Every year many of us make those New Year’s resolutions to exercise more and eat less. Whether you’ve stuck to your annual pledge or not, chances are you struggle with healthy eating like almost everybody else.
While it may be tempting to adopt the latest dietary trend to jump-start weight loss or shake things up, experts recommend making gradual, healthy changes you can sustain over a lifetime.
Logan Collins, fitness center coordinator at Texas Health Prosper, says slow and steady is the way to go.
“Fad diets are a bad idea. They promote unrealistic results, aren’t healthy, aren’t backed by research and often are used as a marketing tool to sell dietary supplements,” he says. “However, all the reasons we advise against them circle back to one common theme they share: a quick fix. Reaching your goals in a month sounds way better than reaching them in six months, right? Wrong. The faster you lose weight and/or body fat, the more unhealthy and less sustainable it becomes.”
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) provides some simple tips for making smarter food choices, including regular consumption of the following:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains
- Low-fat or fat-free dairy products
- Lean meats, poultry and fish
- Beans, eggs and nuts
In addition to these healthy foods, try to limit saturated fats, trans fats, sodium and added sugars as much as possible.
Collins explains that while good nutrition seems like it should be simple, it can be overwhelming to make significant changes after a lifetime of eating a certain way.
“Nutrition, even when simplified, still has so much information about it that one could easily get lost,” he says. “The best route for those wanting to make healthy and sustainable changes to their diet would be consulting with a Texas Health dietitian or nutritionist, or working with a qualified personal trainer at the Texas Health Fitness Centers around DFW.”
For those looking for a do-it-yourself approach, Collins suggests taking the following steps:
- Simplify things and get away from the social media, television and blog “experts” that don’t have any formal background in nutrition or exercise physiology.
- Download a nutrition tracking app and track your eating habits for a few days — and be honest with yourself. See how much you have really been eating.
- Use a calculator on the internet to find out what your base metabolic rate (BMR) is to find roughly how many calories you burn per day.
- Plan your new meal plan around those numbers and start with 55 percent of your calories from carbs, 25 percent from protein and 20 percent from fat. Utilize your nutrition tracking app to stay on top of these numbers.
- Don’t make any adjustments for two to four weeks and when you do, keep them small, around 50 calories max up or down, depending on your goals.
In addition to choosing healthy, whole foods, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends keeping your diet interesting by selecting foods from all the food groups. Fruits and vegetables can be fresh, frozen or canned, while orange and dark green vegetables provide some of the best nutrients. Broaden your protein horizons by adding fish, beans and peas instead of your usual meat choices, and try to consume at least three ounces of whole grains in any form (bread, crackers, rice or pasta) daily.
While some foods are obviously lacking in nutrition, experts say to avoid categorizing food mentally as “good” or “bad,” but rather think of food as fuel. The more vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients your food has, the more good it will do you.
Collins says the pull of food delivery services and drive-thru windows may be strong, but there are ways to keep nutrition healthy and easy.
“My first rule for nutrition is to keep it simple — don’t let yourself get caught up in the enormous amount of information out there, but focus on what is tried and true,” he suggests. “My second rule is to keep it convenient. Meal prepping and packing up two to three days of meals is the easiest way to do this. It will help keep you from scrambling to grab something fast!
“My third and final rule is to keep it enjoyable. Unless you are preparing for a bodybuilding show, there is no reason why you have to eat bland food. Use interesting recipes and make your food tasty. Just remember moderation and stay away from high-calorie and processed additions.”
It’s okay to go online to look for dietary help, but be sure to stick to reputable sources. The U.S. Department of Agriculture provides online tools such as the Food-a-Pedia, which is a searchable database of nutrition information for more than 8,000 foods, as well as the My Plate Daily Checklist that provides suggested amounts for each food group based on age and daily caloric needs.
“With all the information that’s out there on nutrition it’s easy for us to get overwhelmed, but don’t be afraid to jump in with both feet and see what happens,” Collins recommends. “The only way you will truly learn what works best for you is by trying things out and seeing how your body responds. Once you get going and apply some of the concepts I talked about, you’ll find out very quickly that the words ‘nutrition’ and ‘diet’ aren’t as scary as you used to think they were.”