The Eating Instructions are rules to help you eat healthier and maybe lose weight. There are two main rules, eating three meals a day with no or minimal snacking, and eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes.
1. Eat 3 regular meals a day, no snacking.
This is the first rule because it’s really the most important, it brings order and priority to your eating. Though some past research touted the benefits of eating 6 small meals a day, newer research and practical application do not support it. Limiting yourself to 3 meals a day, preferably breakfast, lunch, and dinner, can help you gain better control over eating. Research has noted the metabolic benefits of 2-3 meals a day, with calories stacked in the early part of the day. I find focusing on 3 a meal a day, with breakfast being the largest and dinner the smallest, to be the most realistic. Having an early dinner allows you to fast in the evening when you are least active, and eating a big breakfast lets you have more calories when you're starting your day and will be more active. People who regularly eat breakfast have significantly less chance of being obese, especially around the middle. Even if you adjust for all the other factors that can impact weight, such as age, gender, educational and activity levels, the odds of having a ‘spare tire’ around your middle is significantly greater in those who skip breakfast. Skipping breakfast is also associated with increased risk of atherosclerosis, a higher body mass index (BMI) and gaining weight over time. People who get up earlier and ‘get going’ may simply burn more calories over the course of the day.
* Eat real food
Real food are whole foods or those that are made with minimal processing. Take control of the quality of the food you eat. Everyone knows that sugar sweetened cereals (sorry Captain Crunch and Tony Tiger) are not part of a healthy breakfast, because once you include them the breakfast isn’t healthy anymore.
*Stop when you are full
The best way to stop when you are full is to use Mindful Eating, to pay attention to the meal. Eat slower, listen to your body's hunger signals and enjoy the full experience of eating. Of course, portions are important but if you are going stop when you’re full they don’t matter so much. It also helps to use a smaller plate, which can decrease the amount you eat (don’t be dramatic and get a saucer). The reason Weight Watchers or similar programs work is largely because people learn what a real portion size is, so they make informed decisions. Not surprisingly research has found that most Americans significantly overestimate what a serving size is, and underestimate how much they eat. It doesn’t help that the restaurants and processed foods go along with the public’s delusion of a healthy diet and distorted portion sizes. It’s more profitable for fast food chains to give you bigger servings than charge you less.
* Tables settings are preferred
The best way to be a mindful eater is to eat sitting down at a table with real dishes, focusing on the total experience of your meal. You will also end up eating less than if you were sitting on the couch watching t.v. at the same time. I am not saying you shouldn’t ever, just that table settings are preferred.
“Rethink your relationship with food. You only have a few times a day you are hungry, don’t use it to eat cereal over the sink.” — Betsy Redmond, PhD, MMSc, RDN
2. Eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes, than meat or dairy.
The second primary goal is eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes. Of all the research on diet and health, those populations who eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes have consistently been found to be healthier long-term, and live longer (see @bluezones). The corollary is also true, that those who eat more meats and milk, high in saturated fats and concentrated animal proteins, have higher morbidity. Plant focused diets offer healthier protein sources, they are full of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber, and prebiotics. Antioxidants are important because one of the main features of a poor diet is inflammation which antioxidants help fight. Prebiotics help to feed gut bacteria which are a key component of your immune system, and metabolic processing.
* Aim for 10+ servings of fruits and vegetables a day
Research studies have continued to support the theory that people with the highest intakes of fruits and vegetables are significantly less likely to die from cancer, heart disease, other chronic diseases, and just die less overall. A servings is a half a cup, or half a large peice of fruit, and dried fruit is less. Research has shown that having a piece of fruit with each meal could lower, not raise the blood sugar response. On the extreme there is research of people who ate 20 servings of fruit a day and had no negative effects on health, but there were some amazing benefits. Dr Oyebode of University College of London noted that “The clear message (from research) is that the more fruit and vegetables you eat, the less likely you are to die at any age. My advice would be however much you are eating now, eat more.”
* When making a meal double the fruits and/or vegetables and cut the meat or dairy in half
A great place to start is to cut the amount of meat and dairy in half and double the fruits and vegetables in your meals. Milk intake has been associated, though not consistently, with cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, and does not appear to significantly reduce the risk of hip fractures. A large Dutch study with over 100,000 people found that high milk (not cheese or yogurt) intake was associated with higher mortality (death rates). There appears to be a difference between milk intake and fermented foods (yogurt).
* Aim for organic when you can.
Eating organic has fewer toxins and may have more nutrients (not significantly more). Though if it’s between conventional fruits and vegetables and meat, go with the fruits and vegetables. The Environmental Working Group (www.ewg.org ) has several tools and phone apps that can help in deciding which foods are best organic and which are okay conventional. Fat soluble toxins gets stored in fat, so when buying high fat foods, like cheese or oils, pick organic.
3. Don't forget to follow the rules
Lastly, don't forget the rules. Even when I fell committed to a healthy diet and lifestyle I sometimes resorted to old habits, and find myself eating something I didn’t plan on eating. I use a string as a way to remind myself that I am focusing on health, and it's important to me. Health is a long journey and you may want to make changes step by step over time. The goal is to move forward, with little or large steps.