Dieting can be really tough if you don’t plan your meals, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. Most people who are dieting tend to cut back all at once, sending a message to their bodies that says they are starving. While it may feel like they are losing weight at first, they are actually decreasing their metabolism, which will make long term weight loss nearly impossible. This is why so many people gain back more weight than they take off after giving up on efforts to diet.
For years I skipped breakfast, drank coffee all morning, and barely ate anything all afternoon. My daily calorie intake was low, but I was still gaining weight. I never understood why. I was tired and didn’t feel healthy. Year after year, my metabolism slowed down and despite dieting I had a hard time losing weight. After taking a class in personal training, I found that just by adding breakfast to my routine, I would start to lose weight again and my metabolism would increase. I also learned a simple trick to keeping my metabolism in check.
The trick to keeping your metabolism in check is eating smaller meals more frequently. Have you ever noticed a really thin person who eats all the time and never gains any weight? That is because the body trusts that food is always near. If the body trusts that there is always food, it doesn’t feel the need to store up. A person who rarely eats is sending the opposite signal to their body, telling it to store everything, because the body doesn’t know when you will provide the next meal.
I am an extremely busy person. I have 3 kids, I work 3 part time jobs (one of them on the midnight shift), and I am constantly taking on new projects. Eating is an inconvenience to me. I absolutely hate fast food but I don’t always make time to cook. Skipping meals is a really bad habit I have to combat regularly, but I found a few simple tricks that help me stay on track without giving it much thought on a daily basis.
The first thing I did was figure out how many calories I needed to consume in order to keep up my metabolism and still lose weight. To figure this out, you will need to know how to calculate your BMI and understand your daily calorie intake in reference to your activity level. I explain all this in detail in my other article, “Losing 3 Pounds Per week….,” which I highly recommend you read. After reading that article, you will be able to figure out how many calories you should consume on a daily basis. Once you determine your calorie maximum, you will want to divide the number of daily calories by 5. The reason you should divide it by 5 is because you will want to eat frequently (five times per day) but you do not want to exceed the total number of calories allowed each day. If you decide you want to stick to 1,000 calorie diet, you would need to consume 5 small meals of 200 calories each. If you decide on 1,500 calories, you would need to consume 300 calories per meal.
When you think about what the word “meal” means, you don’t want to think in traditional terms. The term “meal” should be more like a “healthy snack”. Any time you consume a “meal” of 500 calories or more, chances are you will not burn all the calories before they turn to fat, you will get hungry again and will not be able to limit yourself to an additional 500 calories to stay below your maximum calories. Also, people who eat larger meals are more likely to skip the next meal to compensate, which triggers the starving signal in your body despite the calories consumed in the previous meal. It confuses the body, which shuts down your metabolism. The better approach is to break down your consumption into managable portions.
Once you have determined your calorie maximum per meal (total calories divided by 5), it will be much easier to plan your “snacks” throughout the day. I suggest you make a list of your favorite foods, preferably those you feel are the healthiest. Don’t worry about how much or how many calories at first, just make the list. You can always change the portion size to fit your calorie allowance and make your adjustments accordingly.
The best thing about making a list first is that you will start to realize you don’t have to give up the foods you like, you just have to eat smaller amounts and more often. For example, I love sweet potatoes. They are really good for your skin and they taste awesome with butter and cinnamon. I don’t want to have just one. I want to eat until I can’t walk. On my 5 meal plan, I can have them twice a day if I want to. I just need to break up my consumption into 2 servings instead of eating them all at one sitting. And since I am eating 5 meals, I only have to wait 3 hours to eat again. I am constantly eating all day, so I never feel deprived.
The first thing I did after making my food list was take a trip to The Dollar Tree to purchase some tiny Tupperware containers. I use the smaller containers for portion control. Every few days, I make the foods I like and put them in the portion control containers so they are easy to select each day for my meals. Being in the 1,000 calorie range, I keep my portions under 200 calories, but I can eat whatever I want. Knowing this makes it very easy to judge how much I can consume. I put 200 calories of sweet potatoes or 200 calories of pumpkin pie in the portion control containers and then I know I can have that for one of my 5 snacks.
I try to create variety in my meals as well, choosing some foods that are really low in calories (like spinach salad at 7 calories per cup) so that I can eat larger quantities and fill up, and then some foods that are higher in calories that are more like treats (like my buttery sweet potatoes). The trick is keeping each portion under your determined calorie allowance per meal. Because you get to eat 5 times a day, you really don’t feel like you are dieting, in fact sometimes the very opposite is true. The regular eating speeds up your metabolism and you get to eat whatever you want.
I also like to set the alarm on my phone to go off every 3 hours to remind me to eat. As I mentioned, I am a very busy person. It is easy to skip meals. By having my 200 calorie containers measured and prepared in advance, all I have to do is decide which item I want to eat, open the container and enjoy the food inside. I don’t have to think about it. I try to set up my containers every evening or a few days at a time because I like my food fresh. You can also freeze certain items like soups, veggies, and treats that can be thawed daily if you prefer to do this weekly. If you choose a food that is over your meal allowance you can compensate for the difference on your next meal by selecting an item that is just under the allowance. This will balance out your days total without too much consideration. Just remember it is important not to skip.
I use an orange as my fail safe choice when I go over my allowance on a previous meal. Oranges are very healthy, great for digestion, and are typically under 100 calories. It is also beleived to increase your metabolism and it is a sweet treat to get you by until your next meal. Spinache salads are my favorite filler foods as well. You can eat a ton of spinache at just 7 calories per cup, just be careful not to overdo the dressing or cheeses. I like sauteed mushrooms and feta with bean sprouts on my spinache salad, very tasty low calorie lunch that will fill you up under 300 calories.
The great thing about this diet is that it really isn’t a diet. It is just portion control of the things you are already eating. I am constantly eating, never starving, but still maintaining calorie control. I have stopped starving myself and I eat the foods I love. I also save money on fast foods and feel better about myself. This system makes burning calories easier because I know I can work out for 45 minutes to burn 350 calories and that eliminates one full meal. By compartmentalizing my meals and balancing them with my activities I can keep a more realistic picture in my mind about the excess calories I am consuming and how many pounds I should be losing each day based on calories vs. activity. This is a great way to speed up your metabolism and get back to sensable eating without starving.