By Amanda E. Vogel
Every day you're faced with important decisions about what you eat-and how much. They may not seem important, but over the course of a year, making smart choices can add up to significant calorie savings. The following moments can make or break your diet.
Related: 10 Strategies to Keep Fat Off for Good
The Moment: You Wake Up and Smell the Coffee Brewing
Walk right by the pot and make yourself a cup of hot chocolate (110 calories and almost 10 percent of your day's calcium) or drink a glass of orange juice (109 calories and 15 percent of your folate needs). Unlike coffee, both offer a dose of simple carbohydrates, your body's main energy source. Caffeine may wake you up, but it won't keep you wide-eyed for very long, says Samantha Heller, R.D., an exercise physiologist and senior clinical nutritionist at NYU Medical Center in New York City. To get through the morning without nodding off, you need fuel, and that means calories. Pair the cocoa or juice with a cup of yogurt or other reduced-fat protein source and a piece of fruit.
The Moment: Thirty Minutes Before You Head Off to a Lunchtime Spinning Class
Have a pre-workout snack to ensure you have enough oomph to make it through the class. Balance high-energy complex carbohydrates with protein to slow digestion and ensure a steady supply of energy, advises Susan Kleiner, Ph.D., R.D., author of Power Eating (Human Kinetics, 2001). Try half a whole-grain bagel or a slice of bread with low-fat cheese or almond butter, or unsweetened yogurt and fruit.
The Moment: On Your Way Back From the Gym
Stop at the nearest deli to refuel, says Heller. Whether you're tempted to forgo eating (why undo all that hard work?) or you feel ravenous, you need a balanced snack now more than ever. Protein provides the amino acids your body requires to repair muscles, while carbohydrates help restore glycogen. To get both, order a fruit smoothie made with a cup of nonfat yogurt. This plus your pre-workout snack should add up to around 400 calories, the equivalent of lunch.
The Moment: Workday Stress Sends You to the Goody Jar
Pass up the candy. The stress hormone cortisol fools you into thinking you need carbohydrates (sugar) and fat, but what you're really craving is some time to decompress. "Call a friend or ask a coworker to join you for a walk around the block," says Kleiner. If you're still hungry, have an apple or a handful of baby carrots; the low-calorie crunch will help relieve tension stored in your facial muscles.
Related: How to Make Over Your Inner Eating Monologue
The Moment: Hunger Strikes and You Hear the Vending Machine Calling Your Name
Before you heed the call, check your desk. Is there a bottle of water on it? Take a few sips; you may be dehydrated. If you still feel hungry, reach for a jar of peanut butter, a protein bar or a small package of nuts. The protein plus a little fat provides more satisfaction and nutrients than cookies or chips. If the vending machine is your only option, choose healthier selections like trail mix, pretzels or even oatmeal cookies, which provide cholesterol-lowering fiber.
The Moment: You Enter the Supermarket
Make a beeline for the produce aisle. Pick up a bag of apples or oranges for office snacks (the fiber will ward off afternoon cravings), plus nutrient-packed leafy greens and other colorful produce for weeknight meals. Avoid packaged goods as much as possible. Ounce for ounce, they provide more calories and unhealthy fats than whole, unprocessed foods.
The Moment: You're Placing Your Order at a Restaurant
First things first: Smile. The object is to get your server to want to help you, so be ingratiatingly nice. Next, explain that you're watching your fat and calorie intake and that you'd like to be directed to the healthiest items on the menu. Ask if the chef allows substitutions or special requests. Then order a low-fat meal-anything broiled, steamed or grilled-with confidence. Oh, and pass up the bread basket; you don't need the empty calories.
The Moment: You're Halfway Through Dinner
Slow down! It will be at least 15 minutes before satisfaction registers. Eat fast and you could consume a large number of calories within that time frame, depending on what you ordered. Eat slowly and you'll consume less in the same amount of time.
The Moment: Your TV Show Cuts to a Commercial
If the jingles signal you to get up and grab a snack, assess why. If you've just had dinner, you may simply be bored, says Melanie Polk, R.D., director of nutrition education at the American Institute for Cancer Research in Washington, D.C. Keep yourself busy-replace a button on your sweater or give yourself a manicure. If that doesn't help you shake the munchies, have a handful of baby carrots or some air-popped popcorn.
Related: Made-for-TV Workout: 5 Fast Exercises
The Moment: You're Getting Ready for Bed
Before you slip between the sheets, take stock of what's available for breakfast. "People who eat a morning meal tend to eat less throughout the rest of the day," says Kleiner. Her picks: unsweetened yogurt and wheat germ or whole-grain cereal, fat-free milk and fruit. If there's nothing in the cupboard, set your alarm clock a half hour early so you have time to pick up a decent breakfast on the way to work. Your best bet: something that combines protein and carbohydrate, like cereal or oatmeal with fruit and reduced-fat milk, yogurt or cottage cheese.
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By Amanda E. Vogel