The Internal Revenue Service is known as the most hated government institution in America. But the cringe-worthy tax season and its enforcers may not be as loathed as the world of nutrition.
Turns out, 52 percent of Americans find doing their own taxes simpler than picking healthy meals, according to the 2012 Food & Health Survey commissioned by the International Food Information Council Foundation.
OK, we know eating healthy doesn’t require you to come to the correct number on line 74a. But calorie counts, food labels, and grams of protein, fat, carbs, and fiber don’t make it a cinch. (If it was that easy, everyone’s abs would be featured in the Best 2012 Summer Bodies.) With the help of Alexandra Caspero, R.D, owner of weight-management and sports-nutrition service Delicious-Knowledge.com, here are 8 quick, easy, healthy-eating strategies. Keeping a slim waistline will never be so simple.
1. Downsize Your Tableware (and Portions)
We tend to be satisfied based on what’s served to us, regardless of portion size, explains Caspero. “Visual cues may play a large part in how much we consume,” she says. “The bigger the plate, the more food you’ll serve and the more you’ll eat.” Don’t let your eyes override your appetite, and start small. A small plate may do the same to satisfy your body and brain as that family-size quantity of pasta.
2. Think Several Months Ahead
When choosing a new diet plan, ask yourself one question: How long do you think you can stick to it? “If you love bread, then cutting out all carbs may not be sustainable in the long run,” says Caspero. If you pick a diet that’s impossible to follow for more than a few days, weeks, or months, you’re only setting yourself up for failure. (Want an easy, delicious diet you can stick to for good? Pick up Grill This, Not That!)
3. Don’t Let Your Guard Down
Blueberries have been found to speed up your recovery after a workout, prevent body fat from forming, and cut your risk of Parkinson’s disease. You might call them the next magic blue pill. But just because you pop a handful of blueberries in the morning, doesn’t mean you can make unhealthy choices the rest of the day. “There is no single superfood that counteracts that after-work snack of an entire bag of potato chips,” says Caspero.
4. Read Between the Lines on Labels
Watch out for a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Many food products come labeled with catchwords such as all-natural, low-fat, gluten-free, or sugar-free. Don’t be fooled: “Organic chips are still chips,” says Caspero. If you want to eat some chips, go ahead–but default back to your diet afterward. It’s fine to indulge once in awhile without falling off the wagon. Just don’t convince yourself that eating cookies made from organic sugarcane is healthy, or it’ll become a bad habit.
5. Recognize Your Hunger
Do you find yourself standing in front of the vending machine every afternoon? It’s probably a sweets craving and not real hunger, says Caspero. Try this test: Imagine eating an apple instead. If you’re truly hungry, the apple will sound good. You should eat. If the apple doesn’t sound good, then you’re probably just snacking out of boredom or exhaustion. “Food won’t fix those things,” she says. Try going for a short walk, chatting with a coworker, or finding a new task to work on.
6. Learn How to Make Fast Food at Home
A busy, high-stress lifestyle can lead to a diet of convenience. Unfortunately, the most convenient foods are often the same ones you should be avoiding, explains Caspero. The meals served in fast-food chains are typically crammed with calories, sugar, and fat, and deficient in vitamins and minerals. Instead, cook a tasty, nutrient-dense meal in less time than you’d spend waiting in the drive-thru. (Here’s how to Make Your Favorite Restaurant Dishes at Home–cheaper, healthier, and tastier.)
7. Discover the Healthier Flavor Enhancers
There’s nothing delicious about eating plain boneless, skinless chicken breasts for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But there’s a reason so many diets call for them: They’re high in stomach-filling protein (the raw material for muscle growth), low in fat, and affordable. Luckily, you don’t need to add butter, oil, or fatty dressings to make them taste better, says Caspero. Try a simple marinade or spice rub to pack your food full with flavor.
8. Never Cut Back on Produce
“When it comes to being full, our stomachs respond to weight and volume,” says Caspero. Chances are, you will still be hungry after one serving of pasta. But if you add 3 cups of veggies to that pasta, you have a much larger meal to satisfy you. See, most produce contains lots of fiber, few calories, and little starch. Adding a ton of it to your dinner will keep you full and your waistline trim.