Amy- What is most important when trying to lose weight and maintain a healthy lifestyle?: Less Calories? Less Fat? Less Sugar? Less Sodium? All of the above? and why is that?

Your question is a good one. When trying to lose weight, figuring out exactly what to focus on can be a little confusing. I would say that you should try to pay attention to all of those things. But, to simplify it, I would first recommend figuring out approximately how many calories you should be consuming per day to shed unwanted pounds. An easy way to figure this out would be to go to use the Nutritional Needs Calculator on the Old Orchard website. This should give you an idea of a calorie goal for weight loss. In order to lose weight, one does need to reduce overall calorie intake and increase total calories burned per day. And, remember that not all calories are created equal and there are definitely different types of foods/calories that are healthier than others. For example, if you were to choose a typical candy bar as an afternoon snack, it may contain ~250 calories. For the same 250 calories, you could choose a healthier snack of a piece of fruit, handful of almonds, and a cup of cottage cheese! The latter snack would be a much healthier choice than the candy bar because it contains many important nutrients like protein, fiber, calcium, potassium, vitamin D, etc.

As part of a healthy diet, I do recommend that my patients reduce foods with added sugars. I tell them to limit sugary beverages like soda and fruit punch and to choose healthier options like water or Old Orchard’s Healthy Balance Juice. There is also a lot of added sugar in foods like cookies, cake, candy, and ice cream so be sure you are bypassing those aisles in the grocery store and choose foods that are naturally sweet like fresh fruit! Same goes for sodium! Spend less time in the snack food aisle where you would see lots of potato chips, cheese curls and buttered popcorn and spend more time in the perimeter of the grocery store where there are less high sodium foods. I also encourage my patients to make healthier choices when it comes to fat. I suggest that my patients reduce foods high in saturated fat (like red meat, butter, whole milk) and choose foods higher in unsaturated fat (like avocados, nuts, olive oil). In addition, they should limit foods with trans fats (stick margarine and shelf stable snack foods).

Portion sizes can make or break a healthy diet. If you are unaware of what a regular portion should look like, start checking the labels and really try to look at what one portion looks like. That way when you are at home you will be able to estimate approximately how much is on your plate, and hopefully limit your calorie intake by consuming one or two portions. This will also help you when you go out to eat. Restaurants do not want their patrons to leave hungry, so they tend to over fill your plate with three, four…even five portions per meal! Traditional Italian restaurants generally fill plates with heaps of spaghetti. Because it is right in front of you, it becomes easier to consume more than you normally would. You may ask for half portions, split the meal with a friend, or automatically ask for a doggie bag at the start of the meal.

Finally, make sure there is “fun” in your food too. If you truly have a favorite food (and it happens to be decadent and high in calories) make sure every once in a while you are allowing yourself to have that food. But, again watch your portion size, consider eating “lighter” the rest of the day and make sure that you savor each and every bite. For example, if chocolate is your weakness, give yourself permission to have some every once in a while. But, if buying packs of chocolate bars leads you to consuming several a day, consider a small bag of pre-wrapped good chocolate. Have a few and enjoy each bite. Hopefully this will give you satisfaction without all the added calories!!

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