Small Diet Changes, Big Rewards

By Keri Gans, MS, RD, CDN. Gans is a registered dietitian, spokesperson for The American Dietetic Association, and author of The Small Change Diet. Gans has a private practice in New York City where she specializes in weight management.

Small Diet Changes, Big Rewards

Most people think that the only way to lose weight is to give up the foods they love. And unfortunately, that same person also thinks it must be done quickly. The problem with both these thoughts is that they are unrealistic.

Think about it: If you love bread and were told you could never eat it again, could you really sustain it? If you dropped 10 pounds in two weeks because you basically ate nothing, could you sustain it? After working with hundreds of patients, I can tell you the answer is NO.

The key to weight loss is in making gradual, small changes. It includes learning to prepare the foods you love in a healthier way so you don't feel deprived and so that you are able to lose weight at the same time. Making these small changes leads to developing healthy habits that result in weight loss that can be sustained for a lifetime.

By making the small changes I outline here, you could easily lose 11 pounds in a year without much effort.

“Skinny” Your Meat

The first small change that can help you trim your waistline is to “skinny” your meat. Instead of fatty cuts of beef, learn to choose the lean cuts, i.e. flank, round or sirloin. Besides losing calories, you will also decrease your intake of saturated fat. For example, if you choose a sirloin steak over a ribeye steak, you could save 91 calories and 15.5 grams of fat per 4-ounce serving. In one year, you could lose three pounds with almost no effort and help decrease your risk for heart disease.

The Right Serving Size: 4 Ounces of Protein


The next small change would be to make sure that you are actually only eating a 4-ounce serving of protein. If you are like most people, you are consuming a much larger portion. What I suggest here is making sure that your plate is half-filled with vegetables, and another quarter of the plate should be a whole grain, i.e. brown rice, quinoa or whole wheat couscous. With three-quarters of the plate full, there won’t be as much room for the steak or chicken or pork chop. The vegetables and the whole grains are both high in fiber, which will help fill you up so you’ll still be satisfied from your meal.

Makeover Your Hamburger

If you love hamburgers, no problem. If you love the cheese and bacon too, then think again. Consider the toppings and sauces you are using. In addition to lettuce, tomato and onion, try your next burger with avocado, and you may find out that you enjoy it more this way. If you were to simply swap the bacon for the veggies, you could save almost 184 calories and 14.4 grams of fat per burger. If you ate this healthier hamburger weekly instead of the fattier version, in one year, you could lose another three pounds.  

Choose Your Carbs Wisely


For many people, a much-needed small change is a carbohydrate makeover. Carbs themselves are not a bad choice, but what kind, how much and your toppings could be. The key is to choose carbs that are high in fiber, i.e. whole wheat pasta, barley or whole grain bread. Learn what a portion size is, and just like with the steak example, add lots of veggies to your meal.

For example, if you love spaghetti and meatballs, first try reducing your serving of spaghetti to one cup. In place of the spaghetti that you eliminated, add a high-fiber veggie. One great choice would be artichokes hearts, which have 4.5g of fiber per serving. If you are currently eating pasta two times a week and are having two cups each time (trust me, some of you might be eating even more), reducing your serving and adding artichokes could save you 196 calories per week and result in another 3-pound weight loss over the course of one year.

The added fiber in your diet will also help control blood sugar levels, relieve constipation, and lower cholesterol. If you don’t love artichokes, choose another veggie that you do love. Gradually switch over to whole-wheat pasta and, finally, leaner meatballs made from ground sirloin, white-meat turkey or textured soy protein.


Perfect Your Potatoes


Potatoes are a perfect example of a carbohydrate that has a bad reputation. In reality, they are high in fiber and potassium, and a small potato is only 128 calories. The real problem with potatoes is the size we consume and toppings most people use. Butter and sour cream are two favorites. Much healthier options would be black bean hummus and low-fat sour cream. You still get the creaminess of the butter and the taste of sour cream. Opting for this combination could save you 152 calories and 14.5 grams of fat per serving; you’ll add even more fiber to your diet thanks to the beans. If you made this change just once a week, you could lose another two pounds per year.

When you get adventurous with food, you may discover new tastes that are even better than the ones you’re used to. Think of it all as calories lost, health gained and a new, leaner figure found!

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