaging sensors in the stomach that make you feel fuller longer. People sometimes mistake thirst for hunger, which can lead to additional calorie intake and unwanted weight gain. Simply staying hydrated can diminish the feeling of needing to eat. Try having a full glass of water before or between meals to induce a feeling of fullness.
  • Aim for a lifestyle change. While fad diets tend to be more attractive by enabling people to shed weight faster, it’s just as easy to regain the weight once the initial goal is met. Whether it’s conscious or not, there is often a mentality of going back to old behaviors once the target weight is reached. On the other hand, lifestyle changes begin in the mind and are much more successful in the long run. Try starting with small changes that you can live with and are interested in making.

“More often than not, we know what we should do,” Kizer said. “The hard part is implementing something that works for us. Don’t overwhelm yourself. Aim for one change at a time.”

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