Advice from FRCC’s Nutrition and Dietetics Expert
Many of us start January every year promising ourselves we’re going to eat better. Unfortunately, the best intentions don’t always stick.
As a faculty member in FRCC’s nutrition & dietetics program, I teach students who are learning to counsel clients on nutrition issues and healthy eating habits. But you don’t need a degree in nutrition to start making healthier choices when it comes to food.
Here are some simple pointers for how to make real, long-term changes in what and how you eat—changes that are good for your body and mind. These are suggestions that you should be able to incorporate into your lifestyle, turn into healthy habits… and stick with.
Ditch Fad Diets
Fad diets teach unhealthy, unsustainable changes that produce feelings of guilt when not strictly followed. They also shape unhealthy relationships with the foods—and food groups—you’re supposed to avoid.
For example, one of the most common pieces of nutritional advice promoted by many fad diets is not to eat fruit. Despite the arguments presented by fad diet authors, overconsumption of fruit is not causing the obesity epidemic and health issues we are observing in the US.
Find a Meal Pattern That Works for You
The traditional “three square meals a day” ideal should not be a one-size-fits-all approach. Intermittent fasting might work extremely well for one person and work miserably for another.
The key is identifying what pattern of meals and healthy snacks works the best for you and creates the caloric deficit needed to produce weight loss. The goal is to stay energized throughout the day and not get over-hungry which lends itself to overeating.
Two general rules of thumb to follow are to start the day with a balanced breakfast including some form of protein and not to consume additional foods after dinner when calorie needs have typically already been met. Late night hunger is often psychological rather than physiological.
Plan Your Meals
Most of us end up in nutritional pitfalls from poor planning. A lot of excessive calories come from ordering out for lunch, grabbing snacks from a gas station convenience store or stopping at fast food joint for dinner.
Instead pack your own lunch. Bring your own snacks from home for road trips. Batch cook a couple meals on the weekends. A little advance planning will help limit your reliance on eating out and resorting to fast food on the run.
Mind Your Liquid Calories
Calories from liquids are not processed in the same way as calories from food. They lead to lower satiety (feeling of fullness) levels, which leads to excessive calorie intake.
Make it a habit to carry a water bottle with you everywhere you go. Hydrate yourself with lots of calorie-free drinks – water, unsweetened green, black and herbal teas or black coffee. Diet sodas have been linked with negative health outcomes so keep those to a minimum.
Make Peace With Food
Over the years many of us have formed a negative view of food, use food in an unhealthy manner, or in some cases developed a love-hate relationship.
This year vow to view food through a different lens. Think of food in terms such as nourishment, energy, and fuel—not as the enemy, or for stress-relief, a source of comfort or a reward. When choosing foods, focus on the effect it will have in both the short- and long-term.
Don’t Overemphasize Exercise
Don’t get me wrong—exercise is great for your health. But don’t exclude nutrition when trying to lose weight.
If weight loss is your goal, research has shown that nutrition trumps exercise. If you only address one side of the calorie balance equation—exercise—you will likely not see the results you expect from spending more time in the gym. In our hyper-busy world, identifying ways you can reduce calories by 250-500 per day is easier for most people than it is to regularly incorporate more exercise each day.
Set Realistic, Achievable and Measurable Goals
Instead of broad goals such as “I will eat healthier,” focus on what that specifically looks like. Instead try stating something like:
- I will eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day
- I will drink 80 ounces of water a day
- I will limit my liquid calories to 100 per day or less
Resist the urge of using the words “never” and “avoid” when goal setting. Those kinds of goals set you up for failure. Goals that you can measure—and that you can achieve dependably—set you up for success.
Use Multiple Health Parameters to Track Progress
Despite what you may have always believed, stepping onto the scale is not the “end all, be all” determinant of your health. There are many ways we can assess our efforts to improve our health.
Other measures include:
- How our clothes fit
- Daily energy levels
- Blood pressure
- Blood glucose levels
- Blood cholesterol
- A body composition test which measures percent bodyfat and percent muscle
Keep at It
In the end, healthy eating is something we can accomplish over the rest of our lives. Cut yourself some slack if you mess up. Set a new goal to do better tomorrow.
Be kind to yourself and acknowledge the progress you’re making. As long as you keep working toward eating healthier food—and a healthier mindset when it comes to food—you’ll succeed in the end. Just don’t give up. You really can do this.