I love to eat. And I’m lucky: As a food editor, it’s my job. So I always wonder about weight-loss advice that says to eat less and move more.
Be more active: Sure, that’s always good. But eat less? Hmm. I have a hard time wrapping my head around the idea. Consider the times you’ve gone on a “diet” or resolved to cut out a certain food. When I’ve done that, the only thing I could think about was food, particularly the stuff I decided I couldn’t have.
Read more: The 50 Healthiest Foods of All Time
These days, I’m all about abundance—as in, I load up my plate with healthy food so I have barely any room for less healthy fare. This strategy is called crowding out, and nutritionists, health coaches, and athletes are using it as an alternative to traditional diets.
The rules of crowding out
Ease into it: For this tactic to work, you have to genuinely like healthier foods. It can be an adjustment, especially if your diet includes processed foods. Thing is, “when you eat more simply, your cravings change,” says Brendan Brazier, author of the Thrive book series and a former pro Ironman triathlete. “Stuff you used to go for, like potato chips and packaged cookies, begin to seem overflavored, and you want them less.” One European study found it can take as few as 18 days to form a new eating habit, though it varies by person. Start small: Have avocado instead of dressing on a salad, and sauté vegetables with olive oil, garlic and a bit of salt and pepper instead of a rich sauce.
Read more: 13 Veggies You Only Think You Don’t Like
Vegetables, vegetables, vegetables: You can eat nonstarchy ones with abandon, just as long as they’re not deep-fried. Begin with breakfast: Scramble an egg or two with a cup of chopped onions, peppers, mushrooms, and/or spinach. (The scramble will look like a lot of vegetables with a little bit of egg holding it all together—that’s what you want.) At lunchtime, take half your regular amount of sandwich fillings and place them on a big bowl of mixed greens instead of bread. Or make substitutions in foods you already love: Replace some of the beef in Mom’s stew recipe with extra chunks of parsnip, carrots or mushrooms.
Read more: The 20 Best Foods to Eat for Breakfast
Crowd out, don’t pile on: “What you want to avoid is just adding healthy items to your usual intake, which could result in overeating,” notes Brittany Kohn, a registered dietitian in New York City. She suggests having, for example, a baked sweet potato to crowd out a side of French fries, rather than eating both.
Grab something sweet: “Add a sweet-tasting item to your main course to fight urges for sugary desserts,” advises health coach Katrine van Wyk, author of Best Green Eats Ever ($15; amazon.com). “I love a salad with apple or pear. It’s a simple tweak that makes my clients feel more satisfied with fewer cravings.”
I say it all the time: Eating is one of life’s great pleasures. Food is fuel, nourishment, sharing, joy, celebration. Battling your hunger just leads to frustration. Instead, I’ve learned to love—and be creative with—all the amazing whole, largely plant-based foods I can down with gusto. Go ahead: Embrace eating!
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