I have a thing for sweets and carbs. Not a day goes by without pretzels, bread, pita chips, chocolate, marshmallows, or frosting passing my lips. A few years ago, I made the commitment to lose weight to be healthier and boost my body image. The catch? I kept eating these hardly healthy-sounding foods.
How did I get to my healthy weight and keep eating sweets and carbs? I changed the way I ate, not what I ate. Instead of opting for a trendy diet (no cleanses for me, thanks!), I decided to focus on modifying—not replacing—my current health habits. This realistic approach let me develop a sustainable lifestyle to achieve and maintain my healthiest weight. And the best part is, I can still enjoy my favorite snacks. Here’s how I did it and how you can, too.
01. Eat balanced portions of everything.
Your favorite foods are likely different than mine, but whatever they might be, keep eating them. Just because you enjoy something doesn’t mean you have to get rid of it when trying to achieve a healthy weight. I made sure that my limited servings of sweets and carbs were balanced with plenty of vegetables, fruit, and protein. Five dark chocolate Hershey’s Kisses are about a hundred calories, the perfect portion for my daily chocolate fix. A low-carb lavash wrap is about a hundred calories, a great solution for my turkey wrap at lunch (a plain tortilla wrap, on the other hand, can run almost double that).
Similarly, New York–based chef Pasquale Cozzolino lost weight while continuing to eat his food du jour—pizza—every day. By crafting a recipe for a controlled portion, he shares, “It lets you feel satisfied, and because it’s only 540 to 570 calories, it’s a perfect and fast solution for a lunch or dinner.” Eat what you love but with awareness and self-control. Giving your body what it craves will keep you from cracking in a moment of weakness and binging on the foods you’ve deprived yourself of.
02. Moderately intense exercise is your BFF.
Achieving a healthy weight isn’t just what’s on your plate. “Move more, eat less,” as the saying goes. After conducting a heart study analyzing the relationship between physical activity and weight loss in men and women, Dr. Arlene Hankinson of Northwestern University concluded that moderately intense exercise on a consistent basis is effective in keeping off unhealthy weight gain.
Everyone is different, but I found that jogging a few miles helped me burn calories every morning. It also made it easier to stick to my new portioned diet and let me start my day with high energy. Eventually, I came to rely on and look forward to my daily runs as my metabolism improved daily.
03. Figure out what ‘empty calories’ mean for you.
Empty calories are any foods that add up calories without filling you up or satisfying your cravings. For me, empty calories include salad dressings, tons of pasta, butter and oil, pastries, and non-diet drinks. I haven’t had dressing on my salads in years, and I don’t miss it! While five dark chocolate Hershey’s Kisses certainly aren’t empty to me, they might be to you. Identify what ingredients you can do without, and eat less of them. Especially when optimizing your diet, you only want to consume calories that count for you.
04. Stick to a boring daily diet.
The number one secret to my healthy weight is a calculated and boring daily diet. In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, women were presented with the same macaroni and cheese meal either daily or weekly. Those who ate it as a daily meal ended up eating less at each meal through the habit-forming impact of a boring diet.
Most days, I eat the same meals to keep it easy to regulate and maintain long term. My main meals are a breakfast sandwich made of ham and cream cheese in a pita topped with slices of tomato, summer squash, and zucchini. I have a turkey wrap for lunch loaded with veggies. I end with a salad for dinner and a protein. Mix it up every now and then, but again, having a consistent go-to you can rely on when it comes down to the wire is critical when shaping new eating habits.
Yes, snack. Eating light yet filling snacks will tide you over between meals as you aim to control your portions. Snacking also prevents overeating during a meal. I snack every two hours or so. Just like I eat the same meals every day, I also have a bunch of standard snacks I munch on. These include peanut butter and pretzels, a banana and greek yogurt, cheese, chocolate of some sort, and pita chips. I control each serving size so that they range from a hundred to two hundred calories each to avoid blowing my daily intake on just one snack.
06. Stick to your grocery list.
When browsing through the grocery store aisles, only fill your cart with things that fit into your revised diet. Don’t buy foods that will tempt you to indulge. You don’t want to turn to your cupboard in a moment of weakness and shovel down a stack of Oreos. Even if you keep eating the foods you love, avoid other goodies. Out of sight, out of mind, out of mouth!
07. Embellish with veggies.
I trim down my meals by decorating them with vegetables. Low on calories yet high in flavor and fiber, they fill you up without filling you out. The U.S. Dietary guidelines share that a healthy diet is high in veggies. They also help prevent heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension.
For dinner, I usually prepare a protein and a side of carbs on a generous bed of lettuce topped with other vegetables: tomatoes, mushrooms, carrots, corn, cucumbers, radishes, bell peppers, zucchini, and more. Loading on the greens also helps mentally as you sit down to a full plate rather than a scant-looking serving.
Finding and keeping your healthy weight doesn’t mean never eating the foods you love. It’s all about moderation. Start to plan out and regulate what you eat every day—and include your favorites. Whether you can’t live without a daily chocolate fix or an afternoon carb reload, you can keep your palate satisfied and your weight on a healthy track.
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