After months of drinking too much champagne and trading workout sessions for parties, many of us are itching to get back into a healthier routine. But jumping in head first is no cake walk (we wish it was, literally). Which is why we prefer small health swaps that add up to make a big difference. So we turned to Ilyse Schapiro and Hallie Rich, authors of a brand new book that is getting a lot of buzz called Should I Scoop Out My Bagel? ($10, amazon.com).
In the book, registered dietician Schapiro and health expert Rich provide answers to some of the most commonly asked nutrition and fitness questions, so we picked their brains for eight ways to get us back on the health bandwagon—and back into our skinny jeans:
Do Scoop Your Bagel
Since bagels tend to be low in fiber and protein and very high in carbs and sodium, scooping won’t leave you missing anything important. However, it will help you cut excess calories and carbs—but only if you throw out the dough you scooped. If you refuse to scoop a bagel, that’s OK, too. In that case, we suggest eating half the bagel and limiting the toppings, or try a flagel, deli thin, or mini bagel instead.
Be Careful with Salads
Salads aren’t automatically a healthy or low-calorie choice. To figure out how yours ranks, start by taking an inventory of what you’ve put in your bowl: what kinds of toppings, how much dressing, and how big is it? A good rule to follow when eating a salad is to stick to nutritious greens, like spinach, romaine, arugula, kale or mesclun. Pile on unlimited veggies, but avoid peas and corn, as those tend to be starchy. Watch the extras such as cheese, nuts, seeds, crunchy things (like wontons, noodles, croutons, bacon bits) and dried fruits (raisins, craisins). Choose a lean protein, like grilled chicken, shrimp, turkey, tofu, eggs, or salmon, and avoid fried, breaded, and processed meats. Try to get dressings on the side and stick to two tablespoons or less.
Don’t Skip Meals
It is important to eat three balanced meals every day. Don’t skip meals earlier in the day in attempt to “save” your calories for an indulgent lunch or dinner. Always eat breakfast within 60 to 90 minutes of waking up, and then have something to eat every 3 to 4 hours after that (stopping with suppertime). Eating regular balanced meals throughout the day keeps your metabolism going and blood sugar stable. You will also be less likely to overindulge later on.
Watch Your Alcohol
Alcohol has no nutritional value; therefore, it contains empty calories. While you don’t have to eliminate alcohol, try to keep it to no more than four to six drinks per week if you’re trying to keep your weight down. Try to avoid sweet and fancy cocktails, like those that have sugar on the rim. These are usually filled with tons of sugar, fat and calories. Instead, stick with ultra low-carb beer, a glass or two of wine, or mixed drinks that use club soda or sparkling water (you can also try adding lemon or lime). Straight drinks can also be a good option but just remember that, ounce for ounce, the stronger the alcohol content, the heftier the calorie count, so be mindful of how much you down.
Check Cereal Labels
While we tend to think most sugary and unhealthy cereals come in crazy colors and are marketed toward kids, that’s just not the case anymore. Even though many brands might imply they’re good for you, it’s important to turn the boxes over and look at the ingredients to see what they’re really made of and from. For example, Raisin Bran and Kashi Go Lean Crunch have more sugar than Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Frosted Mini Wheats. In addition to sugar, make sure to look at the serving size (you have to be sure you’re comparing to apples to apples) and check out the ingredients. Watch out for artificial sweeteners, flavors, and food dyes. Also, don’t fall for “made with whole grains.” If it doesn’t list 100-percent whole grain, it might not have that many of them.
It’s OK To Treat Yourself
There is no reason to deprive yourself as long as you keep it to a small sampling or few bites. The healthiest options would be a bowl of fruit, frozen grapes, Greek yogurt with berries, or an apple with peanut butter. However, there are times when we know that won’t cut it. On those nights, try to keep it to 150 calories, which is equivalent to two to three squares of dark chocolate, a couple of small cookies, or an individual chocolate pudding. You could also choose a few spoonfuls of ice cream or sorbet, a baked apple, a popsicle, or even a small brownie. The key here is or not and.
Keep a Journal
If you don’t already keep a dietary log, this holiday season is the perfect time to start. When people write down what they eat, they are likely to consume fewer calories. Keeping a journal is a great way to stay organized and feel empowered.
While this time of year is always busy, there is no excuse for letting your exercise plan go to the wayside. Make time for a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise 3 to 5 days a week. If you can’t get to the gym, aim to get in at least 10,000 steps for the day! Staying active will not only burn calories but it will keep your energy levels up, boost your confidence, and reduce stress.