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Eating Right When Everything in the World Conspires to Make You Eat Wrong: How to Make Healthy Eating Choices at Home and in Restaurants

Eating right is probably one of the biggest challenges that we face on a daily basis. Understanding what causes you to stray, and learning how to make better choices, can help you and your family eat healthier over a lifetime.

Eating Right Obstacle #1: Continual Temptation

Thanks to the sheer pervasiveness of junk food, we’re continually tempted by things that are bad for us. In the course of a day, you might visit your local coffee shop and be enticed by the 620-calorie white chocolate mocha, go grocery shopping and drool over those brownies in the bakery case, and attend a potluck where there’s a whole table full of temptation…fried chicken, hot dogs, chips, soda, and of course, dessert. Since we are genetically programmed to seek calorie-dense foods, it takes a tremendous amount of willpower to say no to them.  

Solution: Mindfulness Practice

The key to overcoming continual temptation is deciding ahead of time what you will and will not eat. This is called mindfulness practice, because you make a choice when you are mindful of what you truly desire, instead of being swayed by the moment. While I may have the best of intentions to eat right, the moment I’m at a party, my genetic wiring takes over. Before I know it, I’ve eaten two brownies and a lemon bar—not the best nutrition. But if I give myself two minutes before I leave the house to make a conscious decision as to what I will allow myself to eat, my resolve is nearly unbreakable.

Eating Right Obstacle #2: Food Addiction

Researchers have now proven what we’ve suspected all along: not only is junk food lacking in nutrition, it’s actually addictive. Several studies published over the last few years have shown that junk food can light up the same pleasure, reward, and craving centers of the brain as illegal drugs.[1],[2],[3]  High-fat and high-glycemic foods—ones that cause blood sugar levels to spike rapidly, such as starches, sugar, and simple carbs—are particularly deadly to a balanced diet.

Solution: Healthy Substitutions

  1. Substitute sugar with stevia, a natural non-caloric sweetener derived from the stevia plant. I sweeten my morning yogurt with stevia, and it totally satisfies my desire for sweetness.
  2. Allow yourself a daily treat. For Jillian Michaels, a personal trainer on The Biggest Loser, it’s a package of Paul Newman’s Organic Peanut Butter cups (180 calories). For me, it’s 4 squares of Equal Exchange Very Dark Chocolate after lunch and dinner (186 calories total).
  3. Make baked foods taste fried. Coat onion rings, potato slices, or even fish first with flour, then with egg, and finally with panko breadcrumbs. Pop into the oven at 450 degrees for 10-20 minutes, and you’ll feel like you’re cheating when you’re not.

Eating Right Obstacle #3: Dining Out

Even if we have a genuine desire to eat a balanced diet, modern life puts so many demands on us that it’s hard to find the time to prepare healthy foods. So we end up eating out—a lot. In fact, Americans now eat 50 percent of our meals outside the home and one in five breakfasts at McDonald’s.[4] Unfortunately, restaurants’ top priority is that your food taste good, not that it be healthy.

Solution: Eat Out Wisely

It would be easy for me to tell you to eat out less and stay home and cook more. And that’s certainly a worthy goal to aim for. But you already know that. So here are some tips for healthy eating when dining out.

  1. Play musical food. Order one fewer dishes than there are people in your party, and then share them all.
  2. Avoid kids’ menus. There’s very little nutrition in mac ‘n’ cheese or a PB&J sandwich. Ordering off the adult menu is a great way to broaden kids’ tastes, too.
  3. Watch the liquid calories. It’s mindbogglingly easy to drink too many calories, so ditch the soda, fruit drinks, and lemonade, and just drink plain water or milk.
  4. Go splitsies. Sometimes we overeat just because we don’t want anything to go to waste. So if you indulge, split the damage by sharing an order of fries or a dessert among the whole family.
  5. Practice portion control. We get full sooner than we think, so stop eating before you feel 100 percent full and see if you get hungry again soon. Chances are, you won’t.

What are your strategies for eating right? Please share!

 

Sources:

 

[1] Lennerz Belinda. Food addiction: how processed food makes you eat more. The Conversation. August 19, 2013. http://theconversation.com/food-addiction-how-processed-food-makes-you-eat-more-15747

[2] Klein, Sarah. Fatty foods may cause cocaine-like addiction. CNN Health. March 30, 2014. http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/03/28/fatty.foods.brain/

[3] Brundige, Wendy and Eric Noll. The Science of Food Cravings. ABC News. Nov. 14, 2009. http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/Weekend/junk-food-addictive-illegal-drugs/story?id=9083548

[4] Hyman, Mark. How Eating at Home Can Save Your Life. The Huffington Post. January 9, 2011. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-mark-hyman/family-dinner-how_b_806114.html

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