Nutritionists would call a three-margarita meal a no-no. We call it the highlight of our week. Lots of so-called food faux pas—eating until you're good and stuffed, skipping breakfast to save time—are things we need to do once in a while to survive. Sure, unhealthy eating habits can cause everything from weight gain to sluggishness, as Charla K. Schultz, RD, a dietitian at the Women's Health Clinic at the Mayo Clinic, helpfully points out. The good news is that with minimal effort, you can make up for most not-so-good food decisions. Put these damage-control strategies to work and start gaining healthy food habits.
Bad Food Habit: You Blow Off Breakfast
The thought of food at the crack of dawn makes you queasy. But your brain (which runs on glucose) and body need a little something in the morning.
Makeup Session: Fine, don't eat breakfast. But do drink a few nutrients first thing in the morning to fuel your mind, boost your energy, and stoke your fat-burning fires (remember, research shows that people who skip breakfast are more likely to be overweight). If all you can bring yourself to consume is a cup of coffee, make it a soy latte. One serving of fortified low-fat soy milk has 30 percent of the Daily Value for bone-building calcium, and the 6.4 grams of protein will keep you full until lunch.
Bad Food Habit: You Pack It in Till It Hurts
That whole "enjoy just one bite" advice makes you roll your eyes as you dig into your third piece of a coworker's birthday cake. Occasional gluttony has its place, but if you eat too much all the time it can cause indigestion, acid reflux, and bloating, says dietitian Amy Campbell, RD, education program manager at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston.
Makeup Session: Stuff yourself with foods that contain fewer calories per bite. These tend to have a higher water and fiber content, so they fill you up quicker, Campbell says. Go ahead and pile it on: broth-based soups, vegetable salads (carrots, cucumbers, celery, lettuce, jicama, tomatoes, green beans), gazpacho, fat-free or low-fat yogurt or cottage cheese, apples and pears, whole grain cereals with low-fat milk, and lean grilled meats and seafood (such as chicken, shrimp, turkey burgers). Avoid heavy foods like pasta, chips, and dense breads and cakes.
Bad Food Habit: You Drink Dinner
It's the perfect way to celebrate the fact that it's Friday. But depending on your poison, you could end up sucking down a flood of empty calories.
Makeup Session: If you know tonight's a party night, cut back during the day: Choose a low-cal yet filling lunch like soup or salad. Then, before you find that barstool with your name on it, Schultz recommends eating a small, fiber-rich snack—a piece of fruit, half of a Thomas' 100% Whole Wheat Mini Bagel, half a cup of hot oatmeal—with a bit of protein, like string cheese or a handful of almonds. That will slow the absorption of alcohol, so you won't be feeling fine so fast that you order round two and a mountain of nachos before the bartender brings your change. The best choices include heart-healthy wine (125 calories per 5-ounce serving, red or white), light beer (103 calories per 12-ounce serving), sake (39 calories per ounce), and rum or whiskey with diet cola (100 calories per 1.5-ounce serving). "Then, after one alcoholic drink, order something nonalcoholic," Schultz advises. Keep the "one for me, one for them" thing going and you'll cut your calories in half.
Bad Food Habit: You're Never Not Eating
For you, chewing is like breathing. And since you probably lose track of how much and what you've eaten, all that endless crunching and munching can add up.
Makeup Session: Your problem is more about fidgeting than eating. So try drinking tea or carbonated water as a calorie-free way to keep your hands and piehole occupied between mealtimes. When liquid won't do, go for healthy snacks that require some work to get at—pistachios, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds still in their shells take time to open. You'll spend more minutes cracking and cleaning up than actually eating, says Cynthia Sass, RD, a former national media spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. Stockpile other no-pudge goodies that you can eat in tiny individual pieces. We like low-fat popcorn or dried wasabi-crusted peas such as Hapi Hot Wasabi Peas.
Bad Food Habit: Your Car is Your Dining Room
With a schedule tighter than Fergie's halter top, time behind the wheel may be the only chance you get to eat. Problem is, you can inhale an entire day's worth of calories, fat, and sugar in one drive-thru run.
Makeup Session: Fill your glove compartment with prepackaged snacks that will make you feel full fast. Nuts are clutch because their healthy fats/protein combination satisfies you with just a handful. Stock up on 1-ounce single-serving bags. Energy bars also make great portable meals for ravenous road warriors. If you must stop for food, pull into the nearest grocery store. Most now have prepared-food sections that offer salads, soups, and other good-for-you options. "It's so much healthier than typical road fare," Sass says.