Essential Daily Habit #1 . Eat Breakfast
We grew up hearing that breakfast was the most important meal of the day. The more we learn, the more we realize how true this is—and the type of breakfast is of paramount importance.
Breakfast literally means to break your fast of the previous ten to twelve hours (most of which you’ve slept through). Skipping breakfast creates prediabetic changes in insulin function and also raises total cholesterol and “bad” low-density lipoprotein cholesterol. Having just coffee, juice, and a bagel, or a bowl of a sugary cereal, isn’t any better.
To improve your blood-sugar levels, curb your appetite, and lose weight, it’s essential that you eat a protein-rich breakfast each and every morning. People who eat a couple of eggs for breakfast are less hungry for the rest of the day and for much of the following day. Because they’re less hungry, they also eat less. In one study, scientists reported that an egg-and-toast breakfast led to people eating 420 fewer calories over the following day and a half.
If you don’t like eggs, you can eat a few bites of leftover chicken or another high-protein food, along with a small amount of fresh fruit. You can get somewhat similar benefits by eating a low-glycemic sugar-free cereal, such as oatmeal (so long as it is not instant oatmeal and does not contain any sugars). Still, our first choice would be eggs.
Essential Daily Habit #2 . Eat at Regular Times
Pressures at work and home, and being short of time in general, can sabotage your best intentions to eat well. When you feel stressed, your good eating habits are usually the first thing to slide—you delay or skip meals, or succumb to sweets and fast foods. That’s when your blood sugar sinks, then rockets too high, and then sinks again.
Because of life’s pressures, you need to be especially vigilant about eating at regular times. Grant yourself this time, just as you would if you had to go to the toilet. Food provides the fuel for your brain and your body, and when you don’t eat, you don’t function at your best. You can brown bag your lunch and reheat tasty leftovers from our recipes. Alternatively, you can go to a nearby supermarket and get some sliced deli turkey and cheese and an apple, or cooked shrimp and sugar free cocktail sauce or salsa.
If you often face busy, lunch-crunching days, stash some food in your office (or in a cooler in your car or truck, if you’re out on calls). You can make a roll-up with a low-carb whole-wheat tortilla stuffed with just about any kind of meat and cheese. You can also make your own trail mix and keep that handy—although it’s not a meal, it’ll keep you going for an extra hour or so.
Essential Daily Habit #3 . Eat Slowly and Enjoy Your FoodTime pressures and the anxieties they generate force people to eat quickly, and one of every four Americans ends up at a fast-food restaurant each day of the week. The fast-food industry is based on the idea of food that’s quick to serve and quick to eat. But the faster people eat, the more they eat. So to eat less, it helps to eat slower.
Kathleen J. Melanson, Ph.D., of the University of Rhode Island, Kingston, studied the eating habits of thirty young women in a laboratory setting. On one day, she asked the women to eat a meal as quickly as possible without pausing. On another day, she asked them to take small bites and chew each bite fifteen to twenty times. When the women ate fast, they consumed an average of 646 calories in just nine minutes. When they took their time, they ate only 579 calories in twenty-nine minutes, an 11 percent difference. Eating slowly also left the women feeling more satisfied right after eating, as well as an hour later.
It’s far more satisfying, and less stressful, to take the time to enjoy your food.
Essential Daily Habit #4 . Eat Smaller PortionsAccording to the Hartman Group, which conducts market research for food and supplement companies, most people understand the importance of controlling food-portion sizes, but they find the practicalities difficult and exasperating. That’s not surprising. Portion sizes can be vague, confusing, and misleading. For example, a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine reported that people accurately estimated calories in small meals but underestimated the number of calories in large meals by almost 40 percent.
Without clear indicators, it’s not easy to figure out reasonable portion sizes. The number of servings (portions) listed in the Nutrition Facts boxes of packaged foods is practically meaningless, and many food companies understate serving sizes so that people think foods are low in sugar, carbs, or fats. But unrealistically small servings leave people unsatisfied, so they end up eating more.
What’s a modest serving? A serving of protein or vegetables is roughly the size of the palm of your hand or a deck of cards. A serving of starchy foods would be a little smaller. You can certainly eat larger quantities of vegetables and salads, and their bulk will help to fill you up. None of this means you’re forever prohibited from eating a second helping, but you probably should avoid doing so as a regular habit. Eat your meal and wait five to ten minutes before deciding whether to have seconds.
If you’re eating in a restaurant, and the food covers all or most of your plate, mentally divide (or literally divide with your knife) what you will eat and what you’re going to take home. Alternatively, you can split an entrée with a friend, order a smaller entrée, or get just a couple of appetizers, or tapas.
Essential Daily Habit #5 . Choose Your Snacks CarefullyYears ago, snacks were considered special treats, such as the occasional cookie and glass of milk after school. Somehow, snacking has morphed into all-day grazing.
Because of frequent up-and-down blood-sugar swings, people frequently get hungry and snack between meals, while others routinely eat snacks instead of lunch. They also snack in front of the television, at sports games, at their desks, and in their cars. Snacking displaces more nutritious foods because snackers aren’t always hungry enough for a more nutritious lunch or dinner.
Some people feel that they eat less through snacking, when in fact they eat more. They can also be very protective of their snacks, guarding them with the emotional attachment of an addiction. As blood sugar improves, the temptation to snack decreases. That’s because you will be less hungry between meals. Still, because of work pressures, you may occasionally have little choice but to snack. At times like this, a little snack planning (instead of a snack attack) can keep your overall eating habits on track.
Nuts and seeds make for a high-quality snack. They provide a mix of protein, carbs, fiber, and fats, and some research has shown that eating just two ounces of nuts daily can reduce postmeal increases in blood sugar and insulin. Because of the carbs in nuts, however, it’s important to limit the quantity you eat. To avoid overeating nuts, don’t snack on them straight out of a bag or a can. Instead, transfer a measured amount of the nuts to a small plate.
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