March is National Nutrition Month
“Bite into a Healthy Lifestyle”
Before you start reading this, I’d like to mention that I despise the word “diet”. It has such a negative meaning in our society. I consider it another one of those four letter words that makes you cringe when you hear it. What does the word “diet” mean to you? I bet it’s not good. No one likes to hear the word “diet”. No one likes to be told, “You need to be on a diet”. “Diets” are more often short-term solutions. “Diets” are restrictive and keep you feeling deprived. I often hear, “If it tastes good, it’s not good for you”.
Well, for your information, diet is actually defined as:
a : food and drink regularly provided or consumed
b : habitual nourishment
c : the kind and amount of food prescribed for a person or animal for a special reason
d : a regimen of eating and drinking sparingly so as to reduce one’s weight <going on a diet>
We all consume a diet, regardless of what it entails.
Your eating habits can make a huge impact in your health. Eating is one of the greatest pleasures in life – and the choices you make can either make you healthier or make you sicker. Perhaps you, as are many of my clients, are motivated to eat healthier and start exercising to lose weight. After a few weeks of not seeing the number on the scale change or after reaching the dreaded plateau, frustration kicks in and the feeling of “this isn’t working” leads back to old habits. Remember, weight does not define your health but is a risk factor for other health conditions.
Recent studies have shown that your eating habits, amount physical activity, sleep quality and other lifestyle factors have more impact on your health and co-morbidity risk than just your weight status (defined as Body Mass Index, or BMI, which is a ratio of your height and weight). All individuals, regardless of BMI, get diabetes, have heart attacks, develop kidney disease and develop cancers. Though being obese does increase your risk of these conditions, simply having an underweight or normal BMI does not make you immune. It is important for everyone to have wholesome, healthy, sustainable eating habits.
Being healthy and changing your lifestyle shouldn’t be defined by the number on the scale. Try focusing on other aspects of your life that are more likely improving and make the biggest difference in the long-term, such as:
- Increased energy
- Increased confidence in yourself
- Better mood, improved cognition and overall improving brain health
- Improved sleep quality
- Decreased chronic inflammation throughout your body
- Boosting your immune system – most of your immune function derives from your gut
- Adding healthy, happy years to your life
- Warding off preventable illnesses that would ultimately require medications, doctor’s visits and decreased quality of life
- Maintaining a comfortable, healthier weight and body image
So where do you start? Small changes lead to bigger changes over time. Be patient with yourself and your family. Your being healthier isn’t a fad or trend … it’s a way of living that will need to continue every day. It takes at least 6 weeks to develop new habits. Start small by choosing a fruit or vegetable as a side item instead of chips or French fries. Choose water instead of any sodas, teas or juices. Focus your meal budget on buying plant foods on the outside of the grocery store aisles – fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains and nuts/seeds. Knowledge is power, so start looking at your food labels and investigating the ingredient list. Search online or in magazines for recipes that are plant based. There are tons of meals that can be prepared – start to finish – in less than 45 minutes.
Don’t like to cook? A lot of nutritious foods are ready to eat – fresh or canned fruit, raw vegetables in a salad or with a dip, yogurt, cheese sticks, a handful of almonds, whole grain crackers. Try the frozen vegetables that you can steam in the microwave – no pot or stove needed. Make a sandwich with added sliced vegetables, and try hummus or avocado instead of mayonnaise. Eat out less; studies show restaurant and fast food are much higher in added fats, sugars and salt than a home-cooked meal. And most importantly, take time to enjoy your food without distractions such as the TV or computer.
If you have any questions about your eating habits or nutrition, please seek the advice of a Registered Dietitian. Happy National Nutrition Month!
This blog post was written by Louisa Sherrill, a Clinical Dietician at Johnston Health. If you have any questions please contact her at 919-934-8171 ext. 6229.