For many, the dropping of the Times Square ball did more than usher in 2006, it marked the start of a renewed campaign to eat better and improve their health. Registered Dietitian Michele Cowee, owner of Sierra Dietetics of Carson City, has advice and tips to avoid the landmines around the push to change the way we eat, as well as a good reason why we should erase the word diet from our vocabulary.
What are the big mistakes people make when trying to eat healthier or lose weight?
There are two big mistakes: one is skipping meals thinking that you will save on the calories, and two, is going into it with an all-or-nothing attitude. When we skip meals, especially in the morning, our bodies will give us signals that we are hungry later in the day, which can mean we don't make the best choices or eat too much. With that attitude, people sometimes cut out things that are their absolute favorite until they reach the point that they crave it and then overdo it or fall back into bad habits. By simply reducing the portions and making good choices, you don't need to completely cut it out.
What is the most successful way to go on a diet or change the way you eat?
Don't look at is as "I'm going on a diet," but as lifestyle and habit changes so that you eliminate the guilt associated with a diet. If you incorporate healthy habits into your lifestyle then you can maintain the weight you lose and be healthier. Look for ways to maintain the weight loss and eat healthier. Ask yourself: Is this something I can do long term?
I try to help people stop using the word diet and start making changes in their lifestyle to help them stay that way.
What is a manageable and realistic goal for someone looking to lose weight?
Keep a food log to see what you are taking in and what you are lacking. But food is only one component. You need food and exercise for it to be the most effective. So start by writing down everything you eat and drink and how much exercise you are getting.
Realistically, a women can lose between one-half and one pound a week, and a man can lose one to two pounds a week. Men lose more weight because they have more muscle mass, and that's what burns calories.
What are some of the misconceptions people have when starting to eat healthier.
People aren't aware of the calories or fat in their fast-food items. Look at any of the burgers with the cheese and mayo added. That adds additional fat and calories. With all the fad diets going on, there is a big emphasis on labeling foods as good or bad, when really our portions have just gotten so much bigger. Also, people don't realize all the empty sugar calories in soda. A 12-ounce soda has between 12 and 13 teaspoons of sugar, and that's all you get out of it.
How important is eating breakfast to a healthy lifestyle?
It's the most important meal of the day. You are breaking the fast from when you were sleeping. The food we eat is fuel, and that's what we need to function. Eating breakfast increases your metabolism and allows you to operate better. Part of that fuel goes to our brain to help us think and perform.
How much exercise is needed to lose weight or be healthy?
You need to do about one hour of exercise five to six times a week. Cardio exercise is what burns the calories, but weight training can be beneficial because it builds muscle mass, which is what burns the calories. The first 20 minutes you exercise you are burning stored-up energy in the muscles. After that the body starts to burn fat, so if you work out for 30 minutes, you are only burning fat for 10 minutes.
How important is drinking water to a healthy diet?
You should have eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day for hydration. A lot of times when we feel hungry our body is just telling us we are actually thirsty. So when you get a craving, drink a glass of water and wait 15 minutes. Then if you are still hungry, pick a healthy snack.