NUTRITION
September 5, 2012

Your Makeover: Three First Steps

Small steps work best when you start a nutritional makeover.

There are many reasons why you decide you need a nutritional makeover. Perhaps your weight has gotten out of control, your cholesterol has peaked at an undesirable number, or your blood sugar numbers are all out of whack. Maybe you've developed some other nutrition-related medical problem, you're training for a marathon, or you've just decided you want to live a healthier life.

Whether you eat out often or cook at home, you probably make the same food choices repeatedly, out of habit.

Changing habits is always hard to do. You have probably been eating the same way for so long that you aren't even aware of some of your poor eating habits. Whether you eat out often or cook at home, you probably make the same food choices repeatedly, out of habit.

There is plenty of help out there. Whatever your nutrition goal or need, there is a wealth of reliable nutrition information available to you. Here are the first three of six steps that will improve your diet and help you lose weight. You don't have to do them all at once (in fact you shouldn't, which is why we are offering the steps three at a time). If you start by taking just one of these steps, you will see improvements.

Find Knowledgeable Help: Consult A Registered Dietitian

As we discussed in Part 1 of this series, one of the first things you might want to consider when you embark on your nutritional makeover is to possibly consult with a registered dietitian (RD). Whatever your nutrition goals are, the RD has the skill and knowledge to translate the sometimes complicated and misunderstood science of nutrition into practical recommendations that fit within your lifestyle and food preferences.

Working with a registered dietitian is particularly important if you have health issues (some health insurance plans cover visits). Their training, as discussed in Part 1, means that they have experience working in the treatment and prevention of disease as part of a medical team, usually in health care facilities. Some have a private practice. Others work in community and public health settings. To find an RD in your area, go to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics' website and look for the "Find a Registered Dietitian" link on their home page.

Working with a registered dietitian is particularly important if you have health issues.

Expect the RD to ask questions about any medical conditions you have, food allergies, and a list of medications and supplements you take. You may also be asked about your activity level, a typical day's food intake, and who is responsible for the cooking and shopping in your household. If you are there for a medical condition, the RD will want to know the particulars about your weight history, lab work, and what you may have already tried in an effort to lose weight, or improve your blood sugar or cholesterol numbers. One visit with an RD may not be enough to provide you with all of the information you need or answer all of the questions you have, so be open to follow-up visits for the best results.

Whether you decide to consult with an RD or not, there are many tools available to you that can either complement your visit to the RD or set you on the path to a nutrition makeover on your own. Most are available online, making it easier for you to meet your nutrition goals.

Keep A Food Journal

Before you can begin to make changes to your diet, you need to identify your problem areas. Keeping a food journal can help you become aware of your eating habits. It provides a snapshot of your eating habits.

In a food journal, you record what you eat, how much you eat, when you eat, what you were doing while you were eating, and how you were feeling when you decided to eat. Keeping a food journal for a week may be sufficient, but some people prefer to do it longer. Be sure to include both weekdays and weekends since your diet may vary accordingly.

After you have analyzed your eating patterns through your food journal, decide which habits you want to change. Just pick one or two at first and work on those. Overwhelming yourself with too much change will likely backfire.

After a week, look back through your journal for the healthy eating habits you can identify. For example, did you eat breakfast every day? Did you at least approach the 5-a-day rule for fruits and vegetables? Identify which habits you want to change. Did you grab a fast food lunch every day? Did you regularly skip meals? Perhaps you ate no fruits or vegetables. See if you can identify patterns in your eating behavior that need changing. Do you snack on empty calorie foods while watching television? Do you eat out of boredom or stress?

A food journal can be as simple as a notebook that you write in, or you can make your own journal using free templates and printable food journals that you download from the Internet. There are also online food journals, if you prefer to keep one that way, or you can download an app to your Smartphone. Some people take photos of their meals, but this more difficult to use when it comes to analyzing the foods you eat and looking for patterns.

Start Small
After you have analyzed your eating patterns through your food journal, decide which habits you want to change. Just pick one or two at first and work on those. Overwhelming yourself with too much change will likely backfire. Examples of some initial goals to work on would be:
  • Eat breakfast every morning.
  • Include a piece of fruit with lunch.
  • Keep healthy snacks at work.

Ten Tips for Healthy Eating

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) replaced the complex and sometimes controversial pyramid with a much easier to understand circle shape in 2011. You can pretty much grasp the MyPlate concept with one look. The website also offers a variety of tools to help you learn eat more healthfully.

Use the SuperTracker to develop a personalized nutrition and activity plan for yourself. Begin by determining your body mass index (BMI). Your BMI may be in the healthy range, but that doesn’t mean your diet is at its best. If your BMI is over the healthy range, use the tools available to develop a plan for losing weight. Track your food intake and physical activity to keep yourself accountable.

Our third and final installment on accomplishing a nutritional makeover will show you how to read food labels, cook more healthfully at home, and ways to make the pleasure of eating out something you won't regret.

Whether your goal is losing weight or just improving what you eat, making good food choices can be made easier by following these ten tips:

  1. Find out how many calories you need. Go to the Daily Food Plan to find your calorie level and the number of servings from each food group that you need to eat each day.
  2. Enjoy your food, but eat less of it. Eat mindfully, paying attention to your hunger level and knowing when you've had enough.
  3. Use smaller plates, cups, glasses, and bowls. Portion your food out before you sit down at the table.
  4. Increase the amount of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and low-fat or fat-free dairy foods that you need, perhaps incorporating them as snacks.
  5. Fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables.
  6. Switch to low-fat (1%) or fat-free milk.
  7. Make half of your grain foods whole grains.
  8. Cut back on foods that contain solid fats, added sugars, and salt. Foods like ice cream, cookies, candies, sweetened beverages, pizza, and fatty meats should be used as occasional treats, not eaten daily.
  9. Compare the sodium content of foods and choose those with the lowest amounts. (The third part of this series will show you how to interpret the nutritional information on food labels accurately.)
  10. Drink water or unsweetened beverages, and leave the sugar sweetened beverages for special occasions.
  11. One word of caution: If you have a nutrition-related medical condition, you should check with your doctor before making changes to your usual diet.

Whether you make the choice to consult a registered dietitian or not, taking a thoughtful approach to your nutritional makeover is very important to its ultimate success. Use your food journal, (you only need to keep it for a week!) to get an accurate picture of your nutritional strengths and the black holes, the trigger foods that make you eat more than you should. The MyPlate guidelines provide a safe, ready-made way to eat more healthfully.

Our third and final installment on accomplishing a nutritional makeover will show you how to read food labels, cook more healthfully at home, and ways to make the pleasure of eating out something you won't regret. Now, get started on that food journal!

COMMENTS
NOTE: We regret that we cannot answer personal medical questions.
 
FOLLOW US
© 2015 interMDnet Corporation.