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Healthy eating guidelines for busy people

By The Examiner
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Individuals living busy lives are often stressed out. They're constantly over-worked, sleep-deprived, budget-challenged and time-starved.

Instead of cooking or preparing meals at home, busy people often buy fast foods which are usually loaded with saturated fat and calories.

To make matters worse, people are usually not content with regular-sized meals already over-loaded with calories. Instead, super-sized meals -- which are often offered so cheaply -- are often consumed.

Fast food restaurants providing cheap and convenient super-sized fast food meals for busy people can keep them 'addicted' to high-fat, high-calorie diet long-term.

Studies have shown that when dopamine function -- a neurotransmitter in the brain associated with pleasure and reward -- is impaired, it could make some people more vulnerable to compulsive eating; this could lead to obesity. For some compulsive eaters, the drive to eat is so intense that it overshadows their concern for their health. This is similar to a drug addict's compulsion to take drugs. In the case of compulsive eaters, the focus of addiction is usually high-fat, high-sugar and high-calorie foods that can offer more intense reward for the brain's dopamine system.

If the brain's reward system contributes to compulsion or psychological dependence to unhealthy eating, then this problem is far more complicated than most people have thought. And the solution, necessarily, has to take this into consideration in order to be more effective. Otherwise, it will be doomed to fail.

Of course, there are many contributing factors for obesity in the United States and other parts of the world. Regardless of the reason, many people are not living a healthy lifestyle -- and this has devastating consequences for their health.

Due to their unhealthy lifestyle, millions are at risk for dying prematurely or living with diabetes, heart disease, hypertension as well as other chronic diseases and health problems.

What can be done?
Instead of assuming that people not eating healthy just lack the right nutritional information or lack willpower and motivation, better appreciation of their stressful and busy lifestyle might offer more effective solutions.

A healthy eating plan for busy people needs to be easy-to-start and easy-to-follow. If a fast-food eater's brain -- due to plasticity -- has been trained to crave unhealthy foods, re-training of the brain of the compulsive eater or unhealthy eater will have to be done. This seems complicated, but it is not. It requires some understanding of brain plasticity and implementation of smarter solutions to re-train the brain in order to break bad eating habits and develop healthier habits.

Once a healthy eating plan has been chosen, taking action and continued practice can make the new healthy eating habit permanent. This process may take more time, but the healthy-eating changes can be sustainable long-term.

These are healthy eating guidelines for busy people:

1. Make healthy eating changes easy-to-start. Instead of going 'cold turkey' and attempting to quit eating super-sized fast-food meals rapidly, one can make simple, sustainable changes to one's unhealthy diet slowly.

For example, people eating super-sized fast foods often can start by eating one less super-sized, fast-food meal. They can exchange it with one regular-sized fast food meal and one serving of healthy salad, fruit or vegetables. In a week or two -- as they re-train their brain and taste buds -- they can exchange one fast-food meal completely with a healthy meal. They can continue to increase the proportion of healthy food versus junk food -- one meal and one snack at a time -- until they are eating healthy food most of the time. This process can take some time, but the changes can be more sustainable.

Occasional cheating by eating an unhealthy food from time to time can happen, but healthy eating should always be resumed afterward. Healthy eating is the goal that matters not perfection. Occasional cheating can prevent feelings of deprivation and resulting binge eating.

2. Make the healthy eating plan easy-to-follow. The strict diet mindset often leads to failure. Making small, sustainable changes focusing on healthy eating and lifestyle changes can lead to weight control and staying healthy for life.

In a 2005 study by Duke University Medical Center, severely overweight and obese people participated in a 4-week treatment program focusing on lifestyle change, physical activity and healthy eating. By making small, sustainable changes, they lost up to 5% of their total body weight during the first month. More importantly, they lost an average of 10.1% of their original body weight one year later. More than 80% reported improved quality of life, including better stamina and mobility. They reported improved confidence in their ability to follow a healthy lifestyle -- which can lead to weight control for life.

3. Which diet would be best for weight control and staying healthy? Any heart-healthy diet will work -- and the side effects will be weight loss and weight control as well as staying healthy.

A study done by Harvard School of Public Health and the Pennington Biomedical Research Center evaluated four popular diets -- high carb, high fat, low fat and high protein. After two years of monitoring the participants, all the diets produced weight loss, improvement in lipids and reduction in insulin. They found that it wasn't the content of fat, protein or carbohydrates that mattered. Reduction of calories resulted in weight loss, lipid improvements and insulin reduction.

Participants in the study were given menus and instructed to create their own food using healthy food options; the diets studied were compatible with American Heart Association guidelines. Depending on their prescribed diet, participants ate a wide range of carbohydrates, fat and protein; these were derived from healthy foods, such as olive oil, pasta and nut butter.

Based on these findings, the diet for weight loss and weight control would be one that is heart-healthy with food that appeals to the person following the diet. A drastic crash diet or one that leads to dietary deprivation often leads to failure. Calorie restriction can be done without dietary deprivation.

Here are easy-to-follow healthy eating tips from Harvard School of Public Health;

    * Focus on healthy food that appeals to you.
    * Eating a plant-based diet is the healthiest way to eat. Eat plenty of fruits and high-fiber, non-starchy vegetables as well as whole grains and healthy fats, such as nuts, olive and canola oil.

    * Reduce unhealthy staples. Cut way back on red meat, refined grains, sugary drinks, cold cuts and salty snacks because they're very unhealthy. Eat a plant-based diet. If you eat meat, the best choices are fish and poultry.

    * Take a multivitamin. It can be a good nutritional insurance policy.

By eating a plant-based diet that appeals to you, calories can be automatically reduced. Eating plenty of fruits and high-fiber, non-starchy vegetables as well as whole grains can be very filling. You can have a lot of food; so, you won't feel deprived.The side-effects of this heart-healthy diet are weight loss, weight control and staying healthy for life.

If you're currently eating fast foods and other unhealthy foods often, you can make easy-to-start and easy-to-follow healthy changes -- no matter how busy you are. Making changes slowly can help re-train your brain and taste buds -- especially if you have a compulsion or psychological dependence on junk foods. You can save a lot of time and money by eating a heart-healthy, plant-based diet. By making small, sustainable changes to your current diet, you can start eating healthy for life.