Thursday, March 21, 2013

20 Diet tips for Busy Executives

Being over stressed and under-rested, and thinking that there are a few simple steps that can be followed to stay healthy, brings to mind Cecile B DeMille’s famous quip: “It is impossible for us to break the law. We can only break ourselves against the law.”

Experts agree that the key to healthy eating is the time-tested advice of balance, variety and moderation. In short, this means eating a wide variety of foods without getting too many calories, or too much of any one nutrient.

If you know someone – or, you are one of those busy executives – whose life circumstances are such that you just do not have the “luxury” of getting adequate physical and emotional rest on a regular basis, please consider sharing the following 20 diet tips [better still - practice them!]:
  1. Find out how many calories you need

    It is not as easy as it sounds, but it is very important for an individual to know his/her caloric requirement [approx 1,800 calories/day] – on the basis of which reduction in calories for weight loss, weight management, or weight gain, can be pursued. Speak to a dietician or nutritionist who can help you decide on what suits your needs best.
  2. Be a fan of fruits and vegetables

    Fruits and vegetables are packed with beneficial fibre, vitamins, and anti-oxidants. They fill up your stomach quickly, so you feel full just as quickly. They are also low in calories and help to keep your calorie count low. Take at least 3-4 servings of fruit and 4-5 servings of vegetables each day. Snack on apples, melons, peaches, carrots, or green and red pepper strips. Don’t forget juices – or, a glass of fruit or vegetable juice.
  3. Watch for portion-size

    Eat moderate portions. If you keep portion sizes reasonable, it’s easier to eat the foods you want and stay healthy. One serving of pasta means 1/2 cup of cooked pasta. However, most restaurants serve a pasta dish with 4 servings of pasta! You do not need to finish and clean off the plate every time. You can simply ask to take home the leftover.
  4. Do not skip meals

    Eating small frequent meals helps to balance your calorie intake throughout the day and also keeps your blood sugar level balanced. Instead of eating three big meals, try to eat 5-6 small meals throughout the day.
  5. Eat your breakfast

    “Breaking the fast” from the prior evening is crucial for sustained mental work. The brain’s sole source of energy is glucose, and it has no storage reserves. Eating breakfast has been shown to improve overall attitude, increase concentration and problem-solving ability. In addition, studies show those who eat breakfast typically consume fewer calories and fat compared to those who do not start their day off with a healthy meal. If you aren’t used to eating something in the morning, grab something light like a yogurt and a piece of fruit, or a bowl of oatmeal. Avoid heavy breakfasts – skip high fat meat, deep fried snacks like samosa, batata wada. Choose oatmeal, 100 per cent fruit juice, milk, yogurt, fresh fruit, or high fibre cereal for a great breakfast.
  6. Take time for balanced lunch

    Yes, for the busy executive many of your lunches are often something you grabbed out of the pantry and snacked on while working at the computer. Not only is it important to take a break during the day, it is crucial to take time to eat. When you eat at the computer, it becomes unconscious eating. You aren’t paying attention to how much of that food item you are eating and this, in turn, is a quick way to gain weight. It becomes impossible to be conscious of feeling “full” when your mind if focused on work, and not your body. Take some time for yourself to eat a balanced meal during the day. Include some protein, whole grains, and plenty of fruits and vegetables. This will help you to improve your energy and focus during the day as well as keep your weight where you want it.
  7. Go for wholesome fresh foods

    If possible, purchase fresh foods and avoid package [processed] and convenient foods such as fast-food. Packaged and convenient foods are often high in sodium and fat content. Many people are amazed that they can easily lose weight by packing a home-cooked lunch to work instead of eating out.
  8. Reduce, don’t eliminate certain foods

    Most people eat for pleasure as well as nutrition. Everyone has his or her favourite treats. Simply allow yourself a little indulgence, but watch out for the frequency and the quantity. Having a small treat once in a while can be rewarding to your weight loss experience. Cutting too much of your favourite treats usually leads to an early relapse.

    Choose skim or low-fat dairy products and lean cuts of meat such as flank steak. This can reduce your fat intake significantly. If you love fried chicken, you don’t have to give it up. Just eat it less often. When dining out, share it with a friend; ask for a take-home bag, or a smaller portion.
  9. Understand food claims and labels

    A product labelled with a fat-free claim does not mean that it is low in calories. Similarly, a product labelled as low-sugar or low-carb does not mean it is low in fat or calories. Always read the nutrition label on the packaging, or ask an expert.
  10. Watch for sugary drinks and relinquish caffeine

    Juices, pop, cream and sugar in your coffee or tea all add up. Opt for drinking at least 8-10 glasses of water a day. In addition to providing hydration to your body, it will also help you feel full.

    Starting your day off with a pot of coffee is not exactly a balanced breakfast, but it is likely the most common. People are more dependent than ever on caffeine to provide them a “perk” of energy. The downside is that’s all it is providing – a quick perk. 

    The reality is caffeine gives you small bursts of energy and then you crash to an energy low which leaves you to need even more. Caffeine also pulls fluid from your cells, which can cause mild dehydration and contributes to the three o’clock slump. Symptoms of mild dehydration are: fatigue, lack of concentration, irritability, anxiety, and mild headache. hmm, sounds familiar? Stick to one caffeinated beverage a day and work on drinking more water
  11. Keep a food journal

    Writing a daily food journal helps you pin-point your eating pattern and enable you to easily modify it.
  12. Exercise

    Most authorities recommend 30-40 minutes of physical activity a day to stay healthy. Also, try adding weight-bearing exercises at least two times a week. This will help burn some of the unwanted calories.
  13. Eat a variety of nutrient-rich foods

    You need more than 40 different nutrients for good health, and no single food supplies them all. Your daily food selection should include bread and other whole-grain products, fruits, vegetables, dairy products, meat, poultry, fish, and other protein foods. How much you should eat depends on your calorie needs. Speak to a dietitian or nutritionist for individualised needs.
  14. Go for the grain

    Nutrition experts recommend 6-11 daily servings of grains, including bread, rice, cereal and pasta. To reach this goal, you can include plenty of grain-based snacks that are low in fat and calories, like crackers, pretzels, and fat-free flavoured rice cakes.
  15. Balance your food choices over time

    Not every food has to be “perfect.” When eating a food high in fat, salt or sugar, select other foods that are low in these ingredients. If you miss out on any food group one day, make up for it the next. Your food choices over several days should fit together into a healthy pattern.
  16. Know your diet pitfalls

    To improve your eating habits, you first have to know what’s wrong with them. Write down everything you eat for three days. Check your list with the rest of these 20 tips. Do you add a lot of butter, creamy sauces or salad dressings? Rather than eliminating these foods, just cut back your portions. Are you getting enough fruits and vegetables? If not, you may be missing out on vital nutrients.
  17. Make changes gradually

    Just as there are no “miracle foods,” or easy answers to a healthy diet, don’t expect to totally revamp your eating habits overnight. Changing too much, too soon, can get in the way of success. Begin to remedy excesses or deficiencies with modest changes that can add up to positive, life-long eating habits. For instance, if you don’t like the taste of skim milk, try low-fat. Eventually, you may find you like skim, too.
  18. Remember, foods are not good or bad

    Select foods based on your total eating patterns, not whether any individual food is “good” or “bad.” Don’t feel guilty if you love foods such as apple pie, potato chips, candy bars, or ice-cream. Eat them in moderation, and choose other foods to provide the balance and variety that are vital to good health.
  19. Don’t forget dairy

    Include snacks from milk, yogurt and cheese group. To help meet your daily calcium requirements, choose two to three servings of dairy products each day. Snack on low-fat yogurt, or have a low-fat or skim milk shake.
  20. Start small

In addition to this, check your height and weight. Or, use a chart to see if you are overweight for your height. Your body mass index [BMI] is the weight in kilogram divided by the height in meter-squared: remember, it should be below 25.


SUSHILA Sharangdhar

Sushila Sharangdhar, a registered dietician, is Director, HEAL [Health Education and Lifestyle management]. She also teaches in corporate-based workshops for lifestyle management. She lives in Mumbai.

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