When did eating become such an all-or-nothing proposition? It seems that Americans are either gorging on gargantuan portions of unhealthy, highly processed foods and getting fatter all the time, or they're starving themselves on the latest hyper-restrictive diet that no one could stay on for more than a few weeks without feeling miserable and deprived. Whatever happened to just enjoying good food, in moderation, without guilt?
If we buy into the common-sense wisdom found in books like the bestseller French Women Don't Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano, it's clear that the way to be thin and still have some joie with our meals is to adopt a more traditional, and worldly, way of dining. Moderate portions, fresh whole foods, relaxing and lingering with family and friends at the table -- it's what they do not just in France, but throughout the Mediterranean, Latin America and Asia. These are places where obesity rates have historically been low (at least until the global spread of fast food and sedentary lifestyles boosted obesity everywhere). It's where the "gym workout" was a bicycle ride to work or school, or where eating a low-fat diet meant Mom stretching the meat by stuffing cabbage or grape leaves. This reminds us that it is possible to eat what you love without feeling guilty, deprived or going on any restrictive regimen. Here's how:
[step-list-wrapper title="" time=""] [step-item number="1." image_url="" title="Start with soup." ] This Japanese tradition is one of the best weight-loss strategies. That's because eating soup, particularly the broth-based vegetable kind, before your entrée fills you up so you eat less during the meal, explains Barbara Rolls, Guthrie professor of nutrition at Penn State University in University Park, and author of The Volumetrics Eating Plan. A two-year French study of 2,188 men and 2,849 women found that those who ate soup five to six times a week were more likely to have BMIs below 23 (considered lean), compared with infrequent- or non-eaters whose BMIs tended to be in the 27 range.[/step-item]
[step-item number="2." image_url="" title="Make lunch your main meal." ] Although they do this throughout Europe, a good explanation for eating your big meal at midday comes from ayurveda, India's 5,000-year-old approach to wellness. "According to ayurveda, we're actually designed to eat the larger meal at lunch because our digestive 'fire,' called agni, is strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., so we digest more efficiently," explains Jennifer Workman, a Boulder, Colorado-based ayurveda specialist, registered dietitian and author of Stop Your Cravings. "I've seen people in my practice lose 5 to 10 pounds just by doing this."[/step-item]
[step-item number="3." image_url="" title="Think quality, not quantity." ] The French snub processed "diet foods" not found in nature, opting instead for high-quality meats, fish, produce, dairy, even desserts. When food is fresh and flavorful, you can be satisfied with smaller portions. This is the opposite of the American approach, which is to fill up on bland diet foods, then gorge on sweets later. "The French set the standard for small portions with their haute cuisine," says David Katz, MD, author of The Way to Eat. "If we consider that part of eating is to induce pleasure, if you can get there with quality of choice, you get there in fewer calories."[/step-item]
[step-item number="4." image_url="" title="Mix up the flavors." ] In ayurveda, including the six basic tastes -- sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent -- is the key to a satisfying meal that won't leave you craving junk food later, says Workman. Not sure where to start? This will cover all the flavor bases: Try salmon with yogurt dill sauce along with some sautéed kale topped with mango chutney, a sweet potato sprinkled with sea salt and a little clarified butter, and finish with a cup of chai and a small piece of dark chocolate.[/step-item]
[step-item number="5." image_url="" title="Go for color." ] The Japanese have a saying: "Not dressing up the meal with color is like going out without clothes." Not only does color make food more attractive, but consciously seeking out colorful foods is a great way to bulk up your meals without a lot of calories. A Cornell University study of 6,500 adults in rural China found that while the Chinese ate about 30 percent more than the average American male, they weighed about 25 percent less, largely because they ate a lot of plant-based foods. The Japanese aim for five colors at each meal: red, blue-green, yellow, white and black, including things like red peppers, squash, broccoli, onions, black beans or black olives. "We're variety seekers, so instead of seeking a variety of, say, cookies, get the variety from these low-energy-dense foods," Rolls says.[/step-item][/step-list-wrapper]
6 Meal Ideas for Success
Omelet with wild mushrooms
Loading up this classic French dish with exotic mushrooms, such as oyster or cremini, is a great way to fill it out without adding excess calories. Use egg whites or Egg Beaters to make this even more low-cal.
Caribbean fruit salad with honey-lime dressing and toasted coconut
A colorful mix of fresh kiwi, pineapple, papaya and star fruit topped with toasted coconut and tart honey-lime sauce makes a healthy and satisfying lunch on a hot summer day.
Whole-wheat penne tossed with shrimp, vegetables and olive oil
A staple of the Mediterranean diet, this dish provides a good amount of fiber, low-cal protein and some healthy fat. Tossing in lots of colorful vegetables increases the portion size, so you’ll feel full without adding a lot of calories.
Vegetable summer rolls with citrus dipping sauce
These low-fat rice-paper rolls popular in Southeast Asia are easy to make: Combine and wrap tofu, rice noodles, cucumber, carrot, red pepper and fresh herbs, and serve with a spicy dipping sauce of lime, orange, ginger and chili.
Dark chocolate and port
Both dark chocolate and red wine contain heart-healthy antioxidants, making this dessert a deliciously healthy way to end your meal.