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Go from Diet Disaster to Diet-Friendly!

Frozen TV dinners weren’t served often when I was growing up in the 60’s. However, on rare, extra-busy nights, I remember eating my meal out of that small, compartmentalized aluminum tray. They were always heated in the oven (since microwaves were not yet staples in every home). Watery mashed potatoes, tough corn, and greasy fried chicken—in no way was it the finest of cuisines, but the novelty made it enjoyable. Eating in front of the TV was always off limits at my house. “We eat as a family,” my mom would preach.

“But mom,” I whined, “Why do you think they call it a TV dinner?” When we were finished, my mom would wash those little aluminum trays to use when freezing her own leftover meals. Back then, our recycled trays held craft paints and rock collections, germinated seeds, and fed every stray dog and cat in the area. Out of necessity, we were all craftier, more resourceful and conservative back then.

Today, frozen dinners make up a $6 billion industry. As a dietitian you may expect me to tout all the horrors and tragedies of using frozen entrees. WRONG! I am here to share the possibilities as well as ways to make the healthiest choices even tastier. While eating in front of the TV is still a no-no in my house, the ole TV dinner has come a long way. It is now more kindly referred to as the frozen dinner. You can heat it in your own microwave in less than 5 minutes, and choose from selections that are varied and superb. No one had ever heard of “chicken parmesan” when I was a kid!

The Perks of Frozen Dinners
  • Quick & easy. Being a practical mom, I know that there are nights when heating a frozen dinner can be the key to getting everyone in the family fed quickly and efficiently, with very little clean-up. Your family can eat in 15 minutes or so and spend some time catching up on the events of the day.
  • Built-in portion control! In the age of biggie-this and over-stuffed that, the frozen dinner is a portion-controlled delight! Few people will actually heat another dinner, and there's no temptation of going back for seconds.
  • Vegetable servings. Green beans, corn, carrots and more, there is at least one (sometimes two!) veggie servings on that tray.
  • Perfect for the single scene. Very few people like to cook for themselves. Whether you're 18 or 80, living in a college dorm or senior citizen apartment, frozen dinners offer great variety for those eating meals alone.
  • Easy prep for all. For anyone who has difficulty in the kitchen due to joint pain, a physical constraint, balance problems, or post-op healing time, frozen dinners can be the trick for easy-yet-nutritious meals.
  • When the cook's away, dinner still stays. When your family's "head cook" needs to take care of business or is gone for a few days, frozen dinners come to the rescue.
  • Economical. Frozen dinners are less expensive than dining out.

Read more: Fantastic Frozen Dinners

There just don't seem to be enough hours in the day to accomplish everything you need to do as a parent. Trying to integrate healthy habits into your family's already hectic schedule can add even more stress. But when you make time for healthy habits, you'll find yourself with extra energy, less stress and a greater ability to take on life's challenges.

Getting healthy doesn't happen overnight. Take your time, enjoy the ride, and make one small change at a time. Here is one habit you can easily fit into your routine today.

Take the time to plan healthy meals for the week.
It only takes about 15 minutes to map out your family's meals for an entire week. Keep it simple. Then, when you shop for groceries, make your purchases based on the meals you will make during the week. This will help you avoid relying on less healthy take-out or fast food choices. If you're short on time, spend a little extra on ready-to-cook ingredients, such as frozen veggies and fruits, and pre-cut and washed foods.

When creating your meal plan and grocery list, include plenty of healthy snacks (baby carrots, string cheese, nuts, fruit, crackers and applesauce) too. With just a few minutes of extra planning, your house will be stocked with plenty of healthy, quick-cook meals and snacks for an entire week.

READ MORE...

Cues to Eating and How to Control Them

Balanced breakfast? Check
Mid-morning snack? Check
Healthy lunch with your co-workers? Check
Passing up your friend's homemade cookies? Check
Coming home in the evening and going on a feeding frenzy? CHECK!!

Does this sound like the bulk of your days? You're in control, everything is going fine - until you come home starving at night and eat a large dinner, say yes to dessert (and seconds) and finish off a bag of chips before bed. What gives?

From a metabolic standpoint, there is really no reason not to eat food in the evening. A calorie is a calorie regardless of when it is consumed. A morning calorie is metabolized in basically the same way as an evening calorie. However, eating in the evening is a problem for many, not because of the way food is metabolized, but because of the quantity of food that is often eaten.

Skipping meals and becoming overly hungry by evening can lead to nighttime binge eating. Recent studies revealed that when people ate three meals a day only 13% binged. When people skipped breakfast, 24% binged and when people skipped breakfast and lunch, 60% binged. In general, people who spread their meals throughout the day seem to be better able to control their eating. They are less likely to feel hungry and less likely to overeat. So by eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner and planning snacks in between, you can help yourself lose weight as well as maintain better control of your eating throughout the day and night.

For most people, the evening is "down-time," used to relax, watch television, and unwind from the stresses of the day. Others view this as a time to multi-task and catch up on household chores, bills, homework, and other responsibilities. Whether you're winding down or checking off your to-do list, unconscious eating can accompany your routine and result in a massive calorie intake. Devouring a bag of chips, a sleeve of cookies, or a pint of ice cream can occur when your mind is somewhere else.

The Role of Sleep
Consuming a large amount of food before bedtime can also result in indigestion and sleep problems, which can trigger you to eat more during the proceeding days. A growing body of research suggests a connection between obesity and lack of adequate sleep. Statistics show that overweight individuals sleep about 1.8 hours less a week than people of normal weight. Since the 1960's sleep duration for American adults has dropped by as much as two hours a night, while obesity has drastically increased.

Sleep is a regulator of two hormones that effect appetite, leptin and ghrelin. Leptin helps suppress food intake and stimulate energy expenditure, while ghrelin stimulates appetite, fat production, and body growth. When one is sleep deprived, the level of leptin drops and the level of ghrelin increases. The result is a drastic increase in hunger. One study reported a 24% increase in hunger, with excessive, uncontrollable cravings for calorie and carbohydrate packed foods such as cookies, candy and cake. It can all add up to a vicious cycle of late night binges, lack of adequate sleep, uncontrolled snacking, late night binges, and so on.

Are You An Evening Eater? Try this exercise to find out.
Use the Nutrition Tracker to track 3-5 typical days of eating. Print each day's results and use your records to answer the following questions:

1. How many meals and snacks did you eat after 5:00 pm?
2. How many meals and snacks did you eat during the day?
3. How many total calories did you consume after 5:00 pm?
4. How many total calories did you consume for the day?
5. What activities occurred while you ate after 5:00 pm?

You may have a problem with evening eating if:

  • More than one-third of your meals & snacks are eaten after 5:00 pm.
  • More than one-third of your total calories are consumed after 5:00 pm
  • Evening eating constantly occurs with another activity.

    Put An End to the Evening Binge Cycle!
  • Read more: Is Evening Eating Destroying Your Weight Loss Efforts?

    Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention

    Before developing the serious health condition of type 2 diabetes, a person will almost always have pre-diabetes beforehand. But pre-diabetes is a condition without symptoms, meaning that many people can have it without even knowing it. Left unchecked, pre-diabetes can lead to full-blown type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Luckily, pre-diabetes can be diagnosed with a simple test, and treatment can prevent many health problems and complications. Here's what you need to know to control pre-diabetes before it gets control of you.

    Diabetes Basics
    Under normal circumstances, the glucose (sugar) levels in your blood rise after you eat a meal or snack. In response, your body produces a hormone called insulin, which is needed for the body to convert the glucose in your bloodstream into usable energy. But if insulin isn’t available, or if the body isn’t using it correctly, your blood glucose will remain elevated, and that can be harmful to your body. This is a condition known as diabetes. People who have higher-than-normal blood glucose levels that aren’t quite high enough to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes have pre-diabetes. In the past, individuals with pre-diabetes would have been considered "borderline diabetic."

    Who's at Risk?
    Over 50 million Americans over the age of 20 have pre-diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. If you have any of the risk factors for type 2 diabetes, including uncontrollable factors like age and race, and/or controllable risk factors like obesity and physical inactivity, then you are also at risk for pre-diabetes.

    Most of the time, pre-diabetes is asymptomatic (shows no symptoms), but some people will experience some general diabetes symptoms like extreme thirst, frequent urination, fatigue and/or blurred vision.

    If you fall into any high-risk categories or experience any of the symptoms above, then visit your health care provider for a blood glucose test as soon as you can. Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial steps, as they can prevent the development of type 2 diabetes and its serious health consequences.

    Testing & Diagnosis
    There are two tests commonly used to diagnose diabetes and pre-diabetes: a fasting plasma glucose (FPG test) and an oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT).
    • The FPG test will measure your blood glucose level after an eight-hour (overnight) fast. A result less than 100 mg/dL is considered normal, but anything above that level is diagnosed as "impaired fasting glucose" (IFG). Between 100 mg/dL and 125 mg/dL is considered pre-diabetes, while 126 mg/dL or higher indicates diabetes.
    • The OGTT will measure your blood sugar after a fast and then again after drinking a glucose-rich beverage. Two hours after the beverage, a result less than 140 mg/dL is considered normal, but anything above that level is diagnosed as "impaired glucose tolerance (IGT). Between 140 mg/dL and 199 mg/dL is considered pre-diabetes, while 200 mg/dL or higher indicates diabetes.
    • Some people have both IFG and IGT.
    Treatment & Prevention
    While pre-diabetes in itself isn’t necessarily dangerous, the fact is that many people with pre-diabetes will develop type 2 diabetes within 10 years.

    Read more: What is Pre-Diabetes?

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