Nutrition: Making Diet Changes That Last
The New Year is here and with that comes New Year’s resolutions. Goals and resolutions are never a bad thing to set for yourself; however, it is important to think about creating sustainable lifestyle changes rather than jumping into the latest fad diet, to only stick with it for a couple months (maybe not even that long), and then gain all the weight lost and more back after stopping the “diet” and resuming “regular” eating habits. We will call this “cliff dieting”. Many people also call it yo-yo dieting. Cliff dieting refers to the habit of starting a diet and then returning back to old habits a couple of months later. You usually end up with more weight than when you originally started the diet. You then start another diet, and the cycle continues… It is a constant cycle that ends up hurting your physical and mental health in the long run. Cliff dieting is very unhealthy and causes a lot of disruptions for your endocrine system, as well as creates unhealthy relationships with food.
Our bodies are constantly looking for a balanced state (homeostasis). When you start cliff dieting your metabolism can’t keep up with all of the changes. Your blood sugar constantly plummets and sky rockets because of calorie restriction and increases stress to your adrenal glands. Increasing stress on your endocrine system by drastically changing your diet can wreak havoc on your body and will manifest as other symptoms, such as bloating, weight gain, acne, headaches, constipation, and much more. These are all signs that something is not balanced within your endocrine system and that usually stems from what you are consuming day to day.
Finding a balance is an individual journey, but that does not mean you have to do it alone! There are many resources out there to help you make lifestyle changes and maintain them for the rest of your life, including blogs by registered dietitians or nutritionists (check out Rachael’s Good Eats), books about nutrition (avoid books with diet plans or programs, look for books that aim to educate and help you make lifestyle changes), talk with your doctor about getting a referral to work with a registered dietitian, or speak with a personal trainer who has a nutrition certification. To get you started making healthy dietary changes check out the tips below.
- Changing your diet and cutting all sugars, gluten, and processed foods out cold turkey is not sustainable.
- Pick one dietary habit to focus on changing for the duration of a month and then add in a second change.
- Increase your water consumption. Start carrying a water bottle around with you and slowly increase the amount of water you drink a day. Try to work your way up to drinking half your bodyweight in ounces of water daily.
- Remember that it is okay to enjoy a piece of chocolate, or a slice of pizza here and there, but make sure it’s in moderation.
- One meal will not ruin the of the changes you are trying to make. With that said, make sure that less healthy meal doesn’t turn into one less healthy meal every day.
- Eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full EVEN if there is still food on your plate. You can always save leftover food for later.
- It takes about 20 minutes for your stomach to register that you are full. Slow down while you eat and enjoy the food you or someone else worked hard to prepare!
- Eating out can be a huge disruptor when trying to make dietary modifications, but it doesn’t have to be!
- Restaurants are notorious for having huge portion sizes. Try ordering off the appetizer or salad menus to keep portion sizes smaller. If you are craving a burger or a bigger entree, only eat half of the food on your plate and save the rest for later, or split a meal with a friend!
- When shopping for groceries shop on the peripheries of the store and avoid the middle aisles as much as possible. This is where most of the processed foods live. Fresh foods tend to be placed on the outsides of stores.
- When reading nutrition labels a good rule of thumb is to avoid products with words in the ingredient list that you don’t know how to pronounce.
- If you can, try to shop locally at farmer’s markets instead of at the supermarket. You are more likely to find fresh, nutrient dense foods that are without pesticides and additives at a farmer’s market, and it’s a great way to give back to local farmers!
- There is an old wives tale that says a healthy plate will be full of color and it turns out to be good science as well.
- The different colors of fruits and vegetables reflect different antioxidant phytochemicals they contain - many of these help prevent against chronic diseases, each in a slightly different way.
Remember that everyone is different and responds to food differently. Figure out which of these tips work for you - maybe it is all of them, maybe it is one or two. Try focusing on one change at a time until you feel confident that it has become a habit. Listen to your body and what it wants! Keep in mind that small changes over time are more sustainable for overall lifestyle changes. Obstacles will arise, and life can get busy. These will be the hardest times to stick with the changes you are trying to make. If you “mess up”, remind yourself that it’s okay, and the next meal is another opportunity to fuel your body with fresh, nutrient dense food. Be patient with yourself!
For more ideas about what changes you can start making to improve your nutrition, check out Michael Pollan’s book Food Rules.
~Sierra, The Tunnel Marathons Trainer