You can't fool us. Yes, you eat healthy foods. Yes, you stock your fridge with fresh fruits and vegetables and always order the salmon. But then the water heater breaks and you're late for a meeting and there's cake at work and a friend pops over unexpectedly and suddenly, it's 10 P.M., the produce is rotting, and your dinner consists of stale beer and a bag of Cheetos.
It happens to every woman—but that doesn't mean you're destined to live in a dietary wasteland. If you sin—or rather, when you sin—against your otherwise good-for-you diet, here are six strategies and the right foods to help you find nutritional salvation.
The Sin: The breakfast binge
Your morning meal is a giant latte and a huge banana-nut muffin—nearly 800 calories (most of them from fat). That's about half of your daily caloric allotment before 10 A.M.
Your Salvation: A lunchtime turkey sandwich on whole wheat—with as many vegetables as can fit between two slices of bread
Don't skip carbs. Most breakfast muffins are deficient in fiber, leaving you far short of the 25 grams you need a day. This sandwich has 3 to 5 grams of fiber and is also low in fat—the muffin (19 g) and latte (15 g) already provided enough fat for two meals. Go with a dark leafy green lettuce like romaine instead of the water-based and nutrient-free iceberg, and add cucumbers, sprouts, and tomatoes for more fiber and nutrients. Eat fruit if you need a side—but try to keep calories low at lunch. "The good thing about overindulging at breakfast is that you're less likely to become hungry mid-morning and nibble early in the day," says Cindy Moore, RD, director of nutrition therapy at Ohio's Cleveland Clinic Foundation. "So it's easy to cut back a little on calories at lunch and dinner."
The Sin: Girls' night out gluttony
It's 12 hours until a high-fat, high-calorie night of pizza and beer. And you're going to love every minute of this fast food binge eating session.
Your Salvation: Divide (and conquer) your meals ahead of time
It doesn't matter what you eat, just eat less of it. Trim calories a little at breakfast and lunch in preparation for a larger amount later, Moore says. Eat only half of your lunch at noon and then the other half just before you leave for supper to help curb appetite. But definitely don't skip meals, Moore says. A little food in your system will keep you sated, but none at all will make you ravenous at supper.
The Sin: The all-day graze
Toast for breakfast, a handful of M&M's at noon, a few cookies, an apple, Doritos, two cups of coffee — in other words, lots of calories but not a lot of nutrients.
Your Salvation: A low-carb, high-protein dinner
The good news: You probably don't feel overstuffed since you ate only small quantities throughout the day. The bad: Grazers tend to rack up more calories and fat than they realize by day's end. So even if you feel like you've had nothing to eat, you can't indulge in a big meal. Chances are you grazed on grains and starchy carbs, so leave them out of your one real meal. Instead, heap a salad-size plate with lean protein like chicken or fish and veggies to fill in the nutritional blanks without adding too many calories. Grill or bake your protein and skimp on sauce to make the meal low in fat.
The Sin: A fast food lunch
You're feeling bloated and greasy after your on-the-run double cheeseburger and small fries.
Your Salvation: A gigantic salad at dinner, garnished with chicken strips and black beans
Obviously you want to offset the high fat in all that refined fast food. But sodium is the real trouble here (you ate about teaspoon of salt, which is almost 75 percent of your RDA). Nothing you eat now can erase all that extra salt, but cutting back helps the body rebalance quickly and may minimize the time you feel bloated. Fresh foods, since they're naturally low in salt, are a good place to start. The protein and heft of chicken will make your meal feel substantial, while beans will help fill you up with fiber (7 g per cup) and put your digestive system back on track. Dress your salad with a splash of olive oil and vinegar to sidestep the sodium in bottled dressings.
The Sin: Happy hour blues
You stop off for a little wine and cheese. And then some more wine. There's not much left in the calorie budget for dinner.
Your Salvation: A bowl of vegetable soup and an apple
You've already had the protein (cheese) and plenty of empty carbs (the wine), so make your choices count, says Kathleen Cappellano, RD, a nutrition science instructor at Tufts University. Load up on fruits and vegetables, which are MIA at most social outings. Chances are you won't feel much like cooking, and heating up soup requires little time—or fine motor skills. Be sure to stock up on low-sodium soup (we like Amy's Light in Sodium Organic Minestrone). Pair your meal with a tall glass of water to help rehydrate yourself after the alcohol.