Better Eating in 2019
Replace Diets and Fads with Healthier Foods and Reasonable Goals
The holidays are over, the decorations are stored and your home is swept free of clutter. If you’re thinking this is also the time for cleaning up your diet, maybe it is, if you’re willing to take it slow and easy. January is a good time to take things a day at a time. That includes eating well. Just don’t bite off more than you can chew, pun intended.
“The biggest thing that gets people in trouble in the new year is all these hefty resolutions,” says Christina Brockett, a registered dietitian and the proprietor of Encompass Integrative Wellness in Frederick.
Amy Goldsmith, founder of Kindred Nutrition and Wellness in Frederick and a registered dietitian, agreed. “I’ve been a dietitian for 20 years and worked with thousands of clients, and the one thing that hasn’t changed is small changes make the biggest difference,” she says. “I tell people, it’s about the trees, not the forest.”
If you want to clean up your diet, local dietitians advise, don’t think about weight loss. Instead, think about what you’re eating, and what you can change without feeling cheated. “The first suggestion I would make is pick one thing for a period of time—a month or a week—to do,” Brockett says. “It doesn’t have to be a big goal. It could be to reduce sugar consumption.”
Sugar is enticing. Sugar is appealing. But sugar is also addictive, Brockett says. That sweet taste keeps us coming back for more, causing us to add pounds via empty calories. Yet, cutting back on sugar can actually change your taste for it. “After about two weeks of reducing sugar intake, I’m going to notice that things taste sweeter,” she says.
Dietitian Heather Boyd, of Frederick Memorial Hospital’s Nutrition and Weight Management Center, doesn’t suggest more exercise alone. But she does suggest registering for a couple of 5K run/walks in the early spring. These events don’t require serious training or physical effort. But knowing you have a 5K coming up may be just the motivation you need to add in some healthy vegetables to your menu.
Frederick’s Common Market Co-op sells a wide range of bright, colorful, organic produce, some of it grown nearby. If you’re on a budget but would still like to add in organic food to your diet, the store’s Field Day brands are a lower-cost option, says Troy Sexton, category and advertising manager.
MAKE IT EASY
“The easiest thing to do is to eat more fruits and vegetables,” Goldsmith says. That doesn’t mean cutting out other foods. If you focus on fruits and veggies as part of your snack and meal items, you may find yourself desiring less junk food. “Not only are fruits and vegetables lower in calories, but there’s lots of nutrients in them.” Unfortunately, she says, depriving yourself of a food may make you want it more.
We’ve all heard the suggestion to eat five fruits and vegetables a day, but it’s not hard to get there. “A serving is a woman’s fist size,” Goldsmith says. Brockett recommends working up to nine servings a day of vegetables, which can be as filling as most junk food.
When eating out, it’s just as easy to order a side of vegetable or salad as it is to order fries. Many restaurants offer healthy options as a side. “People often don’t plan when they go out, and as a result, when they go out, they’re beyond hungry,” Goldsmith says. Then you eat until you’re beyond full. Portion sizes are often inflated in restaurants, she adds. While a half-cup of rice in a Chinese restaurant is enough to fill most appetites at mealtime, Goldsmith says restaurants often serve four or five times that much with a typical order. And whether eating at home or out, consider choosing more poultry and fish, and less red meat. “Focus on lean red meat two times a week,” she says.
Brockett suggests keeping colorful fruits and vegetables on hand. Kids can make a game of how many colors they eat just by keeping a checklist of the colors they eat each day. “Aim for a variety of things, so you don’t feel like you’re eating the same thing. If you eat an apple one day for your red fruit, eat strawberries the next day,” she says.
A smoothie of fruits and vegetables, without added sugar or other fillers, may not have quite the fiber of the entire unpeeled fruit or veggie, but it’s a quick way to get several servings of fruits and veggies in, Brockett says.
The Common Market labels each food item it sells so customers know if it’s genetically modified, organic or free-range. When shoppers enter the store, they walk into the produce aisle, and must maneuver past bins of greens, locally grown potatoes and brightly colored oranges, before moving on to packaged and refrigerated items.
Alie Pallat, the Common Market’s content editor, says the store is able to offer many produce and grocery items from a radius of 150 miles. So, a benefit of eating well, she says, is supporting local businesses.
PREPARE, PREPARE, PREPARE
Planning ahead is key. “Invest a little time to plan and prep,” Boyd says. “It might take an hour or two, but it’s time well invested. If you think ahead, you can be creative.” Once you start eating meals at home that you’ve planned for, you may find that you have more time for other tasks.
“It’s important to not let your refrigerator run bare,” Boyd says. Plan a grocery shopping trip for when you have time to restock. Then set aside some time to make meals for the week. “Sunday is usually a good day, when there are fewer activities happening,” she says. If Sunday is your shopping and meal prep day, it becomes habitual.
Chop vegetables ahead of time, and store them in plastic containers. “If there’s a head of cauliflower in the back of your refrigerator, you might not want to deal with it,” she says. “But when you get home from the grocery store, chop it up and have it ready. Invest in some good containers. If you plan your meals working around your vegetables, instead of making them an afterthought, you can change your mindset.” Use the Crock Pot or Instant Pot, and plan meals heavy with vegetables. You may even find that you’re actually saving time by doing just a couple of hours of advance preparation on the weekend.
“If meal prep for the week seems overwhelming, just do breakfast or lunch meals,” Boyd adds. As far as fruits to snack on, grapes and citrus are good to keep on hand all winter.
Brockett says she shops for the week each Sunday, and plans meals so at least one night can be leftovers. She also uses the Crock Pot and Instant Pot to make meals, using ingredients she’s prepared over the weekend. Using fresh vegetables is best, especially organic, she says, but frozen vegetables are an option if necessary.
Goldsmith suggested a rotisserie chicken from the supermarket for those nights when you’re tempted to do takeout, along with frozen vegetables. Bagged lettuce mixes provide a salad option. In the Common Market’s produce aisle are a variety of pre-cut organic vegetables that are ready for the saucepan or Crock Pot, Pallat says.
For lunch and snack options, hard-boiled eggs are another good snack to keep on hand, Boyd says. These are easy to make, but if that seems overwhelming, you can buy them already hard-boiled, she adds. Tuna pouches are easy to open and eat, and are a convenient protein option. Make sure each meal has protein, which not only has nutrients, but helps keep you satisfied.
Salads are good lunches, especially with a little leftover meat from the night before. But Boyd cautioned using what often seems like single-serving containers of salad dressing. These containers often have two to three servings, so to avoid extra calories, she advised looking for packaged salad dressing that comes in actual single-serving sizes.
Many people eat when they’re stressed and in a hurry. “If you’re in fight-or-flight mode, you’re not digesting your food properly,” Brockett says. If you’re planning ahead, you can avoid that. She has two kids, but finds that limiting eating out, rather than cutting it out altogether, helps her children eat better. “If you mindlessly eat, it packs on the weight gain,” she says.
Also, get enough sleep. Sleep is taken for granted, even in winter, when we spend a lot of time indoors. “We’re on our devices more,” Brockett says. Not getting enough sleep can disrupt hormone balance. Tired bodies often are slower in signaling when the stomach is full. When the body isn’t in balance, stress hormones may signal hungry when food isn’t what your body really wants.
What about fad diets like Keto, Paleo and South Beach? Most of these diets will peel pounds off, experts say, but the pounds often come back as fast or faster than they came off. Diets that restrict whole, healthy foods are rarely sustainable, dietitians say. “Be wary of any diet that restricts any food groups, unless you have a serious allergy,” Goldsmith says.
A diet focusing on protein will actually cause the body to store any excess protein as fat, she says. Instead, focus on eating fruits, vegetables and lean protein every four to five hours to keep your body from craving food. MyPlate, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recommended meal, is half fruits and vegetables, with the other half evenly divided between lean protein and complex carbohydrates, like potatoes or whole grains.
“It’s good to know where your food comes from,” Goldsmith says. “I recommend my patients start a food diary or a food blog, to keep track of what they eat.” If you decide you do want to cut back on carbohydrates, there are carbs in fruits and vegetables. “It’s hard to eat around a craving.”
Sweet tea, sugared sodas and sweetened coffee drinks all have plenty of calories, and will not fill you up any more than unsweetened tea or water flavored with lemon. For those who like the fizz of soda, Goldsmith recommends flavored seltzer water, which has a hint of sweetness. “That’s a good place to start,” she says.
“I’m pretty realistic,” she says. Baby steps work for most people, she adds.
FOOD AND WEIGHT
The relationship between food and weight is complicated. We eat because we’re hungry or stressed, then we feel guilty because the pounds are creeping on. Guilt doesn’t help you lose weight or change the way you eat. Dietitians recommend looking at food in a positive way. Instead of focusing on what you can’t eat, focus on what healthy foods you like.
“I tell my clients not to be afraid to make it easy,” Goldsmith says. “You should look at what you can sustain, and make it a way of life.” If you want to lose weight, don’t think about losing
more than 10 percent. Losing 10 percent of one’s weight is a good way to decrease the risk of diabetes, she says, while not setting yourself up for failure.
The problem with diets is maintenance, Boyd says. That’s why dietitians recommend going slowly. “The weight loss is the easy part,” she says. Exercise is a small part of weight loss in the beginning, but as you lose weight, it helps keep it off. The key is to not fill up that hunger with sugary foods. The Common Market offers cooking classes year-round, many of which emphasize cooking with fresh produce in an easy, convenient way.
So, sign up for that 5K. Try some weekend meal prep. Make use of that Crock Pot or Instant Pot. Or just cut back on sugar. You might find yourself feeling a little better, and a little more motivated to eat healthier, whole foods. Take it slow. Don’t try to lose a lot of weight quickly. If nothing else, do what your mom told you and eat your vegetables.