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“Most people need to eat a bigger breakfast,” Gochnour says. “Even on a calorie deficit of 1,500 calories, you still can have 3,500 calorie meals.”
A 2012 study found that dieters who ate a large breakfast that included a sweet dessert lost 37 pounds more over a period of eight months than people who consumed the same number of calories during the day but had a small low-carb diet.
But nutritionists are not convinced. Dr. Young says she “totally disagrees” because some people just can’t have sugar and having a sugary treat in the morning is likely to make you crave more sweets throughout the day.
“Just like any diet,” Gochnour says, “If you are consuming fewer calories at the end of the day and a dessert fits in that, then more power to you.” But there are more nutrient dense ways to fuel your body than having dessert, and when on a calorie deficit, nutrient density is really your best friend, he adds. “So why would you want to ignore it?
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Clenching your fists to control a particular food desire may work for some people, but what really matters is thinking about the emotions that led to the craving. “Sometimes we don't realize the steps up the cliff that lead to the edge of the cliff until we are there, and if people have associated food with a feeling already, indulging those cravings tend to solve the needs of those feelings,” Gochnour says. Think about whether you’re really hungry and you may just realize that it’s a false alarm.
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Sometimes after you’ve had a delicious meal you don’t feel quite full and want more of the tasty food. Chewing gum can help with not feeling so hungry, Gochnour says, if you are the type of person who wants your mouth to be occupied without calories. “Keep it to sugar free gum,” he adds. Studies have found that chewing gum can reduce calorie intake and increase energy expenditure.
But if you are still hungry after your meal, it could be because you were undereating earlier in the day, like skipping breakfast or having a small bar for lunch, Gochnour adds. “If you have to make up 1,000 calories at dinner (and you aren't a highly active individual who needs those calories), maybe take a look at the other parts of the day first. If you aren't hungry and you want more and the rest of your day was nutritionally adequate, it could be a sign of eating for non-nutritive reasons.”
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People who have a small soup or a healthy salad before a main course end up eating less, Dr. Young says. “People don’t want to feel deprived,” she adds, and the fiber in the green vegetables and beans in your salad will help you feel full. Studies have shown that eating a low-calorie soup or salad at the start of a meal is a good way to limit hunger and reduce meal energy intake.
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“There are two parts to nutrition science: What and how much,” Gochnour says. “How much is a pretty big part of nutrition and is the problem in the U.S. where people have no idea how much they should have or just don't care.” The body needs to support itself and is running 24/7, so having some food throughout the day is probably a better strategy than having it all at once, he adds.
“We have become so used to large portion sizes that nobody really knows what a healthy portion of food really is,” Tanzer says. “The body can only process a certain amount of food at a time. This is determined by activity level and age. Eating moderate amounts of healthy foods helps keep your blood sugar from fluctuating throughout the day, which keep you energized and focused,” he adds.
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It is possible to have too much of a good thing. “Many athletes can eat ‘too healthy’ in that they will not meet their macronutrient needs before they get full on ‘healthy food,’” Gochnour says. “What people think is healthy food tends to be low on calorie density and high on nutrient density, such as a vegetable, but for many athletes, having pizza might be better for them than having a small salad with the dressing on the side.”
“Despite being healthy, even too much fruit/vegetables can cause digestive discomfort,” Tanzer says. “When it comes to things like juicing, one can juice 10 carrots, but can the average person eat 10 carrots at one time? Probably not. This should tell you that maybe the body isn’t designed to handle all of the carbohydrates and other nutrients that 10 juiced carrots provide.
Avoid a high quantity of acidic fruits like oranges because they can lead to reflux, which can result in damage to the esophagus in the long-term. Also, too much tuna can lead to dangerously high mercury levels.
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“Foods that are bad to have a lot of include the snack foods that aren't found on the perimeter of the grocery store,” Gochnour says. “Many of these are low on nutrient density, not as filling as whole grains, and may have additives that have been shown to increase risk of heart disease like trans fats.” There is no safe level of consumption of trans fat, and it should be reduced to as little as possible in the diet, he adds.
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“Bread is not a bad food,” Gochnour says. “It is important to look at what the whole day looks like rather than obsess over what happens at night because someone (not sure who) said that eating after 7 p.m. is bad for you.”
You should stay away from white bread, Dr. Young says. It has no fiber which is what helps you stay full.
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“I've seen some clients do celebrity cleanses and such, but I would never recommend these as sound, rounded ways to eat,” Gochnour says. If you cut out food, you will lose weight. If you add it back, which is almost always the case, you will gain it back. “These sorts of quick fix diets are not worth most people's time or health,” he adds.
“Having been a nutritionist for over 18 years I have seen it all,” Tanzer says, “From the cabbage soup diet, to the 10 minute abs exercise.” “What I have seen to be the most effective long-term weight management solution is establishing a healthy eating plan consisting of real food,” he adds.
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“If someone is completely sedentary, they can experience mild weight loss just from becoming regularly active,” Gochnour says.
The good news for people who don’t like to work out is that they are doing it every time they walk. Nobody thinks of this aerobic activity as an exercise because more than 7 billion people do it daily and it’s not difficult. A 2011 study from the University of Utah basically proved that people are made to walk. Researchers had different athletes run in different styles while measuring their oxygen levels at all times. The result was that walking – not running – was most efficient way to stay in shape and lose weight while also being easier on the body.
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If there was one thing Gochnour could cut one this from everyone’s diet, it would be alcohol. “It is just empty calories, but people drink it for spirit, and I understand that,” he adds. “The studies that say moderate alcohol drinking, defined as one serving for women and two servings for men per day (1 serving = 12 fl oz beer, 5 fl oz wine, or 1.5 fl oz liquor), is good for you are confounded by the social aspects of alcohol, which are also considered healthy.” Being with people and having fun is healthy.
But “drinking something that forces your liver to detoxify you immediately ahead of processing other calories is probably not good for us,” Gochnour says. “It can increase pro-oxidant absorption (the opposite of antioxidant) and impair B-vitamin absorption as well.” Alcohol also dehydrates you because it requires water to metabolize.
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Tanzer would ban excess refined sugar such as that found in soda, juice and other junk food in people’s diets. “Excess consumption of refined sugar is a major contributor to the increased incidence of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. When excess sugar makes up a large portion of your calories, you increase your risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”
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Credit card payments increase unhealthy food purchases, according to a study. This is because giving away actual bills is psychologically grimmer than simply swiping a credit card. You actually see the money go away. People who used debit or credit cards were considerably more likely to make unintended and spontaneous food choices.
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“Many people don't eat protein at breakfast at all, so the last time they had protein was dinner the night before, and then they don't eat till lunch. It is a long period of undernourishment with respect to protein,” Gochnour says. Good protein-rich choices for breakfast include eggs, oats, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt and milk.
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“They are full of unsaturated fats, vegetarian protein, and micronutrients,” Gochnour says. “Many vegetarians forget to have nuts and seeds daily as well even though they should serve as a major source of nutrient density for them.” Almonds are a great choice; a new study, and the first of its kind, takes a closer look at how these particular nuts affect the digestive health and immune function. The bottom line is that if you add a total of between 0.5 ounces (for kids) and 1.5 ounces (for adults) of almonds in anything you eat throughout the day you are doing a tremendous favor to your overall diet quality and gut microbiota, which in turn may impact the immune system and general health.
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Generally speaking, if you work out too much without fueling your body for it, the body will slow down until you can continue doing your activity. “Your goal isn't to do the activity though. You want to lose weight, and you're spinning your wheels trying to run it off at the gym,” Gochnour says. “There is something called adaptive thermogenesis, where the body conserves dietary calories to fuel muscles during low intake and high activity at the sacrifice of other healthy bodily functions.” The body thinks a crisis is coming because you’re overworking it and will store its fat (energy) as a defense mechanism. The result is that you won’t be losing weight.
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Switching to healthier versions of your favorite foods, such as low-fat pizza slices with vegetables as toppings, may be a good idea. “It depends if the person is very overweight/obese or near their ideal body weight,” Gochnour says. For the very overweight/obese, small changes lead to huge results, but for someone near their ideal body weight, the bar may be set a bit higher for meaningful changes that cause results.
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Smelling peppermint may help curb your hunger and calorie intake, according to a 2008 study. Participants who inhaled peppermint oil every 2 hours for five days experienced less hunger and fewer cravings than those who didn’t use the oil. Other research has found similar results. Researchers asked 3,193 overweight people (mostly women) aged 18-64 to inhale a variety of smells, including banana, green apple, vanilla, and peppermint, three times in each nostril whenever they were hungry. After six months, the participants in the study lost an average of five pounds a month, or 30 pounds in total.
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“Make sure it fits in your calorie budget for fats, specifically saturated fats,” Gochnour says. Most cheese is high in saturated fat. Even on a calorie deficit for weight loss, you could make it fit. But if the goal is to lose fat, then engaging in a progressive resistance strength training program can reduce your body fat percentage without a change in weight. “When gaining muscle, a calorie surplus is needed, so cheese more easily fits during strength training than it may on a weight loss program,” he adds.
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Studies have shown that people who drink more water every day maintain the same healthy weight and lose extra pounds if they have to. Drinking water is linked to an increase in the number of calories the body burns while it’s resting. Water also may reduce the appetite. That’s why many people are advised to first drink a glass of water when they feel hungry. Hunger and thirst are often confused.