Thursday, April 26, 2012

Creative substitution: Lose it without tears

I’m pretty wimpy about self-denial when it comes to food, as many folks are. Anytime I even think I may be denying myself, the strategy tends to boomerang. If I let my stomach rumble for too long, I end up eating twice as much when I do eat. Heaven knows what might happen if I watched as others ate birthday cake while I swallowed hard and shook my head “no.” I can’t remember ever letting that happen. You may be wondering how I ever lost weight and have been able to keep it off.

I owe much of my success to creative substitution (in addition to regular exercise of course). The concept likely can help you stay full and satisfied while managing your weight as well. You may already be employing it at times without thinking. But it’s an even more powerful tool when you consciously use it. It’s easy: Just look for ways to cut calories and boost nutritional value by substituting one less-healthy food or drink for a healthy version that has a similar taste, texture and/or satisfaction level. The pack of peanuts I always keep on hand has saved me from gobbling down a fast food burger innumerable times when I get hungry away from home.

Another example of creative substitution: I have a bit of a beer tooth, and tend to favor a Corona with lemon or a Bud Light Lime. Those liquid calories add up quickly, so when I committed myself to losing weight I decided to find a delicious low-calorie alternative. Diet ginger ale with lemon served the bill beautifully with almost zero calories. Sometimes I even serve it in a chilled mug. One more example: Because I like to have a crunchy snack while I watch TV movie, but also prefer being fit and trim, I have shifted from dip and chips or nachos to microwave popcorn. I make my own microwave popcorn using a brown lunch bag and several tablespoons of generic or on-sale popping corn kernels. I season with sea salt and/or Mrs. Dash (when I’ve had my sodium quota for the day).

Creative substitution even helps with portion control. Those healthy, low-calorie frozen meals seemed seriously small to me, and were not filling, until I started serving them on a bed of fresh spinach. A can of healthy soup can easily turn into a meal when I microwave it with fresh or frozen veggies such as broccoli, mushrooms, onions and tomatoes. I thought I was a little strange about my need to pump up my food until I saw “The Hungry Girl” on the Dr. Oz Show. She has taken the idea of bulking up meals with high fiber, nutrient rich foods and gone wild with it. I love her idea for using cauliflower (cooked from fresh or frozen) in combination with a small portion of pasta and healthy sauce of choice to make your dish seem like you’re eating a restaurant-size portion. Check out her website for other ways to bulk up your meals.

By employing creative substitution every day I find I’m not on or off a diet. I’ve simply made a lifestyle change in my dietary habits. If I occasionally indulge in the high-calorie food or beverage I typically substitute for, I can do it without guilt because I know that overall I’m eating well. A fellow fitness professional looked at me suspiciously the other day when I ordered a small serving of ice cream while she opted for black coffee at the coffee shop where we met. Our orders cost about the same. I preferred to spend my money on a real treat, plus I needed a boost of protein and carbs after two back-to-back exercise classes. I know better than to let myself get too hungry!