By: Jeanette Moninger
If you don't eat red meat or snack after 8 p.m., it's time to loosen up. The secret to losing weight is finding your happy medium (or medium rare). Get ready to break a few rules and lose weight, too.
Rule #1: Swear Off Red Meat to Cut Calories
Smarter strategy: Enjoy an occasional hamburger for the protein -- and yumminess -- it provides. "Protein takes longer to digest, so it keeps you full," says Jonny Bowden, PhD, a weight-loss coach and author of The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth. Red meat gets a bad rap because certain cuts (like those labeled "prime") are high in artery-clogging saturated fat. So keep it lean with "round" and "loin" options (as in top round, sirloin, and tenderloin) and ground beef that's 5 percent or less fat. Eat no more than two servings, or five ounces, of lean meat daily (a serving is about the size of a deck of cards) and no more than 18 ounces a week. Vary your options with other protein powerhouses, like fish, poultry, and beans.
Rule #2: Don't Eat After Dinner
Smarter strategy: Your body doesn't magically store more fat and calories after a certain hour, so if you work out in the evening or feel famished, there's no need to go to bed with a grumbling tummy. "You can slow your metabolism if you don't give your body fuel when it needs it," says Christine Mastrangelo, RD, founder of New England Nutrition Associates. The trick is to choose a healthy snack, such as whole wheat pita chips and hummus or three cups of air-popped popcorn. If you nibble at night, Mastrangelo suggests that you start each day by planning ahead for those calories. "You'll be less likely to reach for traditional late-night munchies, such as potato chips and ice cream, when you know you've allotted only a small number of calories for your evening snack," she explains.
Rule #3: Hold Your Ground Against Cravings
Smarter strategy: Indulge yourself -- in moderation. Sure, you can try to substitute your way out of a craving, first by noshing on an apple, then a couple of graham crackers, followed by a fat-free pudding. But you'll probably end up consuming more calories than if you had simply enjoyed a few squares of chocolate or whatever it is you really want, says weight-loss expert Kara Mohr, PhD, owner of the fitness and nutrition company Mohr Results, Inc. "Psychologically, we're tempted by what we can't have, which is why deprivation makes us desire 'forbidden' foods more than usual," she says. When you do give in, odds are good that you'll devour more than you should, according to a study in the International Journal of Eating Disorders. Researchers at the University of Toronto found that women who were deprived of chocolate for a week experienced more cravings and ate more of the sweet stuff than those who weren't denied it.
Rule #4: Bread is the Enemy
Smarter strategy: Despite what disciples of the low-carb craze profess, bread -- the whole-grain kind, of course -- is an ally in the battle of the bulge, because the complex carbohydrates it contains provide filling fiber. "It's the easily digested refined carbs -- the ones in white bread, crackers, and pastries -- that lead to weight gain. They don't fill you up, so you get hungry quickly and end up consuming more calories," Mohr says. And there's a good reason you crave carbs: They are your body's preferred source of energy. "A drastic cutback only sets you up to OD on mac and cheese or chips later," Mohr adds.
Rule #5: Be Afraid of Fat
Focus on healthy fats -- the unsaturated mono, poly, and omega-3s in fish, nuts, seeds, and olive oil. The real bad guys, saturated and trans fats, which clog your arteries and increase your risk for heart disease, are found in foods you shouldn't be eating a lot of anyway: chips, crackers, fried foods, butter, and fatty meats. "Healthy fats help your body break down and absorb nutrients like vitamins A and E and beta-carotene in fruits and vegetables," Mastrangelo says. In fact, one study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that you won't reap the full nutritional rewards of salads and raw veggies without a little healthy fat thrown into the mix. Try a handful of walnuts (that's about 12), a tablespoon of sunflower seeds, or a drizzle of olive oil-based salad dressing.
Rule #6: Avoid the Drive-Thru at All Costs
Smarter strategy: You only think an energy bar or protein shake is a better bet than a fast food fix; a real meal will more fully satisfy both your hunger and your need to feed your face, as well as provide protein, fiber, and nutrients. Thankfully, most chains these days offer healthy options. "Skip the cheese, mayo, and creamy sauces; ask for grilled, not fried, dishes; and order the smallest size available -- a single hamburger, not a double, and nothing supersized," Mohr says. When you pull up to that window, request one of these three picks: a grilled chicken sandwich or a hamburger, either loaded with extra lettuce and tomato; or a salad with grilled chicken (get reduced-fat dressing and forgo croutons and cheese).
More from FITNESS Magazine:
By: Jeanette Moninger