Whether it's the New Year, the start of spring or the thought of peeling off layers for the summer, you might be thinking about how to start or restart a healthy low-fat diet. Or perhaps a medical condition requires you to follow a low-fat diet.
Whatever your reasons or motivation, here are 10 things you can do to get started:
- Be realistic. If weight loss is your goal, don't set yourself up for disappointment or, worse, health problems. Make this a positive experience and start with small, achievable goals. Sustainable weight loss means losing no more than one or two pounds a week. If you choose to go on a crash diet, your body will ultimately balk: your metabolism will slow down and it will become harder to shed pounds as your poor body goes into preservation mode.
- Clear out your refrigerator and pantry. Leftover holiday pies and cookies should be tossed, and so should any full-fat cheeses and other full-fat dairy products. Cast out any seasonal candies, be it Halloween, Valentine's or Easter candy. For a more general sweep of your kitchen, take a look at my article on the low fat kitchen. Remember, you can eat or prepare only the foods you have at hand. You can't polish off a pint of ice cream that isn't there.
- Restock your refrigerator and pantry with healthy, wholesome ingredients. Again, the low fat kitchen article can give you plenty of ideas. Basically, substitute low-fat or fat-free products for their full fat counterparts. Buy whole grain pastas, breads and grains; and stock up with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. Try to eat at least nine servings (4 1/2 cups) of these a day. Here are some great low-fat foods worth seeking out.
- Monitor portions and serving sizes. Portion sizes have grown ever larger. Examine food labels and nutrition facts, and understand what exactly constitutes a serving size. It's usually less than you think. Be aware that a food package often contains more than one serving, and that the nutritional analysis label refers to one portion, not necessarily the whole package.
- Always eat breakfast. Obviously, I don't mean doughnuts! As well as being an important source of vitamins and minerals, a good breakfast comprising whole-grain cereal with fat-free or low-fat milk, fruit and yogurt will keep your blood-sugar levels stable and sustain you until lunchtime. Here are some great ideas for low-fat breakfasts.
- Drink water, and plenty of it. Water is essential for digestion, and also helps us feel fuller for longer. Sometimes we confuse thirst for hunger, so keep a bottle of water by your side and sip it frequently—you’ll probably end up eating less.
- Replace at least one meat dish with a vegetarian meal each week. That’s not an excuse to reach for a box of mac and cheese, however. A hearty three-bean chili might be just the thing, or perhaps some pasta with roasted vegetables.
- Eat fish at least once and preferably twice a week. Fish is naturally low in fat, and fish that have higher levels, such as salmon, contain heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
- Get moving. It’s one thing to watch our intake of fat and calories, but to complete the transition to a healthier low-fat lifestyle, we need to burn calories by doing some regular exercise. You don’t have to become a gym rat or necessarily invest in a fancy treadmill. Find a friend or persuade your partner to join you for a brisk 30-minute walk; exercising with a buddy will help keep you motivated. Again, set realistic goals. There’s no point starting a rigorous regime that you can’t keep up with. Do consult a doctor beforehand, especially if you have been mostly inactive until now.
- Eat healthy snacks. When you do get an attack of the munchies, make sure you reach for nutritious snacks such as fruit, low-fat yogurt, whole-grain crackers, air-popped popcorn or raw veggies. An occasional cookie or square or two of chocolate are not the end of the world. Keep them as special treats, though. If you have made over your pantry then it shouldn’t be a big issue.
These basic guidelines will help you more naturally eat a low fat diet and lead a healthier lifestyle. You don't need to deprive yourself of anything. Remember, some fat in our diets is actually necessary.