Losing weight can feel like an uphill battle when you’re also a foodie. From testing new recipes for your food blog to hosting fantastic dinner parties to being the go-to parent for bake sale treats, being constantly surrounded by food when you're trying to lose weight can feel like your personal version of hell. But while it might seem like you need to give up on your love of food in order to slim down, our experts are clear: there’s no need.
In fact, JD Roth, executive producer of NBC’s "The Biggest Loser," ABC’s "Extreme Weight Loss," and host of Z Living's "The Big Fat Truth" says that food lovers may even be better equipped to shed extra pounds.
“It's easier for them in a lot of ways to make that transition to healthy living to healthy living and healthy foods, because they have a passion for food.”
Turning your passion into something that actually makes you healthier may seem tough. Luckily, our experts have some tips to make it second-nature.
1. Learn what your food tastes like.
Often, we’re so used to eating foods laden with salt and sugar that we forget what the actual food tastes like. Choosing seasonal, local produce is a great way to get flavor back, and picking high-quality foods will help you cut back on all that salt and sugar.
“We often don't realize how many things have sugar or other sweeteners added to them, including pasta sauce and salad dressings,” says Stephanie Dunne, MS, RD, CDN, IFNCP, who notes that she likes to challenge people to cut out these extra sweeteners bit by bit.
“Give your taste buds three weeks to change, and your need for extra sugar and salt will significantly diminish,” she says.
You might even find that you prefer the less sweet option, like Justin Singer, owner of a Houston-based gym and self-proclaimed chocolate lover.
“I started eating progressively darker chocolate, which has less sugar and therefore is less caloric,” he says. “Over time, my taste buds have become more geared towards very dark chocolate. A few years ago I only wanted to eat milk chocolate. Now, 50 percent cacao (somewhere between dark and milk chocolate) tastes too sweet to me.”
Even Roth, once a steadfast carnivore, found that he was able to phase his way into a plant-based diet, and now, he says, he’d never go back.
“I always get crazy when people say to me, ‘I would love to eat plant-based, but I need flavor in my food.’ Where do you think your food gets flavor from?”
Get Started Today: Try to cut back on salt, sugar, and excess sources of unhealthy fats in your diet. Have one fewer sugar in your coffee, switch to a plant-based milk in your cereal, or make your own sugar-free tomato sauce instead of using a jarred version.
2. Learn what food does in your body.
Food lovers often associate food first and foremost with how it tastes, but there’s a second, even more important criterion to consider when health is a priority: how food makes you feel.
Organic Authority Editor-in-Chief Laura Klein went through this journey herself as she discovered how important it is for her to eat a whole food diet that includes a lot of protein first thing in the morning.
“You begin to understand how food affects the body and brain,” she says.
Once you begin to feel these differences, she says, “it’s easy to say no."
“Once we learn to love everything about food, then our choices will change,” she explains. “We make choices based on everything about the food, and not just the action of putting it in our mouths and tasting it for a few seconds.”
Klein notes that once you see which foods fuel your body and your mind, you’ll also have the added benefit of feeling more satisfied and feeling fewer cravings.
“The more your body feels satisfied with the nutrients that you're eating, the less you really need to eat,” she says. “I found that the portions I was eating naturally reduced in size because I was feeling more satisfied.”
Get Started Today: Pay close attention to what you eat and when all day today. Write down what foods you eat, but also write down how you feel every few hours: hungry? Irritated? Tired? Use this information to infer which foods make you feel great and which ones don't.
3. It’s not all or nothing.
Tempering your love of food and your love of your skinny jeans is all about finding balance.
A lot of foodies, especially those who love to entertain and enjoy food with others, will begin depriving themselves when they’re alone so that they can take full advantage of these shared meals. But there’s no need! The secret is in finding foods that are high in volume and low in calories – most of which are plants.
These foods have the added benefit of taking longer to digest than other foods, according to Dr. Caroline Apovian, Director of the Nutrition and Weight Management Center at the Boston Medical Center. This, she notes, increases feelings of satiety and raises your metabolic rate, meaning your body naturally burns more calories.
It's no surprise that chefs, who are surrounded by rich food they need to taste 24/7, manage their weight by choosing these foods. Cat Cora, world-renowned chef, restaurateur, author, TV personality and philanthropist, notes that when she’s at home, some of her favorite dishes to make include “a lot of fresh fish, whole grains, local vegetables that are lightly sautéed with extra virgin olive oil and lemon, maybe a fresh herb sauce like chimichurri.”
And making this your norm means that you can also enjoy little splurges, like high-quality wine, cheese, and chocolate (which, Singer notes, have a self-regulating aspect thanks to their higher price tag).
Klein likes to think of it as an 80-20 tradeoff. She holds herself to more stringent standards for weekday breakfasts and lunches and allows herself to splurge a bit more on the weekends, for example.
The important thing is not to over-restrict, which can backfire.
“I don't think people should be on a diet,” says Roth. “I know that all they're thinking is, ‘I can't wait for this diet to be over.’ And if that's the scenario in your head, and I think it's in every dieter's head, when your diet's over, you're going back to the exact habits that got you where you were.”
And above all, don’t beat yourself up if you slip, and give yourself the space for success.
“It is going to take some self-discipline, and there are going to be times that you fail,” says Klein. “You don't kick yourself, you just say, 'you know what, next go-round, I'm gonna do a lot better.'”
Get Started Today: Hold yourself accountable to one or two lifestyle changes: for example, tell yourself that you are always going to eat a protein-rich breakfast like two poached eggs and half an avocado, or stock up on fruit and tell yourself that that's all you'll be enjoying between meals.
Getting into the habit of drinking water all the time will do wonders for your weight for a number of reasons. Firstly, many of us misidentify hunger as thirst.
“You could be thinking, ‘I'm hungry, I'm hungry, I'm hungry,’" says Klein. "But you actually might just need water.”
Singer recommends drinking two glasses of water before sitting down to eat.
“It’s good for you and it makes you feel more full,” he says. “Portion control is a big part of not consuming too many calories, which promotes weight loss.”
But there is also an oral fixation aspect. If you’re often surrounded by food, there could be a desire to snack without even being hungry. Having a glass of water within reach keeps these desires in check.
Get Started Today: Give yourself a fun water glass or Klean Kanteen and find a permanent spot for it on your desk to make drinking water mindless.
5. Don’t be afraid of evangelizing your friends.
A lot of people who are changing their way of eating may be scared of sharing the news. It’s tough to constantly have people telling you, “You don’t need to go on a diet!” or “I could never cut out (wine, cheese, chocolate, bread, etc.) – it’s my favorite!”
But you don’t need to be afraid of sharing your love of healthy food with your friends.
“It's all how you want to frame it,” says Roth. “I host some of the greatest dinner parties around, and nobody leaves and heads to McDonald's because they're unfulfilled.”
“You can change or reframe what your image of entertaining is, and it doesn't always have to have a cookie cake at the end of every meal," he says. "It doesn't always have to have a meal filled with carcinogens and cancer-causing foods to enjoy yourself.”
Get Started Today: Invite your friends over for a kitchen garden harvest party or a pot luck focused on a single seasonal ingredient, like zucchini.
6. Learn to separate your love of food from your love of eating.
Just because you love food – growing it, shopping for it, preparing it, talking about it – doesn’t mean you need to be eating all the time.
“As a person who was a foodie first and became a dietitian well after I established my love of food, I can tell you unequivocally that people don't have to abandon their love of food in order to lose weight and be healthy,” says Dunne. “But this is different than loving to eat.”
You can cook, have a dinner party, or test recipes without needing to eat everything on your plate. Our experts note that at the end of the day, food is about the human experience of sharing, and you can do that without overeating.
“What's represented in all of those meals, all of those sit-downs, is an emotional connection to human beings, and that's way more important than the food that you serve,” says Roth.
Get Started Today: At your next dinner party (or family dinner!) make a conscious decision to talk with the people around you and focus less on the food itself.
We’re often doing so many things at once that we barely even realize what we’re eating. Taking the time to enjoy what you’re eating will help you feel more fulfilled.
“Pause, give yourself a moment to appreciate the food you are going to eat, and focus on the food - just the food - when you are eating,” says Beryl Krinsky, MBA, MS, RDN, LDN, B.Komplete Founder & CEO.
She has a few tips for being more conscious of your eating, like taking a couple of deep breaths before you eat to help you slow down and making eating the only thing you do at a time (that means putting down your phone and turning off the TV).
Apovian agrees, noting that it's important to focus on savoring your food, noticing its taste, texture, and smell.
“Our bodies take up to 20 minutes to register that they are full," she says. "Chewing slowly is an excellent way to give our bodies time during a meal to send signals that we’ve had enough."
She even references a study published in the journal Pediatric Obesity where participants lost up to 5.7 percent of body weight after six months by simply chewing each bite of food for 30 seconds.
Get Started Today: Be more present when you're enjoying your food, taking the time to chew it and enjoy its flavor and texture.
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