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Changing one meal a day to alter your diet and health

April 20, 2015

The takeout craving at lunch is strong.

But making daily visits to the sandwich shop or wolfing down a container of oily pasta leftovers — perhaps indulged in after a tough meeting or slow day — can add up in more ways than one.

Changing your habits for just one meal a day can improve your health, energy and even weight, experts say.

"It can have a big impact," said Jill Weisenberger, a registered dietitian nutritionist and author of "The Overworked Person’s Guide to Better Nutrition." "One meal a day is a significant portion of our calories."

Even in calories alone, the difference is stark.

A more balanced meal will fill you up more than a packed burrito, Weisenberger said. That burrito might be 800 calories, or a jumbo burger could be 600. But a balanced meal that doesn’t strand you with hunger can be created for 400 or 500 calories — or even fewer.

"You’re saving calories that way," she said. "Over time, in six months, in a year, you definitely are going to see a weight effect, and you’re going to be happier."

Leftovers for lunch are fine, she advised; just make sure it’s a smaller, balanced version of what you had for dinner.

"People think lunch is supposed to be skimpy, but if you eat enough and it’s balanced, it’s amazing what it can do," she said.

Weisenberger’s recent lunches included black beans and rice — plain yogurt on top — with raw carrots, cauliflower and a grapefruit. A meal crafted from leftovers featured chicken and green beans, with a side of blackberries.

"I want to see somebody with a protein-rich food, so that could be turkey or fish or black beans or lentils or cottage cheese," she said. Add in a fruit or a vegetable — preferably both, she said.

Stephanie Pedersen, a nutritionist who created the High Impact Health website (www.highimpacthealth.com), said a game-changer would be swapping out a sluggish lunch, for example a deli sandwich. Instead, she suggests, swap in quinoa or bean bowls or tossing together a salad with a bit of chicken, seafood or lentils.

"Having that steady drip of energy with vegetables and protein, even a whole grain, could really help that 3:30 fatigue," she said.

Pedersen said to think of your meal change not through a calorie lens but instead about that slump you feel a few hours after eating.

"Hence, the 3 p.m. chocolate chip cookie craving," she said.

If lunch isn’t your toughest meal, pick another — grilling chicken for dinner ahead of time or taking time for a substantial breakfast.

"I call it the setup for the day," said Jim Karas, head of Jim Karas Personal Training and "The Ultimate Diet REVolution" author. "Nobody is going to benefit from eating a yogurt for breakfast. That’s not smart at all. That’s going to set you up to be starving."

He said the true positive outcome can come when changing one meal alters your mindset. After you swap out one each day, hopefully you feel better, leading to healthier decisions — taking the stairs or grilling a batch of chicken for a week’s worth of healthy meals.

"By making the choice," Kara said, "you’re hoping for spillover effect."

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