New Year’s resolutions offer an opportunity to reassess what areas of your life could use a change. For many, this includes eating healthier or losing weight. While good-intentioned, our approach to dieting often leaves us feeling restricted, and we lose motivation within a few weeks.
So how can we set goals that actually stick? Clinical dietitian, Allie Redding, RD, LD, discusses the best way to accomplish your nutrition goals in 2021.
Is there a difference between dieting for weight loss vs dieting for health? What are some considerations for both?
The word “diet” is poorly understood to refer to restrictive eating plans that reduce calories and, oftentimes, the nutrition a healthy body needs. It can be difficult to make that type of lifestyle helpful for both weight loss and long-term health. Weight loss goals are important, but so are the steps taken to produce the desired results.
A more holistic approach to a healthy life is to adopt lifestyle changes. The purpose of lifestyle changes is to create good habits. In time, the habits will positively affect your long-term health and improve your quality of life.
Making lifestyle changes is most impactful when we set both short-term and long-term goals. A health goal should be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely (S.M.A.R.T). Using this format when setting goals will ensure that you can evaluate and meet specific progress over time. Set short-term goals that can be accomplished in a week, such as eating an extra serving of vegetables every day. When you meet a goal, set a new one! Meeting short-term goals each week gradually move you closer to accomplishing your long-term goals, such as achieving a healthy weight or reducing blood cholesterol.
To incorporate lifestyle changes in your diet, start by choosing foods that are nutrient-dense without being calorie-dense. This includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats such as fish, seafood and poultry. Lifestyle changes also include reducing the number of sodas or desserts you eat in a week or increasing the number of vegetables you eat daily. For example, challenge yourself to reduce red meat (beef, pork, lamb, etc.) to two to three servings weekly. Alternatively, choose to reduce soda, juice or sweet tea to two 8 oz. servings every week. Don’t overly restrict yourself and get burned out, but choose to set healthy boundaries with foods that won’t help you meet your long-term goals.
Adopting healthy habits produces a better quality of life so you can enjoy the fruits of your labor longer. Through lifestyle changes, weight loss goals are established and results produced by implementing these interventions.
If weight loss is one of your goals, then continue to choose these healthy foods and monitor your portion sizes. For some, smaller portions may be eating about 25-50% of your normal amount. When you get hungry, fuel your body with foods packed with fiber such as fruits and vegetables. This is a safe and healthy way to reduce caloric intake without overly restricting nutrition.
What are tips or tricks that can make choosing and preparing healthy food easier?
Soups, pastas and salads are easy to prepare and simply adapted to create a variety of dishes by changing the types of vegetables, sauce and spices used. These are also easy meals to increase daily vegetable intake. Chop up onions, carrots, mushrooms, celery, bell pepper, potatoes or any other vegetable you love. Add some low-sodium broth and spices- you have a soup! Change the spices and produce selections, or add some whole wheat pasta – now you have an entirely new meal. The possibilities are endless!
Preparing meals in advance can reduce stress and keep you on track to reach your goals when life gets busy. Prepare three meals in large quantities on Sundays and have meals ready to go for the whole week.
Lastly, don’t buy what you shouldn’t eat. If it isn’t available in your kitchen, you won’t reach for it in a moment of weakness. Always keep frozen fruits and vegetables, no-salt-added canned beans and fresh produce on hand. You can whip up a marinara sauce for pasta, a salsa appetizer or a breakfast smoothie when your refrigerator and pantry are stocked with the proper ingredients for quick and easy recipes.
What are some pitfalls that may keep people from successfully implementing a healthy diet?
The first time you prepare a new recipe or have to find a better, healthier option at a restaurant, it can be intimidating. When trying to make lifestyle changes it is important to understand that implementing those changes will not always go perfectly. The goal is progress, not perfection.
Everyone starts in different places and it’s important not to compare your success with others, especially fitness influencers who make it easy to set unrealistic expectations for yourself. Remember, healthy living is their job. Most of us are trying to incorporate healthy eating and exercise on top of a 40-hour workweek.
Understand that living healthier isn’t about a four-week crash diet to lose 20 pounds. Instead, be proud of your body for accomplishing realistic goals every week. Give yourself grace when things don’t always go as planned; a healthy mindset is an important part of holistic health. Make small, important changes and monitor your progress as you go. Small changes will evolve into an improved quality of life and a healthy lifestyle you are proud of.
About the Author
Allie Redding, RD, LD, is a registered and licensed dietitian at UT Health East Texas Rehabilitation Center. Allie’s day job includes educating cardiac rehabilitation patients about a heart-healthy diet and empowering them to make better lifestyle choices through the Pritikin ICR program. She also plans meals for patients in the UT Health Rehabilitation Hospital.