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Forget dieting; learn how to eat healthy instead

Eating well doesn’t mean depriving yourself. Have steak. Just have right porti(right). Another tip: Start day with solid breakfast you

Eating well doesn’t mean depriving yourself. Have a steak. Just have the right portion (right). Another tip: Start the day with a solid breakfast and you won’t want a bigger steak.

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Updated: February 5, 2012 8:02AM

Remember that New Year’s resolution you made — just four days ago — to lose weight in 2012? Even though you’ve already ignored your self-imposed ultimatums to diet and exercise, there’s good news: You still can achieve your goal.

Begin by scratching that nasty four-letter word — diet — from your vocabulary.

Instead, focus on a healthy-eating plan. This strategy is based on choosing foods lower in calories, fat, sugar and sodium and higher in fiber and protein. You’ll also learn tricks about portion control while familiarizing yourself with how to make healthier swaps and substitutions in recipes.

“No one is successful through deprivation dieting; instead your changes need to be longer lasting, they need to become lifestyle changes,” says Sheena Chihak, the Des Moines registered dietitian who edited the just-published Better Homes and Gardens The Ultimate Low-Calorie Book (Wiley), which includes tips and 400 healthy recipes for everyday family favorites including pizza, casseroles and desserts.

“Bottom line, you have to face the fact that your weight problems are the result of what you eat and how much you eat. Exercise is important, but it is more about what you’re eating; the calorie-burn from exercise is a bonus,” Chihak states.

Confronting reality — facing how much you weigh, how much you eat, what you eat — is imperative, says Hannah El-Amin, a registered dietitian at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

Today, 13 is a lucky number. The dietitians recommend these 13 steps to a healthier you:

1. First, weigh yourself.2. Determine how many calories you need.

(To maintain your weight, Chihak says to multiply your weight in pounds by 13 if you’re only moderately active. To lose 1 pound a week, you need to reduce your calories by 500 a day.

3. Keep a running diary of what you eat. El-Amin stresses the importance of being honest with yourself. “Your diary needs to accurately reflect too many fat foods, large portions, the absence of vegetables and fruits, sodas with meals, too many lattes, high-calorie snacks, candy, no breakfast.”

4. Attack easiest-to-solve problems first. “From those daily diary negatives, choose the two easiest problems and fix those before attacking the next problem. Humans have a tendency to choose the most difficult problem, struggle, and then say, ‘I’m a failure’ before giving up. It’s important — really important — to set yourself up to succeed not to fail,” El-Amin says.

5. Begin each day with a healthy breakfast. Research shows that non-breakfast eaters eat more as the day progresses and breakfast-eaters are more successful in keeping weight off.

6. Learn to read nutrition labels. “And realize what a true serving size is,” Chihak says.

7. Substitute healthier staples and choices in your pantry, refrigerator and freezer. El-Amin’s list of smarter options include lots of beans, high-quality whole-grain crackers (such as sesame and rye), canned salmon and tuna, reduced-fat salsas, hummus, all-fruit spreads, flavored mustards, gourmet marinara sauces, couscous, whole wheat pastas, brown rice, barley, quinoa and fresh vegetables and fruits.

8. Tackle portion control. Chihak says it’s no coincidence that waistlines have expanded as plate sizes have increased — from 9 or 10 inches 10 years ago to 12 or more inches today. She recommends down-sizing plates, bowls, cups and glasses at home. Splitting a dinner or eating only half of a dinner (and packaging leftovers for another day) are good strategies while eating out.

9. Stop eating before you feel stuffed. “The trick is to stop as soon as you feel even a little bit full,” Chihak says, pointing out it takes 20 minutes for your brain to realize you are full.

10. Re-proportion your plate. Half of your plate should be vegetables and fruits, one-quarter should be protein, and one-quarter starch, according to El-Amin.

11. Counter mindless eating. El-Amin says to refrain from eating in front of a television or computer. “And when it comes to seconds, get a new plate and place the dirty plate to the side but keep it on the table; get a second drink and put the used glass to the side but still visible. Soon, you should be able to see that you are consuming far more than you thought.”

12. Educate yourself about healthier substitutions. For example, Chihak suggests substituting ¼ cup diced raw tomatoes for ¼ cup drained sundried tomatoes (packed in oil) in omelets; fresh fruits for dried fruits; a 110-calorie thin whole wheat bagel for a 260-calorie plain bagel in a sandwich; 1 ounce part-skim mozzarella cheese for 1 ounce Cheddar cheese on a salad; 1 tablespoon almond slices for croutons as a salad topper; 2 tablespoons non-fat Greek yogurt for 2 tablespoons sour cream as a soup-topper; ¼ cup whole wheat panko bread crumbs for ¼ cup french-fried onions as a casserole-topper, and ¼ cup toasted chopped walnuts for ½ cup untoasted chopped walnuts in baking recipes.

13. Have patience and perseverance. “Be realistic. It’s gonna take time to make lifestyle changes,” Chakin reminds.

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