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How to avoid common food pitfalls

When you’re ‘hangry,’ it’s hard to make wise food choices. Here’s how.

Article Author: Beth Stambaugh

Article Date:

cartoon image of woman inside of a hamburger with the words "food pitfalls" behind her

You know how it goes. You’re eating healthy -- in fact, you’ve been doing so for five hours in a row! But then, hunger strikes with a vengeance, making it tempting to reach for whatever is easiest. What’s an aspiring healthy eater to do?

We talked to Anna Stallard, a clinical dietitian with Baptist Medical Center Jacksonville, to see what she does when faced with roadblocks to healthy choices.

“My No. 1 piece of advice is to plan ahead. With unhealthy options everywhere you turn, eating healthy won’t just happen,” said Stallard.

Her solution: Always have healthy snacks on hand.

“Cut up fresh fruit and veggies and place them in small plastic containers or plastic bags so you can grab them whenever,” she recommended.

Whole-grain snacks like popcorn and select crackers or chips are good, too, but check the labels first. Place healthy snacks where you will see them first – on the first row of the fridge or at the front of the cabinet. Conversely, put unhealthy snacks out of reach so it’s harder to get to them.

Even for those who plan ahead, there are always food dangers lurking. Here are Stallard’s answers on how to combat temptation.

Q. What can I do if I’m on a road trip and the only options are fast food?
A. It’s not impossible to make good choices at the drive-through. Opt for a chicken sandwich rather that beef, which has more fat than chicken. To save more fat and empty calories, ask for it without mayo and cheese and forget the fries. Many fast-food places offer salads and fruit now. Chili can be a healthy option as well.

Q. I missed breakfast and now I am starving. Can I grab a breakfast bar?
A. Yes, but check the nutrition label first. Many breakfast bars are high in sugar, so look for one with less than 10 grams. One high in protein (at least 10 grams) and fiber (at least 5grams) will help you feel full for longer.

Q. What if it’s someone’s birthday in the office and there’s a delicious cake staring me in the face?
A. What I do is weigh the options. If it’s one of my very favorites and it’s worth it to me, I go ahead and have a small piece and then get right back on track and eat nutritiously for the rest of the day.

Q. I am going out to a restaurant tonight. Any tips?
A. Portion control is the main thing. Many restaurants serve meals that are two or three times the recommended serving size. Ask for a to-go container and take the rest home. Also, beware of high-calorie salads. Those with fried chicken, high-fat dressing, cheese and nuts can add up to more than 1,000 calories, not to mention an overload of sodium and sugar.

Q. What should I do if I really crave something sweet after dinner?
A. Have something small – I allow myself to have a couple of small pieces of dark chocolate after dinner. They have fiber and antioxidants, which may prevent or delay some types of cell damage.

Q. I’m going to a party and there will be lots of decadent food. What’s the best strategy?
A. Limiting your alcohol intake will help greatly because it contains empty calories, and it lowers your inhibitions, making overeating easier. Eat a healthy meal before you go to the party and stick to the healthy snacks like fruits, veggies, and whole-grain crackers and chips. To add flavor, dip veggies in fresh salsa, hummus or guacamole, all of which are high in nutrients.

Q. Any final words of advice?
A. Have a game plan in place – like these tips I’ve mentioned–so you know what to do before you are faced with food pitfalls. The more you plan, the better you will do.

For more information on avoiding food pitfalls in your diet, you can make an appointment with a wellness coach, a free service offered through the Baptist Y Healthy Living Center, or request a free health screening at a Y Healthy Living Center near you.

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