The Delicious Dinner Diet

By Nicci Micco, January/February 2010

A tried-and-true approach to losing weight the healthy way.

1. Find your magic number—like this: Multiply your current body weight by 12. (That’s what you need to maintain your weight.) Then, subtract 500 from that number to lose a pound a week, 1,000 to lose two. (If your result is less than 1,200 calories, bump your goal up to that level. It’s very difficult to meet your nutrient needs eating less than that.)

2. Make a plan. What will you eat for breakfast? For lunch? For snacks? According to one study published in Obesity Research, a menu plan for the whole day really does help you lose weight. Perhaps it’s because it forces you to keep healthier foods on hand. In the study, people who had menu plans were more likely to keep nutritious low-calorie foods, such as fruits and vegetables, stocked at home than those who didn’t. Planning ahead also helps to keep your eating on schedule: if you already know what you’re having for lunch (and it’s waiting for you in the fridge), you’re less likely to let 6 or 7 hours pass without having something to eat—a situation that usually results in eating too much when you finally do sit down to a meal.

3. Avoid portion distortion. When you’re trying to lose weight, learning to size up portions accurately is an important skill to master. According to Wansink’s research, people tend to underestimate calorie intake by 20 to 40 percent. To combat “portion distortion,” many weight-loss experts suggest using a kitchen scale or measuring cups to make sure you’re getting the “right” number of calories—and not more. But whipping out measuring cups at meals may feel, well, obsessive. (And downright awkward at someone else’s house.) There are other ways to keep an eye on portions. You might try the “Rule of Thumb” method, which uses your hand as a reference. If you’re a relatively small-framed woman, 1 teaspoon equals the tip of your thumb (to the middle joint); 1 tablespoon is the size of your thumb and 1 cup is about the size of your fist. Obviously this isn’t a precise way of portioning—and the margin of error is greater the bigger your hand is—but it’ll work in a pinch. It might be a good technique to try when you’re eating out or at a friend’s house. When you’re at home, you’re using the same bowls and utensils over and over again. Why not find out how much they hold? Just once, measure out the amount of soup that your ladle holds. If it’s 3⁄4 cup you’ll know forever that two scoops equal a satisfying 11⁄2-cup serving. On the flipside, you can measure out a given portion of a particular favorite food and serve it in the dish you regularly use when you eat that food. Once you know that one serving of cereal reaches only halfway up your bowl, you’ll know to stop there. (This is a good trick to try with wineglasses too.)

4. Write what you bite. Studies show that writing down everything you eat helps you lose weight. Buy a journal and jot things down. In your diary, include what you ate, how much and the calorie count. You might also note where you ate or how you felt. The more detailed your notes are, the more they help. One way to ensure that you don’t exceed your “magic number” is to fill out your food diary before you eat anything. That’s right: Write in what you’re going to have for breakfast, for lunch, for snacks and for dinner—making sure it tallies up to your calorie goal or just a tad below (don’t skimp).

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