Put Yourself in Diet Rehab
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Put Yourself in Diet Rehab

Sneak a peek at how four top nutrition experts really eat -- and learn from their surprisingly sane food choices.

Ellie Krieger, RD

Job: Host of Healthy Appetite on the Cooking Channel and author of Comfort Food Fix: Feel-Good Favorites Made Healthy

Personal food philosophy: A balanced eater who places all foods into usually/sometimes/rarely categories rather than making certain foods entirely off-limits.

Stash your own snacks. I portion out dried cherries in sandwich bags and keep them in my purse. Not only are they high in fiber and a great source of antioxidants, they're also tasty -- a perfect balance of tart and sweet.

Eat lean on the go. When I was on a book tour hitting 10 cities in a month, I discovered that Starbucks has some really healthy options. The chicken salad sandwich on whole-grain, the fruit and cheese plate, and the yogurt parfait are nutritious and filling choices when you're on the run.

Stop dieting. You go on a diet, you go off a diet, but it's just a temporary fix. Eventually you'll return to your old ways and gain back the weight. Instead, reframe your thinking: What habits can I change? What can I live with? For example, I don't like skim milk in my coffee, so I use whole milk instead. To make up for that, I pass on the extra cookie. It's all about finding balance.

Go Greek. Greek-style nonfat yogurt is my secret ingredient. I use it in place of sour cream in most of my recipes; I also marinate chicken in it. It's got a rich, creamy texture and lots of flavor.

Hold the mayo. I substitute avocado for mayo in my sandwiches or spread it on toast with tomato instead of butter. This fruit is loaded with healthy monounsaturated fats, which are good for your heart and give you glowing skin, and it also has folate and fiber.

Ellie's Go-To Foods

Prewashed greens
I'm a busy working mom and these save me time. I choose romaine, spinach, or mixed lettuce -- they've got more flavor and nutrition than iceberg.

Frozen shrimp
The shrimp at the seafood counter is usually frozen, but thawed out. So save money and buy frozen. It's a lean protein source that works in salad and pasta.

I always keep soybeans -- a great source of healthy soy protein -- in my freezer. I puree them into hummus, toss them in salads, or eat them plain.

Just a few as a snack can make you feel very satisfied, but they also work well chopped up in savory foods like beef stew. They're a great source of vitamin E, protein, calcium, and fiber.

Sally Kuzemchak, RD

Job: Dietitian in Columbus, Ohio, and creator of the blog realmomnutrition.com

Personal food philosophy: A food realist. Her goal is a balanced diet full of whole, unprocessed foods, but she knows that's not always possible. "Life happens, but then try to get back to healthier patterns."

Choose the right pasta. Aim for a 1 cup cooked serving of whole-grain varieties: You'll naturally eat less of it because it's so filling, and it's got more vitamins, protein, and fiber than the regular kind.

Try skinnier fast food. Panera Bread is my go-to lunch spot when I'm traveling. I get the Fuji apple chicken salad, which has nuts, fruit, and a little soft cheese, and my kids eat sandwiches and squeezable yogurt. Both meals are much more nutritious options than what you'd find at a typical burger joint.

Sweeten the deal. I eat something sweet every day, but I limit myself to 50 to 100 calories. I'll have a cup of Jell-O, which is only 50 calories, or one mini candy bar. After I eat the miniature chocolate bar, I'll snack on an apple. If apple is the last taste I have in my mouth, I won't go back for more chocolate.

Check off success. Set a reachable goal and put it on paper. I give my clients worksheets with boxes to check each time they follow a new healthy habit. For example, if your goal is to eat more fruit, start eating one piece a day. Next, add a second piece of fruit three or four days a week. Marking that box each time keeps you motivated.

Measure it out. It's tough to eyeball cereal portions, so I keep a measuring cup in my box of Post Shredded Wheat Wheat'N Bran (it's loaded with fiber). Not all cereal serving sizes are the same, so check the label.

Sally's Go-To Foods

One-percent milk
I switched from fat-free to one-percent. There's a debate in the nutrition community about whether saturated fat is truly the evil we thought. I'm okay with a little fat in my milk.

Sharp cheddar cheese
Pair it with Triscuits or Wasa crackers for a high-calcium, high-protein, high-fiber snack that fills you up. Just limit yourself to about one ounce of cheese.

Salad dressing
A tasty variety can motivate you to eat more greens, but skip fat-free versions. A source of fat helps your body absorb the vitamins from veggies.

Morningstar Farms chik patties
They're made of soy but they look and taste just like chicken. I cut them up and put them on salads to add some low-fat protein.

Juanita Lopez, RD

Job: Dietitian and lifestyle educator for Kaiser Permanente in Downey, California

Personal food philosophy: Believes in eating sensibly and in moderation. She likes how Michael Pollan, author of Food Rules, sums up that sentiment: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

Rethink fat-free. My clients often assume that they can eat as much as they want of fat-free or reduced-fat foods. But these may still be high in calories, sugar, and sodium. A lower-fat version of a food can even be higher in calories than the original because manufacturers tend to add sugar to make up for the lack of fat. Always compare labels.

Grab a cup of joe. I drink one to two 8-ounce cups a day. Coffee is full of antioxidants that are good for your body, mind, and skin. Just limit yourself to 16 ounces a day and avoid high-calorie, high-fat concoctions.

Get calcium daily. Most women don't get enough of this bone-builder. If you don't like milk, find one or two other calcium sources that you'll eat or drink every day. Think fortified orange juice, string cheese, or vanilla soy milk if you're lactose-intolerant, like me.

Start a food diary. Keep track of what you eat for three days and then study it. My clients are always surprised by how often they reach for food without realizing it -- they're snacking in the car, at their desk, while watching TV. Once you're aware of all this mindless eating, you're better able to curb it.

Have fries with that. Occasionally my family eats fast food, and I go for the grilled chicken salad, one of the healthier menu options. And although I love French fries, my kids and I share one small serving so we all get a little taste but don't overdo it.

Juanita's Go-To Foods

In summer I steam it and add lime juice and red-pepper flakes for a kick. In winter I make broccoli soup with carrots, onion, and veggie broth. Even my children like these dishes.

I eat one every day. They're high in potassium -- which is important in regulating blood pressure and keeping muscles healthy -- and low in calories.

Soy chorizo
Chorizo is a fatty sausage, but soy versions are very flavorful and lower in fat. I put it in chili and stews or mix it into hash for breakfast.

They're high in fiber, protein, and iron, plus they're low-fat. I'll add any type of bean or lentil to salads and burritos, blend them into spreads, or eat them as a side dish.

Katherine Zeratsky, RD

Job: Dietitian for the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota

Personal food philosophy: Strives to eat food that's nourishing to both body and mind. She believes food should taste good, look good, smell good, and be good for you, so that you enjoy the whole experience of eating.

Bring on the berries. Every berry is loaded with antioxidants, which research shows have a positive impact on memory and cognition. I buy them fresh or frozen, then mix them into cereal for my three boys, eat them plain, or use them as toppers on a salad.

Pump more iron. If you're a vegetarian or just not into preparing meat, you're likely not getting enough. Try to eat 3 ounces of red meat once a week (roughly the size of a deck of cards) or if you're on a meatless diet, get a variety of greens, beans, soy, and lentils.

Think outside the box. Often my clients eat a granola bar every morning because the box says "Great source of fiber!" While these packaged foods aren't necessarily bad for you, they can have added sugar and fat. It's better to eat things in their natural state. Try peanut butter on whole-grain bread ­instead. It's nutritious and less expensive.

Hit the trail. I make my own trail mix with dried fruit, cereal, nuts, and a few chocolate chips. You get fruits and whole grains, plus a bit of chocolate to satisfy a craving. If you are pretty active and not overweight, 1/2 cup is a decent portion size.

Don't be a carb-a-phobe. Don't make carbohydrates off-limits. After all, they're the body's main energy source. Just cut back on refined carbs like packaged cookies and crackers. They aren't as filling, so you tend to eat more of them -- hence the weight gain.

Katherine's Go-To Foods

Baby carrots
They're quick, versatile, and portable. Eat them raw or steamed for a good dose of vitamin A and fiber.

I love them since they're inexpensive and boost a meal's nutritional value. (They're a natural source of vitamin D and potassium.) Throw them raw into a salad, add some to frozen pizza, or mix into spaghetti sauce.

Seltzer water
Drinking plain tap water every day gets boring. My solution? A glass of seltzer water with a slice of lime or a splash of juice. It's refreshing and keeps me hydrated.

These are the gold standard for protein -- they're loaded with amino acids our bodies need. My boys like hard-boiled eggs as a snack, and my husband makes frittatas with frozen veggies.

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, October 2011.