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Believe it or not, you don't have to "go on a diet" to lose weight. Here are some easy ways to tweak your eating habits -- and watch the pounds melt away:
1. Brown bag it. When you eat lunch out or grab a sandwich from a deli, you never really know what's in it. Packing your own midday meal is a great way to control calories and fat in your diet. If you find weight creeping on, try two weeks of bringing lunch from home. Then see how those pants feel.
2. Pair carbs with protein. Adding a little protein to a carbohydrate-based meal or snack can give it a bit more staying power. When protein has to break down, the stomach empties more slowly. Try adding a few chicken strips and a sprinkle of cheese to your pasta bowl or a spread light smear of peanut butter on your toast.
3. Feel fuller with a tad of healthy fat. Fat molecules slow down digestion, so including a little fat in your meal can make it more satisfying. Be sure to choose heart-healthy unsaturated fats like vegetable oils and nuts. And, if you're watching calories, be moderate. Drizzle bread with a little olive oil, toss carrots with a bit of tasty dressing, sprinkle slivered almonds on your salad.
4. Give up all-day grazing. Eating regularly helps prevent feeling deprived and hungry, but noshing all day can easily supply a binge's worth of calories, a little at a time. Plan four "eating episodes" each day spaced at regular intervals to avoid going long stretches without eating (which can also trigger binging): breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus a 250-calorie mid-afternoon snack. At each, include a little protein for staying power.
5. Eat with intention. Have all your meals in a designated place without distractions (e.g., not in front of the TV). That way, your eating episode has a beginning and an end. Eat slowly, stopping to put your fork down between bites, feeling yourself becoming fuller. Making an effort to be mindful no matter what you're eating can help break the tendency to binge.
6. Get more satisfaction. Always hungry? Try not to go more than five hours without eating, so your appetite stays on an even keel. To make your meals more satisfying, make sure to include a little protein--like peanut butter on your morning toast or a sprinkle of beans on your salad at lunch. Protein moves through your digestive tract more slowly than carbohydrates do, so you'll feel fuller longer. Getting more fiber-rich foods and at least three servings of whole grains daily can also boost your satiety quotient.
7. Find healthy outlets for your emotions. Turning to food to "numb out" emotions like anxiety works temporarily, but after the food is gone the stressful stimulus still remains--along with a hefty dose of guilt. Find ways to experience negative emotions with a response other than eating.
Try deep breathing or meditation, calling a friend or going for a brisk walk. The more you practice these healthy habits, the easier they become. Eventually, reaching for a bag of chips can stop being your default reaction to stress.
8. Choose fruit. A cup of fruit juice offers vitamins, minerals and other phytochemicals, but if you're watching your weight, whole fruits are smarter choices. They contain more fiber, which helps you feel full, and fewer calories. For example, one medium orange has 62 calories and 3 grams of fiber, whereas an eight-ounce glass of orange juice has about 120 calories and no fiber.
(EatingWell is a magazine and website devoted to healthy eating as a way of life. Online at www.eatingwell.com.)