Your Fat-Loss Questions, Answered

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From late-night noshing to portion control, registered dietitian Allison Clark has the simple answers to your top nutrition questions, so you can lean out and get healthier.

Is it okay to eat after 8 p.m.?

It is definitely okay to eat after 8 p.m. There is no magic hour after which anything you put in your mouth will suddenly cause you to gain weight! It’s not when you eat, but what you eat later in the day that can cause your body to store fat. If you’re hungry after sundown or haven’t yet had your dinner, eat! Just make this a lighter meal, like a fresh, leafy green salad with some chopped chicken. It will be much easier to sleep if your body isn’t trying to digest a heavy, high-calorie meal. If you’re snacking mindlessly in front of the TV all night, that’s when you’ll notice the scale going up.

Is it expensive to eat clean?

Eating clean is doable on a budget. Here’s how:

  1. Stick to fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season.
  2. Don’t fall for overpriced pre-cut, packaged produce or “100 calorie” snack packs. Instead, make your own. Divide nuts or chopped veggies into containers so they’re more convenient.
  3. Purchase only what you think you will use and try splitting items with a clean-eating friend. For example, one week you get the bundle of mixed greens while your friend gets the container of strawberries – divide them and share!

When shopping for groceries, consider what the cost of your health will be in the future if you don’t eat clean and exercise today.

Can I eat carbohydrates and still shed fat?

Carbohydrates are an important source of energy. They provide the fuel your body needs to get you through the day – and a tough workout. However, in order to stay healthy and lose fat, you want to steer clear of refined carbohydrates, or “empty calories” (think white breads, pastas, cakes, cookies and candies). They provide little nutritional value and cause your blood sugar levels to spike and dive.

Instead, focus on consuming complex carbohydrates, like one hundred–percent whole-grain breads, beans, oatmeal and fruits. Complex carbohydrates break down more slowly in the body, contain more fiber and often have a higher water content, all of which keep you feeling fuller longer. Your energy levels will stay even throughout the day, and you will be less likely to give into cravings that will sabotage your fat-loss efforts.

How do I control my portion sizes?

Many of us underestimate how much we are eating. Here’s how you can start to accurately measure your portion sizes.

  1. Break out the measuring cups, tablespoons, and even consider purchasing a kitchen scale.
  2. Be diligent in measuring and weighing out everything, such as brown rice, almonds, meat and cereal, until you get a sense of what a proper serving looks like.
  3. If you’re dining out, a general rule of thumb is to keep the starch and protein sources to a quarter of your plate, and load up the other half with non-starchy veggies.
  4. Log what you eat until you get into a healthy eating routine. Whether it’s on plain old paper or in a smartphone app, you may be less likely to go back for extras if you have to own up and record it!

How much protein should I eat?

Believe it or not, most Americans consume more than enough protein. Protein-rich foods include meats, fish, dairy products, beans and even some grains.

The Recommended Dietary Allowance for adult women is 46 grams of protein per day. But, if you are embarking on a high-intensity training program that includes weightlifting several times a week, you may want to increase your protein intake to promote muscle growth and repair. In this case, you can consume about 1.4 to 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. Divide your weight in pounds by 2.2 to convert to kilograms. For example, if you weigh 135 pounds, divide this by 2.2 to get 61.3 kilograms; multiply 61.3 kilograms by 1.4 to 1.8 grams of protein, and you get 85 to 110 grams of protein per day.

Do I have to give up red meat to shed fat?

Red meat is a great source of protein, iron, zinc and energy-boosting vitamin B12, and not all cuts are laden in saturated fat and calories. A three-ounce serving of lean cuts – like eye of round roast, top sirloin, top round roast and 95-percent lean ground beef – costs about 154 calories.

How can I get my family to eat healthy?

Make it fun! Get everyone involved in finding new recipes, food shopping and cooking. It is much more enticing for kids to accept healthy foods when they have a say in the meal planning and preparation.

Instead of referring to foods in terms of their calorie and fat content, or labeling them as “good” or “bad,” highlight their nutritional benefits. For example, “We are eating spinach with dinner tonight because it is packed with antioxidants that will help our bodies fight off colds!”

How many calories should I eat at each meal?

Calorie needs depend entirely on the individual and are based on height, weight and physical activity levels. However, a simple guideline for breaking down your calories at meals would be to consume about 300 calories for breakfast, 300 to 400 calories for lunch and 400 to 500 calories for dinner. Depending on your specific needs, the remainder of daily calories can used for snacks in between meals.

How much water should I drink a day? Does coffee count?

You have probably heard that everyone should drink eight eight-ounce glasses of water per day. However, current research suggests that you should let thirst be your guide. Tips for staying properly hydrated include:

  1. Drink a glass when you wake up.
  2. Keep a water bottle on hand and sip frequently throughout the day.
  3. Always sip before, during and after exercise.
  4. Keep a glass on your bedside table.

The best way to assess if you are properly hydrated is by monitoring the color of your urine; aim for a pale yellow color. Coffee and other caffeinated beverages do contain water and contribute to your hydration status, but they should be consumed in moderation and in addition to your water intake.