Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD
Decoding diets for new year nutrition and weight loss success
With the holiday season approaching, every corner you turn is an ad for diet powders, pills, supplements, and equipment. It’s hard to get away from it since every screen is inundated with these ads. These in-your-face claims take advantage of those who want to make a New Years resolution of losing weight and/or getting healthy. The problem is that this type of short-term satisfaction is not what the word diet is supposed to really portray.
The word diet, as quoted by Merriam Webster, is “food and drink regularly provided or consumed.” In terms of health, you may even define diet as a kind of food and drink provided for someone to help them prevent disease. What neither of these definitions scream is that you need to eat as little as possible from as few food groups as possible and feel miserable while your body is deprived of nutrients and energy. Unfortunately, this is what many "diets" today ask people to do to become "healthy."
So, for this new year, let’s change the way you think about diet so you can have success without restriction. Read below for how you can change your mind to truly improve the health of your body for years to come.
There is no one size fits all diet
I want to start by pointing you towards a comprehensive diet guide from ConsumersAdvocate.org that sums up some of the most balanced diets out there for weight loss. They cut through the details and provide you with the information you need to make an informed decision about the diet that would benefit your goals most. They remind you that there is not one diet that is going to work for everyone since we all have different health needs, goals, allergies, intolerances, and preferences. For best success, the diet you choose to follow should meet YOUR needs without worrying about the latest fad on social media.
Just because your favorite influencer on Instagram is vegan and shows off their flat stomach at every opportunity, that doesn't mean anything when it comes to you. There may be, and likely is, a lot more to the story behind the scenes of this person's image. Exercise, genetics, and photo-shopping are just some reasons why social media may lure you into certain eating regimens that may not necessarily help you succeed in weight loss and health goals.
Therefore, it's vital that you set aside any preconceived notions about weight loss. Put away any extreme thoughts about certain diets you learned on biased Netflix documentaries. And rewire your brain to learn how to eat for health and not for just a number on a scale.
How do I change my diet perspective?
What you need to remember when setting goals for your eating in the new year is to make SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Accountability, Realistic, Timely). For example, don't say "I'm going to eat healthier” or “I’m not going to eat out as much.” Instead, say things like “I’m going to eat 2 cups of veggies each day” or “I’m only going to eat one meal outside of the home each week.”
The difference between these two goals is that the second set of goals gives you a specific goal that can be measured. This specificity provides accountability since you can track this type of goal. And instead of saying “I’m going to lose 50 lbs this year,” instead focus on practical goals that encourage healthy behaviors that will lead to long-term weight loss. Such goals may include "I'm going to drink less than 24 ounces of cola each week" or "I'm going to walk at least 5000 steps each day." Eventually, you will be able to walk more and drink less sugary drinks, but you have to start at a practical goal that you can stick to.
Now that you’ve been introduced to the basics of goal setting, it’s time to dig your heels in and listen to this very important next section.
Eat for YOUR health
It's easy to get caught up in what the cascade of blogs, social media posts, and news alerts tell us to do. This is especially true when it comes to dieting. But what is important to know is that not everything you read is true. Anyone can say they are an expert on a subject matter, but it's up to you to do your research on them before believing their claims.
Look at biographies of people online, do a name search, check Pubmed to research studies yourself to see what claims are based off of. If a person provides nutrition claims, make sure they went to school for nutrition in an accredited program that required long-term study. If they provide meal planning services, make sure they are verified as a dietitian by the Commission on Dietetic Registration or other recognized global organization.
Just because someone has thousands of followers on social media, it does not make them an expert. There are many people on social media with their own agenda that are very closed-minded and with little to no nutritional background. These people want everyone to eat like them because they think if they eat a certain way and feel good that it should be the way everyone should eat. This is a very dangerous way of thinking, so look for the signs of a false expert.
If you see these signs, unfollow as soon as possible:
-using absolute language: Using words like "always," "never," "best," "worst," "anyone," or "noone," on a frequent basis for example is a huge red flag. This type of language does not allow for any alternative way of thinking because this person wants you to feel like if you don't think and eat like them, then you are not a good or healthy person.
-trolling other people who follow other diets: A true nutrition expert knows that there is not one diet for everyone. So, if you read that someone is badmouthing other people who for example eat dairy or meat, then this person is not someone you should trust. Just because their diet is working for them, there are many people with different health conditions with which that diet would not be optimal. For example, there are many people that say plant-based is best and anyone who eats meat is bad. I would be considered bad then because with my health issues I can't digest beans, corn, soy, or dairy products, and cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower or broccoli give me bad stomach pain. Therefore, I need to eat some meat daily, along with vegetables I can tolerate like potatoes, peas, and carrots, to provide my body with a quality source of protein.
-using documentaries to base their claims on: This a big one that has come up in recent years. Documentaries in general are for entertainment. You can't base your life's knowledge off of what you see in such films because you are seeing what the filmmaker wants you to see, not necessarily the whole truth. And in nutrition-based documentaries, there is a lot of junk science used and people who would otherwise not pick up a research journal and read the article, believe it because they don't know any better. Be your own advocate before you fall for one of the latest nutrition documentaries that tells you certain foods are poison and will kill you if you eat them. It's all a bunch of gobbledygook designed to lure vulnerable people to follow a diet that may not be the best one for their body. So, if an influencer bases their ideas off such films, unfollow right away.
-not offering any alternative nutrition tips: If you follow someone's page and they don't offer any nutrition tips for any one except for those that have their condition or are perfectly healthy, then you may have a red flag on your hands. This person may be basing their advice off of their experience and theirs only because they don't truly know about optimal nutrition for people with other health conditions. Registered dietitians would know about healthy eating for many different health conditions, while some nutritionists may only know what they have personal experience with. All registered dietitians are nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are dietitians. Click on this link to learn more about this.
-vilifying certain foods: Sure, there are foods that are not very healthy for us like chocolate cake or cola. But that doesn't mean that you'll develop chronic disease if you have a bite or sip of such foods every now and then. If an influencer on social media makes fun of people who enjoy snacks or calls them bad people, then this is someone you need to unfollow fast. This is because this person is obviously not someone who has dealt with counseling people about their diets, otherwise they would have more realistic goals for those who they advise.
So, how do I start eating healthy for life?
When it comes to the type of healthy eating regimen you choose to follow, don't hesitate to ask for advice. Talk to a registered dietitian to help you choose an eating regimen that is right for you. If you don't have access to a registered dietitian, visit reputable sources like the World Health Organization to gather ideas on how you can improve your eating regimen for better health.
Some healthy eating basics include:
-Color your plate with a variety of fruits and vegetables. A variety of fruits and vegetables will not only provide healthy fiber to improve digestion, but also contain important nutrients like potassium, magnesium, and antioxidants. Antioxidants can help reduce inflammation in the body and in turn reduce risk of chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
-Limit added sugar. Research shows that any kind of sugar can increase risk of inflammation in the body. Therefore, reduce added sugar by limiting intake of processed food products like candy, sugary colas and juices, as well as sweet baked goods, to name a few. Read the label to learn how much added sugar is in certain foods and consume as little added sugar as possible. Experts suggest that no more than 6 to 9 teaspoons, equal to about 24 to 36 grams of added sugar. *** This is added refined sugar, not natural sugar from fruits and vegetables.
-Reduce sodium in your diet. Sodium is in many processed foods and beverages. Of course, salt enhances flavor of foods, so you don't have to cut it out completely for optimal health. Just watch what you eat and focus on mostly whole foods like fresh or flash frozen vegetables and fruit and lean proteins like chicken, tofu, and fish. Limit higher sodium foods like cheese, processed snacks and sauces, canned soups, deli meats and processed meats like sausage and hot dogs, as well as prepackaged meals. Read the label on processed foods and choose those that have less than 300 milligrams sodium per serving. For frozen meals, choose those less than 500-600 milligrams per serving. Aim for around 2000 to 3000 milligrams of sodium a day for optimal health for most people. You may have to reduce your sodium a little bit more if you have a history of heart disease or stroke.
-Limit processed food products: Limit intake of prepackaged foods that are full of sugar, salt, and preservatives. Consume such foods in moderation and be sure to read the label to check for added sugars and salts, as well as any ingredients you may not tolerate well. Frozen fruits and vegetables are fine as long as they are not covered in sauces or unnecessary flavorings.
-Balance your plate: When you fix your meal plate, load up on non-starchy vegetables (pretty much anything except for corn, peas, and potatoes), include a source of protein, and then add in some fiber-rich whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, or nutrient-dense starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes or peas.
For more healthy tips, visit Lighttrack Nutrition weekly for blog posts, healthy eating tips, and more.