Staying realistic is the best road to successful long-term low-fat eating, says Ruth Ann Carpenter, M.S., R.D., L.D., a health promotion consultant in Dallas. Extreme measures get you nowhere, except hungry and primed for a rebound into your old ways.
Carpenter lays out some important building blocks to setting realistic goals for healthy eating and weight loss: Prepare, be aware, pick a strategy, problem-solve, and if you fall down, get back up.
We'll help you meet those goals with our real-life tips.
Diet Tip 1: Prepare for Challenges
When eating out is a regular occurrence, having a healthy plan (and planning ahead) is key.
One success story is Deb Swales of Des Moines, Iowa. After learning that her cholesterol and blood pressure were too high and she was at risk for type 2 diabetes, Deb lost 48 pounds. She initially went on the OPTIFAST program, and has relearned how to think about food at home and when dining out.
Swales suggests calling ahead to the restaurant to see if special requests, such as broiling a chicken breast, are possible.
Also, if you know you're going to your favorite place or out for a favorite meal, cut back on calories during the day, but remember to have some handy, healthful snacks on hand, such as fruit, to keep you from going to dinner feeling starved and out-of-control.
Diet Tip 2: Be Aware of Hidden Fats
There are all kinds of tricks to low-fat meals -- order your dressing on the side, say no to creamy soups and sauces -- but what about the unforeseen challenges (and hidden fat)?
Diners should pay close attention to what and how they order their food. Some of the biggies to be aware of:
-- Mashed potatoes can have lots of unseen fat from butter or sour cream.
-- Vegetables can be high in fat from butter, sauces, or oils.
-- High-fat pasta is usually easy to detect -- creamy Alfredo is higher in fat than a marinara with olive oil. But also watch out also for the pasta Bolognese, which can rack up the fat calories with meats such as pancetta and sausage. This applies to any meat-based sauce. Ordering your pasta with marinara and steamed veggies is a safer bet.
-- Choose your drinks wisely, too. "Beverages are another area where fat can hide," says dietitian Ruth Ann Carpenter, M.S., R.D., L.D. "Choosing piña coladas, Kaluha and cream, or eggnog can be high in fat. Not that you can never have a piña colada again, just not every time you go out. Awareness is key."
Diet Tip 3: Pick a Healthy Strategy
Making easy substitutions in your food choices can make a big difference in fat and calories.
Consider these swaps:
-- Order thin-crust pizza with low-fat cheese and/or veggies over regular-crust with meat options.
-- For a small serving of bread, choose wheat bread over white bread.
-- Order nonfat or soy milk in place of 2 percent or whole milk in your coffee.
-- Look for foods that are poached, grilled, steamed, broiled, baked instead of fried.
-- Try a baked sweet potato instead of French fries.
Diet Tip 4: Be Ready to Solve Problems
Vending machines are a key diet deal breaker, especially when you're vulnerable to the afternoon pick-me-up. Most options behind the glass are high in fat and calories, which are deal breakers when you're trying to drop pounds.
Whether it's a snack at work, afternoon coffee, dinner out with friends, or eating on the road, establish a problem-solving mindset for success with your diet. "Take 30 seconds to look at possible options to deal with a trigger, and next time you'll be better prepared," dietitian Ruth Ann Carpenter says.
Diet Tip 5: If You Stray, Start Again
"Use slip-ups as learning opportunities," dietitian Ruth Ann Carpenter says. " 'I messed up, so what can I do differently next time?' Which is better than, 'Gee, I blew it. The heck with it.'"
You'll have weak moments, but giving up will just make it tougher when you commit to losing weight the next time.
"Low-fat is great, but you can't cut out fat totally," Carpenter says. "It helps to be realistic. Eventually, you will get there."
A support system of family, friends, or an online weight-loss group can also help keep you motivated while you lose weight.