By Patricia Deal

Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center public affairs

Obesity is the second leading preventable cause of death in the United States, with an estimated 112,000 Americans dying each year from obesity-related complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center's Nutrition Services staff has many programs in place to help beneficiaries with their weight loss struggles.

Eating less and moving more are the keys to losing weight. Making small changes in your eating habits can definitely help you get to a better weight, according to Darnall dietitians, and they offer several tips and techniques to help.

They start off with advice about the first, and most important, meal of the day, breakfast.

"It's common to hear people say, 'I don't have time' but a simple breakfast can be a cup of milk and an orange for some calcium and vitamin C. Breakfast does not have to be traditional breakfast foods. You can prepare a sandwich the night before for a quick 'grab and go,'" said Barbara Hughart, clinical dietitian. She added that a survey of 3,000 people who lost 70 pounds and kept it off, showed that almost 80 percent of them ate a healthy breakfast every day.

Skipping breakfast makes it difficult to meet key nutrient needs, as well as maintaining energy levels to meet the demands of the day.

"You need to eat breakfast daily," said Brian Lehmann, dietitian at the Army Wellness Center. "Since many soldiers do not receive adequate protein in morning hours, they need to make sure breakfast includes a lean protein source such as low-fat cottage cheese, yogurt, skim milk or eggs."

Katie McCammon, dietitian and health educator at the Army Wellness Center agreed, adding that lean protein and fiber for breakfast is what "keeps your engine running in the morning."

"Good sources of lean protein include eggs, egg substitute, Canadian bacon, low-fat yogurt or milk," she said. "Add a good source of fiber (such as oatmeal, wheat toast, granola) for an even heartier breakfast."

Hughart added that fiber is one nutrient that is often overlooked.

"Not only does it play a role in helping the colon stay healthy, it also plays a role in heart health," she said. "To increase fiber, don't just buy 'brown' breads, rice and grains. Some products say 'whole wheat' or 'whole grain' but that doesn't necessarily translate into high fiber so take time to read the dietary fiber content on the label. Two to four grams of fiber per serving is good and five or more is great. Shoot for 20 grams or more per day from fruits, vegetables, beans and grains."

Paying attention to the types of food you eat is important. Capt. Deana Lawrence, chief of Production and Service in the Nutrition Clinic, suggests planning out your meals and snacks so you are getting at least five fruits and vegetable servings a day, getting enough calcium-rich foods and eating lower-fat snacks.

"You don't necessarily give up favorite desserts and other high-calorie foods," offered Hughart. "You can balance sugary and fatty foods with lower caloric content, but more nutrient dense. Everything in balance and moderation."

Capt. Emily Smith, chief of the Nutrition Therapy Clinic, advised decreasing portion sizes of the foods you already eat. "Avoid the fad diets that may call for cutting out whole food groups like carbohydrates or fat. They do not translate to long-term results, and will eventually slow your metabolism with each failed attempt," she said.

As a way to help with portion control, 1st Lt. Kimberly Feeney, chief of Inpatient Dietetics, suggests switching from a 12-inch plate to a 9-inch plate. "It can trick your eye into thinking you're getting more food than you are. It can potentially save you 500 calories a day or more, enough to lose a pound a week," she said.

Planning your meals and preparing your specific portion sizes is also a good idea, Lawrence said. "Try 'batch cooking' your meals, usually on the weekend, for the week ahead to save time," she suggested. "Portion everything out in containers for work the night before and you're ready to go in the morning with no worries of being confronted with tempting foods throughout the day."

Feeney added that cooking at home makes it easier to control the calories, fat and nutrients in your food. "If your schedule leaves you too tired to make dinner after work, cook large meals and freeze the leftovers to create your own personal TV dinners," she said.

The dietitians said it's important to get your family involved in your healthy eating habits.

"Try employing 'stealth nutrition' with your family. If your family is reluctant to try healthier versions of foods and beverages then take small steps such as replacing a higher sugar cereal or juice with a lower sugar variety or replace a higher fat yogurt, milk, or sour cream with a lower fat variety and see if they notice the difference," Lawrence said. "I've been surprised over the years at how many members of my family don't taste the difference and they would never know unless I told them."

Encourage children to eat new foods by offering small portions of the new food with familiar food items, suggested Maj. Janetta Blackmore, chief of the Nutrition Care Division.

"Get the entire family involved in meal preparation. It's a great time to talk about where foods come from, cooking techniques and the various nutrients in the foods being prepared," she said.

The dietitians also advised about staying hydrated to round out your healthy eating lifestyle.

"Drink at least three liters of non-caloric beverages such as water daily," Lehmann said, emphasizing the "non-caloric."

"Most people don't realize how many calories are in the liquids they're drinking; things like regular soda, sweet tea, coffee drinks, energy drinks, juice and alcohol all have calories and can lead to weight gain if you aren't careful. Check the food labels on your favorite drinks and consider switching to diet," Feeney said.

There are many more tips and suggestions to help with weight loss, the group said, stressing that small steps, which can be sustained long-term, will be much better for your overall health and weight.

"Remember that no one is perfect. If you eat too much, or something that isn't on your health plan, the sooner you get back on track the better. It's the people who give up after one slip that never make progress. Those who learn how to overcome their roadblocks make lifestyle changes that last," said Manuele.

Nutrition advice

The Nutrition Services clinic offers many classes on a variety of nutrition topics and individualized nutrition counseling for all eligible beneficiaries-active-duty soldiers, retirees and family members - from infants to senior citizens. Patients can self-refer.

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