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Some people love sweets, and some people are addicted to them. Cassie Ladd, 27, of Dallas, requires three bars of chocolate at her desk at all times. “I have been known to go to the grocery store next to my office for pastries, and I keep snack baggies of goodies (licorice, Swedish fish) accessible and on top of my fridge.” Ladd says her diet is otherwise “super healthy” and makes sure to eat five servings of vegetables a day. Her biggest downfall: Cupcakes. “I can't help it,” Ladd says. “I see a cupcake and it doesn't matter how full I am, I want a cupcake.” Attempts at substituting sugar-free candies and diet sodas won't help -- they can actually make you gain weight. Besides, you quickly end up back in Sugarland. Since she’s currently healthy and works out regularly, Ladd isn’t concerned about the impact of sugar on her diet, but knows she needs to cut back.
Sugar contains empty calories, it has little to no essential nutrients, says Michelle Dudash, R.D., author of Clean Eating for Busy Families (2012). “It's important to get at the root of the sugar addiction. Take a step back and look at what time and why you're craving the Skittles (or other sugary foods).” For many people, the 3 p.m. slump triggers a craving for M & Ms or cookies. Skipping lunch or eating a lowcalorie lunch without enough protein and complex carbs will worsen your sugar cravings. “So make sure if you're having salad that it has some sort of protein like legumes or chicken,” says Dudash. If you feel sluggish, you may also be lacking in sleep or simply be dehydrated. It’s amazing how often people grab food before water. “Aside from getting seven to eight hours of sleep, if you suspect dehydration try some coconut water or unsweetened hot or iced green tea, which helps with hydration, boosts alertness and contains zero calories,” says Dudash.
Many people enjoy a nice steak, but Linda Misleh Wagner, 55, of San Diego, Calif., would eat meat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. “Dark meat chicken, roasted, baked, and barbequed are my favorites,” says Wagner. Steaks, mainly T-bone, porterhouse, and rib-eye, ground beef, you name it. “I can eat it any which way,” says Wagner. Every meal usually includes meat. Fortunately, her blood sugar and cholesterol numbers are “outstanding,” but she’s prone to kidney stones (which may not be related to her diet) and admits to having a “huge” weight problem her whole life. “I’ve spent the majority of my life trying to figure out how to develop better eating habits, and I have yet to discover a pattern that I can live with and sustain,” Wagner says.
For steak lovers, two big concerns include their high fat content and the serving size, says Amy Goodson, MS, RD, LD, sports dietitian for Ben Hogan Sports Therapy Institute, Texas. “When dining out it’s typical for people to choose 10, 12 and 16 oz steaks, which are three to four times a normal serving size. In addition, the most popular steaks such as rib-eyes are highly marbled and high in fat.” High saturated fat can contribute to increasing bad and total cholesterol and can add to weight gain. For healthier choices, pick lean cuts of beef such as top round, bottom round or top sirloin steak, says Goodson. “Each of these has four to five grams of fat per 3-oz serving, which is comparable to three ounces of skinless chicken with three ounces of fat and fine to enjoy a few times a week.” If cravings persist, you may be low in vitamin B12 or iron, says Goodson. Try eating more eggs, green leafy vegetables and peanut butter, which contain B12.
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For Barb Churchill, 52, of Minnetonka, MN, carbs in any form tempt her. “I crave sugar and breads and have been a sugar freak since childhood,” Churchill says. She admits to banishing certain breads from her house because she’s afraid she’ll eat all of it. “My biggest weaknesses include chocolate and breads, especially sourdough, rustic breads and desserts,” Churchill says. And although she currently does not have any health issues as the result of her excess carb and sugar consumption, she believes sugar’s link to inflammation may have contributed to pre-cancerous issues with her breasts. “When I cut back on carbs, my sugar craving decreases and at the same time I feel deprived. It’s a really tough addiction to break,” she says.
Eating too many carbs can lead to excess calorie intake, which can lead to weight gain, says Dudash. “A lot of carbs at once can spike insulin levels, followed by a crash, making you feel sluggish and hungry soon after. Carb foods also tend to be higher in calories per portion than fruits and vegetables.” Instead of cutting out carbs altogether, Dudash recommends mixing non-starch veggies into your favorite carb dishes. If you love pasta, reduce the pasta by half and add zucchini, spinach and tomatoes. To stir-fries, add broccoli, yellow squash and asparagus, turning the rice into more of a garnish rather than a heaping staple. By adding more vegetables and reducing the white pasta and rice, you're slashing the calories and boosting the fiber, yet feeling just as satisfied, or even more satisfied.
Pizzatarian / Fast Food Junky
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Burgers, pizza and fast food provide temping caloric comfort, but if you’d trade your husband for a pizza, it must be true love—for the pizza. At least that’s what Deanna Dugo’s husband tells her. “Pizza is the ultimate comfort food - crispy crust, lots of bubbly cheese and sweet sauce.” Dugo, 30, of Chicago, admits splurging on a combination of frozen and delivery pizza two to three times a week. “I associate pizza with childhood memories, family and fun. My biggest issue is I’m a vegetarian, so pizza is an easy fallback for me,” Dugo says. “I've tried cutting back, and if I’m diligent, I can do it. But it eventually leads to a pizza binge.”
The appeal of pizza and other fast food is not exactly shrouded in mystery, says Goodson. “Pizza has great mouthfeel and satiety due to its fat content. Problem is, fast food in general is typically loaded with saturated fat, sodium and calories.” An average slice of pizza, for example, packs in approximately 250 calories, and some gourmet pizzas contain even more. In addition, fast food is typically lower in vitamins, minerals and fiber due to the lack of vegetables. Wean yourself off the high-fat pizza by creating your own, healthier version: try a whole-wheat pitta or wrap and layer it with tomato sauce, 2 percent mozzarella cheese and veggies and chicken, if desired. Stick it under the broiler for a few minutes. When you order out stick with thin crust and limit high-fat meats like sausage and pepperoni or try a veggie pizza, Blot off excess grease and pair your pizza with a green salad to help you feel full, suggests Goodson. For burgers, choose a sauce such as mustard over other sauces, get only one patty and pair it with a side salad or fruit. Look for grilled chicken fingers versus breaded and fried and use lower-calorie dips such as honey mustard over ranch or blue cheese.
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When food needs flavor, it’s natural to reach for the salt shaker. But when you’re putting salt on already high-salt foods like macaroni and cheese, you may be an extreme salt lover. Bridget T. O’Neill, 25, of NYC admits to such lavish use of salt. “It’s pretty awful,” O’Neill admits. “I go through a lot of salt—cooking and eating. I tend to go with a ‘the more the better’ philosophy. Fortunately for Bridget, her low blood pressure means her high salt intake isn’t as much of a concern than for someone with hypertension. At least not for now. Otherwise, she eats a healthy diet including many vegetables, which she sprinkles liberally with salt. “I even add salt to sweets occasionally, including adding salt to from-scratch cookie recipes,” she says.
Many women who like salt enjoy it in the form of salty snacks, including chips eaten straight from the bag with abandon, says Keri Gans, MS, RD, CDN, New York based nutrition consultant and author of The Small Change Diet (Gallery, 2011). “Too many chips can be a big source of unhealthy calories and lead to weight gain, plus, the large amount of sodium consumed can result in bloating.” The Dietary Guidelines for American recommend limiting sodium to less than 2,300 mg – approximately a teaspoon --a day (less if you’re over 51 or have health issues), which includes hidden salt. Hidden salt can be found in foods you’d never think, such as cottage cheese, salsa and tomato juice, so read labels, says Gans. If this is your downfall, avoid eating from the bag and instead portion off the chips. To add to your satisfaction, include a serving of unsalted nuts. “If you really want something very salty, a pickle can usually do the trick and it's very low in calories,” says Gans. Choose salt-free seasoning options for cooking, including pepper, rosemary, dill, red pepper flakes and herbs as well as lemon. And if you eat a high-salt lunch (e.g. tomato soup with grilled cheese), keep your dinner low-sodium to balance it out.
It’s easy to go into a mindless eating zone when you’re tired and up late watching TV. Such is the case for Michele Alessi, 46, of Baltimore. “I try to go to bed before 10p.m. as often as possible. But, most nights, I wake up around 2 a.m. I Facebook, play games, check email and then finally go downstairs to watch TV and end up snacking.” Alessi’s nighttime refrigerator raids usually start with yogurt and then lead to dinner leftovers and cheese. “I don’t cook anything,” she says. “I look for something quick and already prepared.” Alessi’s habits have contributed to weight gain and fatigue, as well as borderline diabetes and hypertension.
Typically, late-night snackers eat out of boredom not hunger, which ends up as a lot ofadditional calories for the day, says Goodson. “In addition, as in Michele’s case, latenight snacking is not usually broccoli. It’s more candy and junk food, which contributes to more sugar and fat calories. The goal is to eat more during the day when you are up, moving, working and exercising.” Ideally you should stop eating about two hours before you go to bed to allow your body enough time to digest food and reduce the risk of it causing upper gastrointestinal issues such as indigestion. If you work late hours, Goodson recommends bringing healthy snacks with you. Good choices include whole-wheat crackers and string cheese, hummus and veggies or apple and peanut butter. “Consuming protein and fiber-rich snacks will help you feel more satisfied and less hungry so you won’t be as tempted to load up on calories before bed.” As for eating because you are bored. Really? You won’t be bored when you have all those health issues to deal with.
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Nutrition experts tell us eating small meals throughout the day helps keep hunger at bay. But what if eating every hour turns into a non-stop food fest? Natasha Burton, 29, of Santa Barbara, Calif., skips meals entirely and relies on snacks to get her through the day. “Typically, I'll have my morning cup of coffee at 7:30, a bowl of cereal around 10 a.m. and then go between snacks and coffee (and water when I remember!) throughout the day until dinner.” For the most part she makes healthy choices, which include an apple with peanut butter, a handful of nuts and grapes, but rarely veggies. “I’m too busy to make regular meals, but I’m not sure I’m getting all the nutrients I need,” she says.
Burton may not be doing herself any harm unless she swaps her healthy choices for crunchy, salty or sweet snacks. Many women think snacking is a bad thing so instead of having a nutrient rich snack like Greek yogurt and fruit, apples and peanut butter, a granola bar and almonds, etc., they graze all day and end up taking in more calories of less nutritious food, says Goodson. “It’s easy to eat between 500 and 700 calories in candy, crackers, chips, handfuls of different types of snack foods.” The key to healthy snacking is to have a carbohydrate and protein combination snack (such as the examples mentioned) and stop eating, versus grazing on less-nutritious food all afternoon. “Healthy snacking can keep you full until the next meal and thus help you feel satisfied with less,” says Goodson.
Trendy doesn’t always mean healthy when it involves restaurant dining. Between entertaining for work, hanging with friends and just trying to taste everything New York City has to offer, Angela Law, 33, Health Editor at iVillage, goes out for dinner at leastthree times a week -- but at a cost. “It’s to the detriment of my waist and arteries that the current food trend is fat on fat on fat… and oh, topped with fat,” says Law. “You like hot dogs? Cool. Here’s one with some bacon gravy on top.” Restaurants often emphasize the fresh and exciting ingredients and leave it up to you to decide how healthy it may be.“I have no idea how many calories anything is,” says Law. “I feel almost disrespectful asking for substitutions. And that’s what some restaurants want you to think. A few I’ve recently been to had, ‘We gently decline any substitution requests’ at the bottom of their menus!” But for Law, not going out is not an option.
You might be eating the finest of foods, but all those delicious sauces contain hidden calories (even if it’s a drizzle) and can quickly add up to excess pounds. “Keep in mind that just because a veggie is included doesn't mean that the veggie is a smart choice,” says Gans. “To keep those pounds at bay, your best bet is to not overindulge during the day and always start with a mixed green salad or light appetizer,” says Gans. Stay clear of anything described as crispy or creamy. Swap white sauces for red, if possible, as tomato sauces usually contain less fat than creamy white ones. Or, try to turn one meal into two. Simply eat half and ask the waiter to put the rest in a to-go container. The result? You’re not tempted to keep picking at it. And you're not really depriving yourself -- you get toeat those delicious leftovers the next day. When in doubt, ask the waiter for advice if you’re not familiar with the ingredients -- staff at fancy restaurants love talking about their food!