Reflections magazine: As a dietitian, what general nutrition advice do you have for someone who is trying to lose weight this resolution season?
Laurelee Misseghers, MS, RD, CD: The healthy plate method is a good way to eat a balanced meal, but still lose weight. Using a nine-inch plate, fill half of it with fruits or vegetables, one-quarter with a starch and one quarter with protein. This way you fill up on fruits and vegetables, which have the least amount of calories per pound.
Also, avoid the sumo wrestler style of eating very little in the morning, and then consuming most of the day’s food and calories at night. Instead, eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a queen and supper like a pauper. One study indicated that this way of eating resulted in twice the weight loss of those eating the other way around, despite eating the same number of calories.
Additionally, be careful with fatty foods and oils. Just one tablespoon of oil equals 120 calories, so if you were to have four tablespoons over the course of a day (in fried foods, olive oil on salads, etc.) that would equal 500 calories.
1 bunch of asparagus
(or any other vegetable)
1 tablespoon olive oil or coconut oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
Lemon juice to taste
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Wash asparagus and place in an oven-safe baking dish with olive oil and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Roast for
12 to 15 minutes, or until desired tenderness (length of time varies with other vegetables). Add a splash of lemon.
RM: What types of foods aid in the weight-loss process?
LM: Vegetables and fruits are your best friend in this area. You can eat one pound of raw vegetables for only 100 calories, whereas fruit is slightly more at 250 to 300 calories per pound. Because they contain both fiber plus water, this will create bulk to fill you up without a lot of calories. However, do not eat only fruits or vegetables at meals or you will find yourself very hungry within just a few hours. Meals need to be balanced with some unprocessed starchy foods (whole grains, potatoes) and some protein (animal protein should be no larger than a deck of cards, but you can eat unlimited amounts of legumes). If you can tolerate legumes, eating beans at most meals is a good idea, as they provide sustained energy but have significantly less calories than steak.
RM: What types of food should be avoided at all costs if someone is trying to lose weight?
LM: I don’t like to say that people must give up any type of food, but it is obviously a good idea to cut back on the foods that have the most calories with the least amount of nutrients, such as junk food. However, personality can play a role here as well. Some individuals are able to eat just one piece of chocolate, and it will take away their cravings and desires for sweets, whereas for another individual, one piece of chocolate will mean that the entire box will quickly disappear in a very short period of time. It is also a good idea to give up liquid calories (whether alcohol, soda pop or fruit juice) as they can quickly add up, without helping you to feel full.
Tracking your food intake for a few days through an app like MyFitnessPal or Lose It! can help to build awareness of which foods you frequently consume that have the most calories. Then you can make intelligent decisions about whether to cut them out of your diet completely or have rules in place to control the amount consumed (i.e., limit treats to 100 calories per week).
1 tablespoon olive oil or coconut oil
½ medium yellow onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup French lentils
3 cups vegetable broth (or water)
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
In a medium pot over medium-high heat, add the oil, onion, carrot and garlic. Sauté until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Set cooked vegetables aside. Without rinsing the pot, add the lentils, broth or water and the bay leaf. Bring the contents to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and allow to simmer for 25 minutes. Discard the bay leaf and drain any excess water. Add the vegetables into the lentils with the thyme, salt and pepper.
RM: What is more helpful for weight loss, grazing on small meals throughout the day or eating the standard three meals a day?
LM: There is a lot of controversy on this issue, even among dietitians. Although there are indeed studies that indicate that grazing can help with weight loss, there are many other studies which show that the more you snack, the more you weigh.
My preference is to eat three meals a day. Breakfast like a king provides fuel for the day and gives you the most time to burn off these calories. Lunch like a queen provides enough fuel to get you through the afternoon, and supper like a pauper provides less calories at a time when you are least likely to be active—and may help you sleep better since you aren’t having to digest a large meal when you go to bed.
Often when people are grazing, they take in more calories than they realize, unless they carefully measure each mini-meal’s calories. Also, sometimes people rely on processed foods like protein bars as a snack, without realizing that many protein bars are little more than glorified candy bars.
Another reason I prefer the three meals versus the mini-meal concept is because each time you eat, the body produces insulin to help deal with the glucose that ends up in the blood. Insulin is a growth hormone that can actually make it harder to lose weight. By eating three times a day, you are also giving your digestive organs a chance to rest between meals.
grilled salmon with pesto
1 cup of fresh basil, chopped (or spinach, kale)
2 garlic cloves
¼ cup Parmesan cheese (optional)
¼ cup pine nuts (or walnuts, pecans)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
1 salmon fillet
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Place all the ingredients except for the salmon into a processor and blend until smooth. Rinse the salmon fillet under cold water and place it in an oven-safe baking dish. Spread the pesto on top of the salmon. Place in the oven and bake until the fish is thoroughly cooked, about 12 minutes.
RM: What are the biggest misconceptions about nutrition and weight loss?
LM: That any way you lose weight is a healthy way to lose weight. Just because you lose weight with some diet plans does not necessarily mean that these are good for your long-term health.
RM: It seems like more and more people are cutting out gluten, dairy, soy, eggs, etc. In your opinion, is this a positive step toward eating healthier or is it overkill?
LM: If there is a good reason (such as allergies or intolerances) for cutting out these items, then it is a positive step toward being healthier. For instance, those with celiac disease must avoid gluten as it damages their intestinal tract. Some people feel happier and have more energy by avoiding gluten, so having an improved quality of life is a good reason to avoid it. However, they will hopefully be consuming gluten-free grains in place of those containing gluten.
Dairy is an interesting case. About 70 percent of the world’s population is actually lactose intolerant, so for these people they feel better by avoiding it. Asthmatics also find that their health improves by avoiding dairy, and those with autoimmune diseases also do better when they give it up. When people talk about dairy, what they are really interested in is calcium. For those who choose to give up dairy for health- or animal welfare–related reasons, then there are plenty of nondairy alternatives available these days, and most have been fortified with calcium and vitamin D. There are also plant-based sources of calcium that can be incorporated into the diet to replace it.
When it comes to soy, studies are conflicting. Most of the positive studies come from overseas, where they are consuming soy in the whole foods–based form (edamame, tofu, tempeh, miso, etc.). For example, they have less occurrences of breast cancer and a lower chance of remission. Most of the negative studies come from the United States, where instead of consuming soy in its whole-food form, we rely on isolated protein concentrates—whether in fake meats or protein bars and powders. Whole foods have a synergy that isolated parts do not have, and our bodies know what to do with whole foods.
RM: Do you have any tricks or tips for people who eat out a lot or eat socially?
LM: If eating in a restaurant, share an entrée with a friend, or have half of it boxed before it arrives at the table, and then choose lightly steamed vegetables to round out the meal. Request salad dressing on the side, and dip your fork into it so that you can enjoy the flavor without as many calories. Try and avoid heavy cream-based or cheese-based sauces, as these can add a lot of calories. Share a dessert with several people so that you can enjoy a special treat.
When eating socially at a party, look over the choices beforehand, and then decide on just one or two special treats, filling the rest of your plate with healthy choices such as crudités.
½ cup uncooked quinoa
Pinch of salt
½ cup almond or coconut milk
½ banana, sliced
½ cup berries
A few almonds or walnuts
Rinse the uncooked quinoa. In a medium pot, add the quinoa, salt and 1 cup water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 12 to 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and let stand for 5 minutes. Once cooled, spoon the quinoa into a bowl, and add the almond or coconut milk, the maple syrup and fruit and nuts.
RM: What piece of advice do you find yourself constantly telling clients over and over?
LM: Progress is more important than perfection. There will always be a few slip-ups along the way, so turn these into teachable moments. What can you learn from them so that they won’t happen again?
Weight loss is rarely linear. There are usually a few ups and downs along the way, and there can be day-to-day variations as well. If seeing the scale go up slightly is depressing, then only weigh yourself once a week. The overall trend is more important, and there may be a week or two when your weight is up for no good reason. Be consistent with your healthy diet choices and your exercise, and it should start to drop again.
RM: Do you have any special success stories regarding weight loss that you can share?
LM: While I am happy every time someone is able to meet their dietary goals (whether weight loss or feeling more energetic), I have found that the most successful individuals are those who are willing to commit to a more plant-based diet rather than an animal-based diet.
One client I had was committed to making significant changes to her diet and found because she was able to eat unlimited quantities of the allowed foods, she was never hungry. Also, she had more energy and focus than she had before. Upon leaving our second session together, she heard a lady behind her say, “Oh my gosh—what a transformation!” The client asked if the lady was speaking to her since it was someone she didn’t really know. The lady was indeed talking to her and proceeded to tell my client how amazed she was at the physical changes she saw in her.
eating for health: a one-week plan
When trying to lose weight, or just eat healthier, we know making the right choices is not always easy. So to simplify the process, we’ve compiled a guideline for one week of healthy eating, with a few easy recipes to boot. When thinking about this eating plan, please keep the previous advice in mind—especially in terms of proportions. Also, fresh, organic produce and meats are always the best option. See this one-week meal plan, which includes the recipes listed above, on page 35 of the January issue of Reflections magazine.