Some diet questions are easy: Mild or spicy? To go or to stay? You want fries with that?
But some are more complicated and confusing, especially when we’re trying to eat healthy: Most of what we know about nutrition is stuff we’ve picked up from our family or friends, heard about in some study that popped up our news feed for 30 seconds or was told to us by a trainer at the gym in between squat thrusts. Few of us really know for sure whether brown rice is better than white rice (it is) or brown sugar is better than white sugar (it isn’t) or brown eggs are more nutritious than white eggs (actually, they’re the same). That’s why, when people find out I’m a registered dietician, they invariably ask me the same handful of questions—questions I’ve answered dozens of times.
So with a little help from the editors of Eat This, Not That!, I’ve collected the most popular weight loss questions here, so you can consider your most pressing concerns asked—and answered.
Q: Why Can’t I Stop Eating the Bread from the Breadbasket?
This magnetic force isn’t really your fault. Since the breadbasket at most restaurants tends to be filled with white bread, there’s barely any fiber in it. They’re basically putting a huge amount of sugar in front of you, which is why it’s so addictive. How many times have you said, “I’ll just have five jelly beans,” which turns into fifty and suddenly you can’t stop eating them? It’s the same with the evil breadbasket. Either tell them not to put the breadbasket down on the table, or just take one piece and have them take the rest away. Alternatively, order an appetizer. House salads, vegetable soup, shrimp cocktail, and tuna tartar are great options.
Q: Should I Blot My Pizza?
The grease you soak up only adds about 20 to 50 calories per slice. And if the pizza has been sitting there for a while, you may not even be soaking up the grease—sometimes what you pick up is just some moisture.
A better way to make your pizza healthier is to order whole wheat. If you want to trick yourself into feeling like you’re eating a lot of pizza without actually doing so, cut the slice in half and have two or three small slices. Even better, buy your own whole wheat crust and make a pie of your own at home. This way, you can use healthier tomato sauces, fresh toppings, and limit the oil. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try new and exciting recipes for pizza crusts using cauliflower, eggplant or zucchini. It’s okay to make a mistake since, it’s been said, pizza is like sex . . . even when it’s bad, it’s still good!
Q: I Have Salads for Lunch Every Day, and I’m Still Not Losing Weight. What Am I Doing Wrong?
First of all, you should not have the same thing for lunch every day. In the same way you change your exercise routine to challenge different muscles and keep yourself from getting bored, you should do the same with your meals. In fact, doing so helps keep your metabolism in high gear.
And just because a meal has the word salad in it, it doesn’t automatically make it a healthy or low-calorie choice. To figure out how your salad ranks, start by taking an inventory of what you’ve put in your bowl: what kinds of toppings, how much dressing, and how big is it? A good rule to follow when eating a salad is to stay away from iceberg lettuce, which has very few (if any) nutrients and fiber. Instead, use more nutritious greens, like kale, spinach, romaine, arugula, or mesclun. Fill your salad with unlimited veggies, but avoid peas and corn, as those tend to be starchy. Watch the extras such as cheese, nuts, seeds, crunchy things (like wontons, noodles, croutons, bacon bits) and dried fruits (raisins, craisins). Choose a lean protein, like grilled chicken, shrimp, turkey, tofu, eggs, or salmon, and avoid fried, breaded, and processed meats. Get a full-fat dressing (you need fat to absorb the most nutrients) on the side and stick to two tablespoons or less.
Q: What Should I Do when I’m Still Hungry After Dinner and All I Want to Do is Raid the Fridge?
This is one of those times that you need to have a serious talk with yourself. Say to yourself: “Am I really hungry or am I just thinking of food because it’s a bad habit I’ve gotten myself into over the years?”
If you end up evading your own question, try drinking a glass of water. Many times, dehydration mimics hunger, so you may actually be mistaking your want for food with your need for liquids. After you have a drink, try waiting a few minutes and distract yourself, then see if you’re still hungry. If the urge passes, then you’ve just saved yourself calories, and you probably were not hungry to begin with. If you’re still famished, try to figure out why. Before the meal, did you drink too much (juice, alcohol, or soda) or did you fill up on bread? If so, that may have caused you to get stuffed before dinner. This will leave you with loads of empty calories but no real food or nutrients to keep you satisfied, and you will indeed get hunger pains by the time you get home. Next time, try to drink water with your meal and go for a healthier appetizer to avoid this happening again. In the meantime, if you really are starving because dinner didn’t satisfy you, try to eat something light (low-fat yogurt, scrambled eggs or a nut butter sandwich).
Q: Can I Really Eat an Endless Amount of Fruits and Still Lose Weight?
Nobody ever got fat from having too many fruit salads. Fruits are high in vitamins, antioxidants, fiber, and water. They have been shown to help with immunity, beauty, and energy and can help lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, blood pressure, and cholesterol. Due to the natural fiber, fruit has also been shown to help maintain a healthy GI tract.
Just make sure to vary what you eat and, like anything, eat in moderation. Have a cup of berries, an apple, some slices of melon, or a handful of grapes as opposed to eating an entire cantaloupe. However, if you’re hungry, fruits are a low-calorie, filling, and nutritious option—especially opposed to almost anything else you might grab. One caveat: Just because something has the word fruit in it doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Dried fruits are usually filled with added sugar and have lots of calories despite their small serving size and most fruit juice concentrates are just as unhealthy as soda. Stick with what Mother Nature has to offer and aim to eat two to four servings per day. These 6 Fruits for Fat Loss are all solid picks.
Q: Am I Drowning All of My Money in Those Fancy, Enhanced Waters?
Did you know that you can get the same amount of sugar by eating approximately fifty jelly beans as you would get in one bottle of some vitamin waters? While there are some varieties that offer sugar-free options, they still may not offer the nutritional support you were hoping for, as they’re often quite low in vitamins and minerals. A daily multivitamin is a fraction of the price and you’ll be getting way more for your money.
There are also vitamin drops, flavor enhancers, and waters with a hint of fruit. There is even a new wave of really interesting waters that use artichokes, maples, watermelons, birch, and cactus. While these sound cool, just be careful of those that have outrageous claims or those with added sugar or artificial sweeteners and dyes. It might be better to try squeezing your favorite fruits into your water instead and avoid all the unnecessary sugar, empty calories, and unnatural ingredients.
Q: What is More Important—the Amount of Calories or the Type of Calories You Consume in a Day?
If two people were given 1,600 calories per day and one chose to eat fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins while the other person ate foods full of refined sugar, fried meat, and fatty and processed snacks, would you consider these equal? Other than having the same amount of calories, it’s hard to say they are similar in any other way.
That’s why just counting calories won’t always result in weight loss. You need to look at where they’re coming from, in addition to how many you have. A good combination of calories from carbs, fats, and protein will help your body efficiently metabolize them. By sourcing your calories from foods high in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other essential nutrients, your body will have the fuel it needs to get through the day and store only what is necessary. So forget about focusing on only the total number of calories and remember, it’s quality and quantity. Think of it like you do your age: as Abe Lincoln said, “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”
If you’re not sure what to stock your pantry with be sure to check out ETNT’s list of the 14 Healthiest Foods for Your Pantry.
Q: How Many Hours Before Bed Should I Stop Eating in Order to Avoid a Nightmare on the Scale when I Wake Up?
It’s not about how many hours before bed you stop eating, but rather the total amount (and quality) of calories consumed over the course of a day. Think of your credit card bill—it’s not each receipt that makes you break out in a cold sweat, but rather the sum of all your purchases when you get your monthly statement. In both cases, it’s a good idea to set a budget.
The reason most people tend to put on weight due to night eating is the types of foods they are picking. Rarely are they reaching for a bag of baby carrots or vegetables. Late-night snacking usually involves indulging in all sorts of things—chips, popcorn, chocolate, cookies. If you tend to graze at night, stick to lighter options and avoid anything fried, greasy, or full of fat, since these foods are harder to digest and won’t sit well in your stomach. As you’re about to lie down for (hopefully) eight hours, you’ll also want to stay away from spicy foods, as they can also irritate your stomach.
Q: Is a Fasting Diet a Good Way to Cut Calories?
Your gut may tell you that fasting is the best way to lose weight, but that’s not actually the case. The only thing fasting does quickly is cause havoc. While you may see results at first, you can seriously screw up your body’s metabolism, and you won’t get the long-term weight loss you want.
(And speaking of metabolism be sure to check out these 55 Best Ways to Boost Your Metabolism!)
Not only is it bad for your health, more often than not, fasting will cause you to fixate on food, which may have the opposite effect than you intended. You’ll be much more likely to be hungry and overeat once you’re “allowed” to eat again, which can lead to unnecessary and additional calories. It will also counteract what you did the day before. It’s calories in and calories out on an overall basis—not just one day versus another. Additionally, by being gluttonous one day and malnourished the next day, you are going to confuse your body. You may even start to feel sick (and gross) by going from an empty stomach to a full stomach. This goes against the way your body prefers to be nourished and can do more harm than good.
The only thing a fasting diet will do is get you nowhere fast. Your body needs nutrients from food, and there are so many other healthier and less drastic ways to lose weight.
Q: I Got a New Home Soda Maker. Is it Healthier or Just an Accessory for My Kitchen?
Whether you call it soda or pop, it’s become cool to make it at home. But just because you make these drinks at home doesn’t mean they’re necessarily better for you. Even though it’s possible to create them in your kitchen, so many people still use store-bought items like flavors, syrups, and mixes. While these often do not contain aspartame and high-fructose corn syrup (like traditional sodas), many have chemicals, food dyes, artificial sweeteners, and other additives. That is why switching won’t necessarily be as refreshing for your health as you might have hoped. To make it healthier, stick with seltzers, try to limit the amount of sugar you add to the recipe, and buy all-natural flavors or use the syrups as sparingly as possible. Or better yet, add fresh fruit and herbs. Need some inspiration? Check out these 50 Best Detox Waters for Fat Burning and Weight Loss. Just add some bubbles to the mix and start sipping!
Q: Dessert is My Favorite Part of the Day, but I Don’t Want to Look Like a Cream Puff. What’s the Healthiest Option?
Generally speaking, it’s okay to treat yourself every day. There is no reason to deprive yourself as long as you keep it to a small sampling or a few bites.
The healthiest options would be a bowl of fruit, frozen grapes, Greek yogurt with berries, or an apple with peanut butter. However, there are times when we know that won’t cut it. On those nights, try to keep it to 150 calories, which is equivalent to two to three squares of dark chocolate, a couple of small cookies, or an individual chocolate pudding. You could also choose a few spoonfuls of ice cream or sorbet, a baked apple, a popsicle, or even a small brownie. The key word here is or, not and. While eating out, pick a dessert that the whole table will enjoy. Ask for extra spoons or forks so everyone can share—forced portion control! As long as you keep the portion size small, a moment on the lips won’t last a lifetime on the hips.
For more healthy dessert options, check out these 15 Best Low-Sugar Snacks for Weight Loss.
Q: Will Cutting Out Dairy Help Me Moo-ve the Scale in the Right Direction?
The slogan “Got Milk?” isn’t just a cute ad campaign with good-looking famous people flaunting their milk mustaches. There is actually a reason your body wants and needs the nutrients that dairy products can provide. Dairy is rich in calcium, vitamin D, potassium, and protein. The body needs these nutrients to support strong bones and teeth, and they can even be helpful with preventing osteoporosis later in life. So, unless you want to take off a few pounds by losing teeth and breaking bones, it may not be the best idea to eliminate dairy in hopes of losing weight.
This doesn’t mean that you should go crazy and become a Dairy Queen. After all, to drop a few pounds, it’s all about total calories in and total calories out. It is not about removing an entire food group. It’s eating like a cow and not from a cow that is probably making you feel that you need to lose a few pounds. If you have an allergy or sensitivity to dairy or follow a vegan diet, a fortified milk alternative may be a healthy addition to your weekly routine.
Excerpted from Should I Scoop My Bagel: And 99 Other Answers to Your Everyday Diet and Nutrition Questions to Help You Lose Weight, Feel Great, and Live Healthy by Ilyse Schapiro, MD, RD, CDN and Hallie Rich. For more of their slimming weight loss tips, pre-order your copy, today! (Available January 2016 from Skyhorse Publishing).