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K-State Today

January 18, 2013

Food pro: Small changes support successful weight loss

Submitted by Nancy B. Peterson

Losing weight, choosing foods that contribute to health and making time for family meals are familiar New Year’s resolutions. While good intentions can be plentiful this time of year, Sandy Procter, a Kansas State University nutrition educator, suggests focusing on a reasonable goal.

Resolving to lose 20, 30 or 40 pounds can be overwhelming, said Procter, who is a registered dietitian with K-State Research and Extension and state coordinator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s expanded food and nutrition education and family nutrition programs.  

With an average holiday season weight gain estimated at four pounds, Procter suggests focusing on newly-added pounds first, rather than a larger goal of pounds that accumulated over the years.

Losing four pounds sounds doable and after losing those four, continue on, said the nutrition specialist who advocates gradual changes over time that lead to weight loss and improved health.

Planning is an important part of the process, said Procter, who recommends choosing menus, making a grocery list before shopping and ensuring that the list includes healthy choices, such as fresh or dried fruit for snacks.

She also recommends making breakfast, which provides the calories needed for morning activities, a priority. A typical breakfast should offer about 300 calories, said Procter, who added that people who skip breakfast to save calories usually consume more calories during the day.

If time is short, set out breakfast dishes and non-perishable foods the night before, said Procter, who recommends a breakfast that includes three food groups, such as whole grain cereal, low-fat milk and fruit, or an egg, whole grain toast and a glass of milk or 100 percent fruit juice.

Traditional breakfast foods provide essential nutrients, such as Vitamin C, folic acid, calcium and fiber, said Procter, who noted a breakfast–to-go can be an option. Her suggestions include a yogurt parfait with fruit and cereal, peanut butter sandwich, or leftovers such as a piece of pizza as occasional breakfast choices.

In planning breakfast, noon and evening meals, and snacks to provide energy between meals without adding empty calories — foods with little, if any nutritional value, Procter advises:

  • Read food labels. Become familiar with nutritional content and portion (or serving) sizes.
  • Make it easy on yourself by focusing on food preparation when time is available and incorporating leftovers into midday and evening meals. Examples might include preparing a large recipe for soup or a stew and freezing part for future meals; roasting a whole chicken and using part of the cooked poultry to make chicken soup, a pot pie or chicken salad, or slow-cooking a beef brisket and slicing leftovers for sandwiches.
  • Plan to eat at home, by preparing a simple, satisfying recipe that often can be completed in less time than it would take to drive to a restaurant. Eating at home can save money, allow control over the size of portions and choice of ingredients, and create time for family members to share responsibilities for meal preparation while learning about food and its preparation.  
  • Reserve restaurant meals for special occasions.
  • Use home cooking as an opportunity to introduce the family to new foods by occasionally adding whole grain breads or pastas to the menu or a new vegetable to a soup or stew.
  • View mealtime as a time to connect with family and friends while sitting at a table and enjoying a meal without watching television or other distractions, such as talking on the phone.
  • Take a break for a planned snack, instead of reaching for food in a bag or box while completing another task, which often leads to eating two, three or more times the recommended portion.
  • Chew food slowly. Stop eating when no longer hungry, rather than eating until you are full.
  • Set a good example for children by eating a variety of health-promoting foods and appropriate portions at regular meals and snacks planned to fill the gap between meals.
  • Make time for adequate rest to bolster the immune system and keep metabolism operating on an even keel. Current recommendations for adults are seven to nine hours.
  • Get 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five or more days. To increase physical activity gradually, park at the far side of the lot and walk the rest of the way to work or an errand, or take the stairs, rather than the elevator. As the weather improves, start walking around the block on a short errand or at a break from work.  

“Small changes can make a big difference,” Procter said. “Writing down what you eat, and how much, can usually help people see where they need to pay attention to control their calories.”

Trimming as few as 125 calories a day can result in losing a pound a month or 12 pounds a year; trimming twice that much, 250 calories a day, could yield a 24-pound weight loss this year.  

Combining increased physical activity with purposeful eating can turn a resolution into a success story for the new year, Procter said.

More information about food, nutrition and health, grocery shopping and managing family meals is available at K-State Research and Extension offices throughout the state.