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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

How to Lose the Quarantine 15

By Sandra Gordon

Little white lies aren’t so bad when, say, your mother-in-law gifts you with a not-so-great sweater. With your diet, however, honesty really is the best policy. That’s because the small food fibs you tell yourself, as in “I need to eat this macaroni and cheese to get through the pandemic,” can sabotage your health goals. Do any of these other common diet self-deceptions sound familiar?

You tell yourself: “I can just eye-ball my portion sizes to gauge calories.”

Reality check: “Most of us aren’t good at perceiving how much we eat,” says dietetics professor Sandria Godwin, RD. In fact, in Godwin’s research, subjects who judged portion sizes just by looking at them underestimated amounts by an average of 23 percent.

Diet fix: If you’re serious about controlling portions, don’t guesstimate. Weigh meat with a food scale (aim for 3 ounces per meal) and measure everything else with teaspoons, tablespoons, and measuring cups for at least a week and track it all in a food diary. After that, you can just eyeball amounts.

But go back to weighing and measuring every few months to tweak your portion-size perception. “Portions tend to get a little bigger and bigger over time,” Godwin says. To outwit your appetite, use a 9- to 10-inch dinner plate so portions don’t look too small and tempt you to go back for seconds. Keep eating out to a minimum or just eat less of what you’re given because no matter how much you think you ate, it’s probably more than that.

You tell yourself: “My body needs a detox every once in a while.”

Reality check: Forget the seasonal juice fast. You actually need to detox every day. The good news? You don’t need to do anything special beyond eating a healthy diet. “Your body is well-endowed with the apparatus to take care of the job,” says David L. Katz, MD, co-author of How to Eat (Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, 2020). Your liver, spleen, kidneys, and gastro-intestinal tract constantly filter “toxins” out of your system—breakdown metabolic gunk such as fat molecules, spent red blood cells, urea (a byproduct of protein metabolism), and other waste products.

Diet fix: To keep these systems in good working order so you can continuously detox more efficiently, load up on unprocessed foods, such as fruits and veggies. Their high water and fiber content speeds waste through your GI tract. Get plenty of fluids, too, (anything watery counts) so your kidneys can flush water-soluble by-products through your system.

Regular exercise also helps keep your blood circulating through your arteries and delivers a robust supply of blood to your spleen, liver, and kidneys. Meanwhile, avoid “toxins” by not smoking, shunning secondhand smoke, and steering clear of foods high in refined sugar and artery-clogging saturated fat and trans fat.

You tell yourself: “Calories don’t count if I drink them.”

Reality check: Liquid calories count just as much, if not more, than solid-food calories do. That’s because they’re not as satiating. “When people drink water, milk, fruit juice, Pepsi, Red Bull, a smoothie, or whatever beverage, they don’t compensate for those calories by reducing their food intake,” says nutrition professor Barry M. Popkin, PhD. In other words, liquid calories can slide in under your brain’s calorie-counting radar.

Diet fix: Aside from nonfat milk to help reduce the risk of osteoporosis, don’t drink your calories. Stick to water or noncaloric beverages like unsweetened iced tea between meals. And realize that when you do drink something caloric, including alcohol, it won’t fill you up but it will fill you out unless you exercise more or make a conscious effort to account for the calories. For example, say to yourself, “this is lunch,” while sipping a smoothie.

You tell yourself: “I’ll eat less if I skip breakfast.”

Reality check: A major study that analyzed the breakfast patterns of 12,316 men and women for five years found that breakfast skippers were more likely to have a higher body mass index than breakfast eaters. The breakfast eaters also set a healthier tone for the rest of the day. They consumed fewer foods high in fat and sugar.

Diet fix: The study found you’ll only get that a.m. advantage if you start the day off with foods low in energy density, such as unsweetened hot or cold cereal, or whole-grain bread, fresh fruit, and nonfat milk. Otherwise, breakfast can backfire. Your overall daily calorie tally will be higher if you feast on the likes of pastries and sausage/egg/bacon sandwiches, says Ashima Kant, PhD, the study’s lead researcher, and this can lead to weight gain. 

Sandra Gordon is an award-winning freelance writer who delivers expert advice and the latest developments in health, nutrition, parenting, and consumer issues.