Eat That- It will Spoil Your Dinner

By: David A Fein, MD
Medical Director

The holiday season has ended, leaving most of us with a couple more pounds than we had just a few months ago. Even if you managed to get through the season without adding weight, the average adult in the USA gains 2 to 3 pounds per year. Two pounds in any given year may not be a big deal, but from age 30 to 50 that means an extra 40 pounds!

One pound of fat is 3,500 calories. So, gaining 2 pounds a year means you have taken in an extra 7,000 calories over 365 days. That’s roughly just an extra 20 calories per day! That’s the equivalent of about 4 M&M’s per day. It is probably less than one extra fork-full of your dinner.

Avoiding just a few dozen calories per day can make a big difference in your weight in the years to come. So, here are 10 tips that can help you to shave off some of those extra calories and lose a few of those pounds without a “diet” and without going hungry.

  1. Eat Before You Eat- You mother may have thought it a bad thing that eating something before dinner would spoil your appetite. Well, mom might be right that it would do that but if you want to cut your calorie intake then eating a small, healthy snack 30-60 minutes before dinner is a good idea. Have something like an apple, banana, nuts, or yogurt. You won’t sit down to the meal as ravenously hungry. The odds are good that the calories you save at dinner will more than offset the calories in your snack.
  2. Drink Before You Eat- Before you start your lunch or dinner, drink 8-12 ounces of water or other calorie-free liquid. Most of us eat until we feel full, rather than until we have taken in a specific amount of calories. Even just a couple of mouthfuls of a meal can make a big difference over time. A big glass of water will help to make you feel full sooner.
  3. Get Your Fiber First- High fiber foods soak up water and expand. Taking a fiber supplement before you eat will help to fill your stomach sooner and make you feel full. Fiber can also help to slow the absorption of sugar into the blood. Sudden increases in blood sugar are often followed by sudden drops which make you feel hungry again sooner. So a fiber supplement not only helps you eat less at this meal, it makes you less hungry at the next meal.
  4. Eat Slowly- Your mother was right about this one. Chew your food thoroughly, don’t rush, enjoy the meal. It takes a several minutes for the digestive process to start. So, the hormonal changes in the blood that signals your brain when you have eaten enough take time. Eating quickly means you will overshoot the mark and eat more calories than you needed to shut off your appetite. Besides, eating is a social function that lowers stress and builds relationships. Savor it.
  5. No, You Can’t Have More- Put the amount of food you think you need on your plate at the start of the meal. No seconds. American portions are much bigger than the average in the rest of the world. Controlling your portion size is key to limiting calories. If you still feel hungry after eating a plate full of food, you may be eating too fast and not giving your body enough time to signal you are full. Lingering at the table to talk is terrific but don’t continue grazing just because the food is still in front of you or out of boredom.
  6. Women Aren’t Men But Restaurants Feed Them Like They Are- Many restaurants have kid’s menus. When was the last time you saw a restaurant that featured a Women’s Menu? The average woman needs about 500 calories per day less than the average man. But, restaurants give men and women the same size portions. Ladies, leave-over some of that food. Eating man-sized portions in a restaurant will be too many calories for you.
  7. Skipping A Meal Doesn’t Mean You Skip The Calories- When we want to lose weight the natural tendency is to think we save some calories by skipping breakfast or lunch. The problem is that by the time you finally eat you are likely to be so hungry that you eat more extra calories than you saved by missing a meal. The wide swings in blood sugar may also end up with you being hungry again soon after you eat. Skipping lunch and eating a large dinner is more likely to end up with you looking for a late night snack and adding even more calories than you saved earlier in the day.
  8. Your Body Doesn’t Care That It’s Healthy- There are many ways to look at the nutritional value of a particular food. We tend to think of those foods that have more nutrients, vitamins or anti-oxidants as “healthy”. When it comes to weight only one thing matters- the number of calories. A glass of orange juice may have lots of potassium and Vitamin C. It also has approximately 120 calories. When it comes to your weight, 120 calories of orange juice or fish or carrots will have exactly the same effect as 120 calories of chocolate. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that “healthy” foods have less effect on your weight.
  9. Tequila (or Wine) Doesn’t Make the Pounds Fall Off- Drinking one glass of wine a day may have some health benefits. It also has 80-120 calories. A bottle of wine is 5 servings. So, sharing a bottle at dinner can easily add 300 calories or more to your meal. The same is true for soda, juice, iced tea or any other drink that contains sugar. Those calories can make you fat but they don’t make you feel full. If you are looking for a place to trim some calories the sugar or alcohol you drink with a meal is often a good place to start.
  10. Don’t Let One Mistake Ruin A Week of Work- You have been good all week and avoided all those excess calories. You’re looking at the dessert menu and thinking that a little treat can’t hurt. But remember that every 10 calories extra that your average per day translates into one pound per year. Order that 350 calorie dessert and you just added 50 calories to your daily average for the week! That once a week dessert can translate into an extra 5 pounds a year. Make dessert an occasional treat, not a regular part of the week