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Monthly Archives: August 2014
We eat solo about half of the time, according to a recent report. We dine alone 60% of the time at breakfast, 55% of the time at lunch, and up to 70% of the time when eating snacks. The solitary dining trend is due in part to on-the-go lifestyles, as well as the fact that nearly one third of households consist of just one person.
Whether you live alone or with your significant other or family, you may find yourself eating in a different way when you dine by yourself. Specifically, if you’re like many of my clients, you're probably falling into some unhealthy eating traps. Here are five common dine-alone conundrums, along with practical ways to thwart them.
Relying on processed convenience food
I’ve had numerous clients tell me that they don’t make meals from scratch when they dine alone, because they think, 'why bother going to the trouble just for one person?' As a result, they find themselves relying on frozen dinners or packaged products, and that quality difference can negatively affect your waistline. One recent study found that we burn about 50% more calories metabolizing whole foods versus processed foods. In other words, it’s not just about the total calories you consume; some prep and cooking time is a worthy investment, even for a solo meal. To keep it fresh, simple, and relatively fast, consider whipping up breakfast for dinner. You can sauté fresh veggies like tomatoes, onion, spinach, and mushrooms in low sodium organic veggie broth with garlic and herbs, and then pair it with either scrambled organic eggs or mashed white beans. Serve this over a small portion of healthy starch, such as quinoa or brown rice, and top with sliced avocado for healthy fat. For more easy dinner ideas check out my previous post 5 Perfect Pasta Alternatives.
Making too much
One of the biggest challenges many of my clients face when dining solo is making more than they need, which results in eating extra portions. I know it’s really a pain, or sometimes impossible, to make just a half cup of quinoa, for example. So if you cook more than you need for a single meal, keep a BPA-free storage container at the ready to stash your surplus in the fridge. And to check yourself, consider pulling out your measuring cups and spoons. Eating just 20% more than you need meal after meal can keep you about 20 pounds heavier–so while quality food rules, managing quantity is still key for weight control.
Eating while distracted
Eating alone often involves eating while doing something else–watching TV, checking email, reading, or surfing the web. And distracted eating is a major setup for overeating. When you aren’t paying attention, it’s easy to become disconnected from how much you’re eating, or how full you feel. And when you’re out of touch with the eating experience–not noticing the aromas, flavors, and textures because you’re multitasking–you’re more likely to feel unsatisfied, which can lead to post-meal snacking. I know it may feel awkward, but when dining alone, try to sit at a table and just eat. You may be surprised at how much more you enjoy your meal, and how much more satisfied you feel. In fact, many people have told me that establishing this habit resulted in getting excited about cooking again, so they could experiment with new recipes or seasonings.
Gobbling too fast
Since dining alone isn’t social, you may be tempted to rush through a meal, in order to get onto your next task. But in addition to potentially triggering bloating and acid reflux, speed eating is a recipe for weight gain. One study of 3,000 people found that fast eaters were 84% more likely to be overweight. Set a goal to simply slow down; put your utensil or food down between bites, take a few breaths between forkfuls, and chew more thoroughly. You might even try a tool to help slow your pace, like the Eat Slower app I included in my roundup 10 Healthy Eating Apps This Nutritionist Loves.
Another common pitfall associated with eating solo is mindlessly nibbling, especially on snacks. One of my clients who often worked from home found herself grabbing whatever was within reach throughout the day, an apple from the fruit bowl, one of her son’s granola bars or hubby’s energy bars, a handful of jarred nuts…. If you're in the same boat, the best remedy is to keep food out of your sightline, and schedule your meals and snacks. When this client began working from a desk rather than a kitchen stool, and set her cell phone alarm for a designated lunch and afternoon snack time, the extra noshing went away, and so did the excess pounds.
What are your thoughts on this topic? Chat with us on Twitter by mentioning @goodhealth and @CynthiaSass.
Cynthia Sass is a nutritionist and registered dietitian with master’s degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she’s Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers NHL team and the Tampa Bay Rays MLB team, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches. Connect with Cynthia on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.Health World
In my 15+ years in private practice I don’t believe there’s a one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition and weight loss. What works for one person may not work—or feel good—for another. That’s why I believe it’s so critical to listen to your body to determine what feels best and is sustainable for you, despite how popular an approach may be, from juice cleanses and detoxes to “caveman” versus vegan diets.
Regarding one strategy that’s currently trending, intermittent fasting, I’ve seen very mixed results. Many men, particularly those who struggle with excess weight and conditions like diabetes or metabolic syndrome, have reported positive results with this semi-fasting approach. But for many women I’ve counseled, any type of fasting—whether it be overnight for 16 hours every night, or capping calories at 500 two days a week—has seriously backfired. If you’re thinking of giving it a try, here are four potential unwanted effects to consider.
Limiting food intake to just eight hours each day or severely restricting calories a few days a week are two popular fasting approaches. I’ve seen both lead to intense cravings, preoccupation with food, and rebound binge eating, particularly for women. Some who attempted to cut off eating after 4pm (with the intention of eating again at 8am) have told me that after hours of lingering thoughts about food, or watching other family members eat, they just couldn’t take it anymore, and wound up raiding the kitchen and eating far more than they would have on a typical night. Others, who attempt to eat no more than 500 calories a day two non-consecutive days each week, often begin daydreaming on fasting days about what they can eat on nonfasting days, and end up eating decadent goodies more often, like baked goods, pizza, chips, and ice cream. The lesson: even if this tactic has worked miracles for a friend, co-worker, or family member, if it leaves you in a food frenzy, it’s not the best approach for you.
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I’ve tried intermittent fasting myself, and like clients and others I’ve talked to, it interfered with my ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. This effect can not only wreak havoc with daytime energy, but a plethora of studies have shown that sleep length and quality are strongly associated with weight control. Too little sleep has been shown to increase hunger, up cravings for sweet and fatty foods, reduce the desire to eat healthy foods like veggies, and trigger excessive eating overall and weight gain (for more about the importance of sleep, check out my previous post 5 Healthy Habits That Regulate Appetite). For these reasons, I don’t believe that fasting is an optimal strategy for many people. In fact, some clients have told me they got out of bed at 3am after waking up, and you guessed it, wound up either eating, drinking alcohol, or both, in order to fall asleep—not a good recipe for weight loss or wellness.
RELATED: 11 Surprising Health Benefits of Sleep
As a nutritionist, one of my biggest pet peeves with fasting is that I’ve seen it compromise overall nutrition by limiting the intake of veggies, fruit, even lean protein and healthy fats, which are strongly tied to keeping metabolism revved, boosting satiety, and reducing inflammation—all critical for weight control. I think this is especially the case when people become focused on calorie counts rather than food quality (for my take on why a calories-in-versus-calories-out philosophy is outdated, check out my previous post Why Calorie Counts Are Wrong). If you do decide to try intermittent fasting, or even a modified version, make every morsel count by sticking with naturally nutrient rich whole and fresh foods rather than processed “diet” products.
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Unfortunately, fasting doesn’t trigger your body to break down only your fat reserves. While that would make weight loss so much easier, metabolism is a bit more complex. Your body burns a combination of fat and carbohydrate and after about six hours or so, when carbohydrates aren’t being consumed and your body’s “back up” stores in your liver have been depleted, you begin to convert some lean tissue into carbohydrate. The ratio of how much fat to muscle you lose may vary depending on your body composition, protein intake, and activity level, but again, this is where I’ve seen women and men experience different results. Research shows that in postmenopausal women, a higher protein intake is needed in order to lose less muscle mass (not offset the effect completely), but many women tell me that when they fast they crave carbs, which may lead to a loss of muscle while maintaining body fat—the opposite of their intended goal. Bottom line: again, think through what feels good and in sync with your body’s needs, and remember, sustainability is key!
RELATED: 10 Bogus Health Trends That Waste Your Time
What are your thoughts on this topic? Chat with us on Twitter by mentioning @goodhealth and @CynthiaSass.
Cynthia Sass is a nutritionist and registered dietitian with master’s degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she’s Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers NHL team and the Tampa Bay Rays MLB team, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches. Connect with Cynthia on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.Health World USP