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The 10 Commandments of Eating for Energy

With a little planning and a few basic rules, you can succeed at losing weight. Here are ten basic tenets of good eating, from Energy Breakthrough by Sarah Ferguson, The Duchess of York.

Could it be that your own weight-control efforts are sabotaging your energy? It’s possible. Countless women routinely commit dietary blunders that drain their energy and set them up to fail at losing weight. It shouldn’t be that way. While it can be challenging to plan healthful meals when your plate of responsibilities is already overflowing, it can be done. All it takes is a knowledge of the basic tenets of eating for energy with an infusion of motivation and mindfulness. With that in mind, here are ten rules for using food to tip the energy balance in your favor:

COMMANDMENT 1: Thou Shalt Not Skip Meals.
If you want to start the day on the right foot — namely, with a spring in your step and an upbeat attitude — eat breakfast as well as regular meals throughout the day. Otherwise you’ll wind up feeling lethargic, and you’ll probably get overly hungry — and possibly set yourself up for overeating — later in the day. Just as you wouldn’t set off on a trip when your car’s gas tank registers empty, you shouldn’t jump into your day without refueling after the previous night. For optimal energy, your best bet is to eat a morning meal within three hours of awakening. Ideally, choose something that combines protein and carbohydrates and includes a fruit serving. It could be peanut butter on a bagel, cream cheese on toast, cheese pizza, an energy bar, or old favorites like cereal, milk, and fruit or a poached egg with whole-wheat toast and a glass of orange juice.

COMMANDMENT 2: Thou Shalt Not Have a Heavy Midnight Snack.
It’s not that noshing late at night is more likely to lead to weight gain than eating at any other time of day. But the foods people tend to eat in the hours between dinnertime and bedtime — ice cream, cookies, chocolate, chips, and so on — are often high in fat and calories, which can cause extra pounds to accumulate. Plus, consuming a heavy meal late in the evening can give you middle-of-the-night indigestion, which can wreak havoc on your slumber. As a result, you may awaken the next morning feeling dead tired. If you can’t kick the snacking-before-bed routine, your best bet is to have a light dinner and to later have a sleep-friendly snack such as a small cup of cereal with milk or a cup of chamomile tea and some graham crackers.

COMMANDMENT 3: Thou Shalt Not Be Reckless with Caffeine.
Gulping cup after cup of coffee to keep yourself going won’t fire up your energy continuously. Yes, the caffeine can perk you up for an hour or two, but drinking too much can make you feel wiped out later — or dependent on the stuff. And because it alters brain chemistry, similar to the way adrenaline does, it can heighten your reaction to stress and interfere with sleep, both of which can make you feel exhausted in the end. That’s why it’s smart to limit your caffeine intake to three servings — the amount in a 5-ounce cup of coffee or tea — or less per day.

COMMANDMENT 4: Thou Shalt Not Eat the Same Foods Day After Day After Day.
In their quest to lose weight, many people start rigid diets, in which they eat the same foods day after day and wind up getting bored with those foods. Not only will this lead to taste-bud fatigue, which can set you up for overeating in desperation, but it will deprive your body of a variety of nutrients that are necessary for optimal energy. What to do: Plan menus ahead of time that offer variety and appeal to different senses. Consider buying a low-fat ethnic cookbook or two. Make it a rule to eat one food you’ve never tried at least once a week. When eating out, order something healthy that you’ve never had before. Eating can be an enjoyable adventure — without leading to overindulgence. Besides, flexibility can be a dieter’s best friend. In a recent study at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, researchers examined the dieting strategies of 223 men and women, half of whom were significantly overweight. What they found was that flexible dieting was associated with the absence of overeating, whereas calorie counting and conscious dieting were associated with overeating and increased body mass.

COMMANDMENT 5: Thou Shalt Not Obsess About What to Eat.
It’s good to be mindful about what you’re eating for the sake of weight control, especially since we live in an environment of amazing abundance, particularly when it comes to food. But it’s quite another thing to take dietary restraint to an extreme. Indeed, many women expend enormous amounts of mental energy thinking about calories, fat grams, good foods versus bad foods, and how much of any given item it’s safe to eat. Besides being psychologically exhausting, exercising excessive dietary restraint — consciously restricting your food intake severely in order to prevent weight gain or encourage weight loss — can be taxing on the body. In fact, a recent study at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver found that women who scored high on measures of cognitive dietary restraint secreted higher levels of Cortisol in their urine; this is noteworthy because Cortisol is a marker of stress that may have a detrimental effect on bone health. Previously, this same group of researchers had found that restrained eaters experienced short luteal phases of the menstrual cycle, which caused their cycles to be infertile. In addition, research has found that restrained eating can make people more vulnerable to overeating when under stress: in a recent study at University College London in the United Kingdom, researchers found that people who were restrained eaters were more likely to eat more calories when they experienced high levels of work stress, including long hours on the job; unrestrained eaters, by contrast, were not vulnerable to stress-induced eating under these conditions.

COMMANDMENT 6: Thou Shalt Not Fast to Cleanse Your System.
Fasting may help you drop a few pounds quickly, but it’ll be mostly water weight and some muscle, neither of which is healthy or desirable in the long run. Losing water weight can lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances, both of which can sap your energy. And you don’t want to lose muscle in the course of dieting because the more lean muscle you have, the faster you’ll burn calories all day long; after all, it’s muscle that revs up your metabolism. And the idea that fasting cleanses out your system is pure hogwash: when your body is deprived of food, chemicals called ketones can gradually build up; these chemicals tax the kidneys unnecessarily, which can be dangerous to your health and give you bad breath, to boot. If you want to jump-start your diet, a better approach is to eat lightly, exercise vigorously, and drink lots of water.

COMMANDMENT 7: Thou Shalt Not Pile Your Plate with Too Many Choices.
Variety may be the spice of life, but overdoing it could also mean the downfall of your diet. In a recent review of thirty-nine studies, researchers at the University of Buffalo in New York found that food consumption generally increases when more variety is provided in a given meal. This may be because under these conditions people don’t get tired of the taste of a particular food and put down their forks as a result; instead, they simply move on to another food and continue eating. Which can lead to overeating and a feeling of sluggishness. Of course, this doesn’t mean your meals should consist of only one food. It just means you should offer yourself a limited array of choices in any meal. One palatable way to do this: Fill three-quarters of your plate with fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and the remaining one-quarter with lean protein and fat sources. When it comes to choosing fruits and veggies, keep in mind: the darker the color, the more health-protective properties it’s likely to have.

COMMANDMENT 8: Thou Shalt Not Eat on the Run.
Not only will you miss out on the sensory enjoyment of eating — as well as a chance to catch your breath in the midst of a hectic day — but you could set yourself up for making poor food choices and for overeating. After all, if you eat too quickly, you’re likely to end up eating more — whether it’s now or later — for two reasons: because you’ll miss out on the sensory quality of the food, and because it takes twenty minutes for the brain to register that you’re full. A better idea: Give yourself at least twenty minutes to sit down, eat slowly, and pay attention to what you’re eating — how it tastes, how it feels in your mouth, how it makes you feel, and so on.

COMMANDMENT 9: Thou Shalt Not Deny Your Cravings.
If you have a real hankering for chocolate and you try to quench it with an apple, chances are you just won’t be satisfied. Instead, you might continue to eat around your craving — adding some crackers or cereal and then something else — and wind up eating more in the long run. Not only will this approach pack in lots of extra calories, but it may make you feel full and sluggish as well. You’d be better off having the one true thing you really crave to begin with but in a small serving. If you have a cup of chocolate sorbet or a few chocolate kisses, for example, you’ll get the taste you yearn for without filling up and weighing yourself down.

COMMANDMENT 10: Thou Shalt Not Forget to Enjoy Your Meals.
Yes, eating is a utilitarian task in the sense that you do it to provide your body with the fuel it needs to function well. But eating is also a sensory experience that can be filled with pleasure — if you let yourself savor your food, that is. So while you’re aiming for a balance of nutrients, try to create meals that also provide a balance of textures, tastes, and aromas. A few tricks: a dash of avocado, garlic, sesame or walnut oil goes a long way toward enhancing flavor without adding lots of fat and calories; so do fresh herbs and spices and flavored vinegars. Stock your pantry with salsas, hot sauces, and other savory seasonings that will increase the flavor quotient of your food without adding many calories. You might also consider giving your favorite dishes a makeover — by learning new ways of preparing them with less fat, for example, or by taking a healthy gourmet cooking class. Of course, you can still enjoy your favorite foods, even if they’re high in calories, so long as you do so in moderation. After all, no food should be taboo. If you exercise moderation in all your choices and keep an eye on the big picture, your meals can be enjoyable, varied, healthful, and energizing — without compromising your waistline.

Sarah Ferguson, The Duchess of York, author of Energy Breakthrough: Jump-start Your Weight Loss and Feel Great (Copyright © 2002 by The Duchess of York and Weight Watchers International, Inc.), started her career in public relations at a London art gallery and worked for a publisher before marrying His Royal Highness Prince Andrew and becoming The Duchess of York in 1986. She is the mother of two daughters, Beatrice and Eugenie.




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