The “Ask Marilyn Daily Diet”

(The “Ask Marilyn Daily Diet” was originally published in PARADE Magazine November 21, 2004.)

I have a very light breakfast (low-fat yogurt or fruit or cereal) and a very small lunch (a bit of cheese and crackers). And during the day, I drink water and a couple of cups of tea (sometimes with caffeine).

For dinner, however, I have just about anything I want, including bread and a little butter or olive oil, most kinds of entrees and vegetables, plus a dessert.

The biggest exception is that I try to limit saturated fats, so I don’t often have foods like burgers and fries. I also skip fatty meats and gravies and soups with cream.

I think this maintenance diet is successful because it’s hard to overeat when you have only one significant meal a day. If my weight creeps upward a few pounds—which sometimes happens—I eliminate the bread and dessert until my weight returns to normal.

I also have strict rules, which I seldom break, except during vacations and holidays:

No snack food at home: only mealtime food. This means zero cookies, chips, nuts, and other treats. When it’s time for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, you should find everything you need. But when you want something between meals just for fun, the cupboard should look bare.

No eating between meals. This includes “healthful” food such as fruit or juice. For your health, they’re better than “junk” food. But for keeping trim, they are just added calories. Instead, try a no-calorie beverage or a cup of tea with sweetener. One of the best things about my routine is that I always look forward to dinner, when I can have most anything I want—what a treat! Plus, food tastes much better when you’re hungry and not eating simply because mealtime has arrived.

No beverages with calories except for fruit juice or milk at breakfast. Also: Warm drinks and room-temperature drinks are more flavorful than cold ones, so I don’t add ice. I order beverages without ice in restaurants, too. Plus, melting ice makes a beverage watery, and that diminishes the flavor even more. Even in summer, iceless drinks don’t seem warm. Body temperature is almost 100°F, and so 72°F water tastes plenty cool enough. And in winter, why have an icy drink at all?

No milk or sugar added to beverages, including coffee and tea. Either drink it with sweetener or drink it black (or with lemon). All this stuff adds up. If you eliminate just one 100-calorie soda and a 15-calorie cup of coffee with sugar daily, you would lose twelve pounds in a year!

No effort to eat everything on the plate, either at home or in a restaurant. Learn to throw good food away or save it for another dinner (not for snacking). People who are bothered by “wasting” food will either gain weight or cook (and order) less. Choose the latter, which actually eliminates the waste. Eating too much is the worst possible waste of good food. This doesn’t help starving children anywhere, and it makes the overeater a bit less healthy.

Following are a couple of dos and don’ts:

Do take forever to eat dinner. The simple pleasure of dining with family or friends is underrated in our hurried lives. So is dining alone while reading a newspaper or simply enjoying good food. One of my favorite activities is going out to dinner by myself when my husband is away. I usually take a couple of questions to ponder and linger for the evening. It’s blissful!

Do savor each bite. If you love food, why not enjoy the taste as long as you can? Plus, thorough chewing makes for less tummy trouble, especially for those with gastrointestinal conditions, such as diverticulosis, which affects a third of the adult population. This is one reason I avoid drinks with calories. They disappear in a flash!

Don’t change your dining habits on the weekends. Weekends are already delightful, and you can have most anything you like for dinner every day, anyway. Adding foodfests like brunch is just plain overindulgence. Use that time to take a walk in a hilly park, bicycle with the kids, or shoot baskets at a playground. You’ll feel much better afterward.

Don’t underestimate the calories you consume. When I say “a very light breakfast” and “a very small lunch,” I really mean it: maybe 250 calories for both together. People often underestimate the calories of “healthful” food and overestimate the calories of foods that are frequent targets of dieters, such as one of the scariest foods of all: butter. Yet an average apple has the same number of calories as two pats of butter!

And one special tip:

Don’t eat food that you don’t really enjoy. This is an important part of my daily diet, whether I’m maintaining my weight or losing a couple of pounds. I won’t eat anything that I don’t think tastes great, even if I’m at a restaurant. Here’s how I view it: I have a limited number of days in my life, and time is precious. In a similar way, I have a limited number of calories to enjoy in my life. I want to “spend” them in the best way I can. So I refuse to waste precious calories on stale bread, spaghetti that’s too soft, or a giant cookie that didn’t taste as good as it looked. One bite, and it’s all over!