As a rule I'm not the sort of person who makes New Year's resolutions, but last year was an exception. For a variety of reasons I decided to lose some weight and, mirabile dictu, found success. Now I find myself making another resolution - namely to stay within a "good enough" weight range and to eat a healthier diet while doing so. A recent post mentioned the weight loss and several people got in touch asking for tips. Oddly enough my family physician also asked for tips. While I'm not an expert by any means, but here are some comments.
I kept track of everything I ate as well as how much I exercised and compared this to a baseline to make sure I was six to eight hundred Calories below my normal daily requirement. The idea was to lose about five pounds a month - a slow and steady rate that hopefully would be maintainable. Some estimates were required (restaurant food) and I found the need to weigh what I ate when possible. Staying motivated was a big issue for me and access to an exercise coach was central to my success. The basic technique with product recommendations is here.
The type of food and even the timing of meals and food types became important. I found it necessary to track fat, saturated fat (for safety), protein and carbohydrates. In general I became very hungry by dinner if I didn't have at least 15% of my breakfast and lunch Calories from protein. As a lacto-vegetarian I need to carefully monitor protein anyway so at least I was paying attention.1 Very low fat meals caused a similar problem. What seemed to work best was aiming for about 20% of my Calories from protein and 20% from fat (as little saturated fat as possible). Much of the fat came from tree nuts like cashews, pecans, walnuts and pistachios. I tried to eat a lot of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains as they are generally agreed to be important parts of a healthy diet.
I found allowing for some treats was very important. For me this usually means a bit of chocolate. I was able to only have four days this past year when I was over target and only two of those were feasts. Quality food was important. I found preparing most of my meals myself allowed me to track what was in them and gave me more satisfying meals. I recommend anything by Mark Bittman as a a starting point for recipes. He is committed to a quality diet and most of his dishes are very easy to make and delicious. He has about ten books in print, but since I'm a vegetarian I relied on his How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.2
As I progressed I was able to hone in on my daily energy requirement before exercise. It was a bit different from the published values, but was stable and gave me a baseline for planning. Of course as I lost weight it changed as did the exercise numbers. While a lot of people have success by just eating less, I found journaling to be very important. If you use this approach, do yourself a favor and use software.