Good nutrition isn’t all bad – creating healthy eating habits
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How to create healthy eating habits that stick

By Andrea Holwegner RD, Health Stand Nutrition Consulting Inc. – for CBC.ca

If you hate the thought of healthy eating this articleis for you

how to create healthy eating habits

When I meet people for the first time and they find out I am a dietitian, there are often two types of responses. Some people are sincerely very interested in what I do and inevitably start fishing for answers to some of their own burning nutrition questions. I also meet a fair number of people who literally shut down at the mere thought of healthy eating.

I have always been curious about why some people are so repelled by the idea of dietitians and the field of nutrition in general.

Perhaps it is because the word dietitian contains the word “diet” and also the word “die” — both often perceived as very negative. Or is it because the diet industry and many so-called health professionals have them believing that in order to be healthy, food must taste awful, be part of some special product or be difficult to prepare? Or could it be that they feel guilty that this is one area of their lives they value tremendously but can’t seem to figure out?

Regardless of the reason, if you have been repelled by the field of nutrition, I would like to challenge you to think a bit differently about what “healthy eating” is all about.

Get over getting it right

If you have felt in the past that healthy eating is about deprivation, realize that you don’t have to be perfect. In fact, I like to say that “imperfect is perfect.” Get over getting it right and move to a philosophy of eating just a little bit better. Challenge the stubborn voice in your head that tells you, “Go big, or go home,” because inevitably trying to make too much change will result in “Go big, and go home.” Instead, choose flexible nutrition goals that cause you to work a little bit on your food choices but are not absolute.

For example, if you drink lots of alcohol and are looking for strategies to help you reduce intake, you might consider setting a target number of drinks for a typical work week coupled with permission to take a vacation from this during the playoff hockey season and your summer holidays.

When you avoid “all or none” thinking, you can’t lose. You can still choose to get healthier without sacrificing social fun and the amazing taste of sugar, fat and salt (since even dietitians know these really do taste good).

Believe in learning vs. failing

Tried making a nutritional change and found that you didn’t stick with it? Don’t worry about it; you didn’t fail. You just learned a valuable lesson about yourself. A single strategy won’t work 100 per cent of the time, but if it works occasionally, it is still useful. Think of having a healthy eating tool kit with a variety of tools that will be useful at different occasions.

For example, if you usually skip lunch but remembered to pack your lunch twice this week, celebrate the fact that your strategy worked two out of five times and work on devising different tools for the other three workdays.

If you bought a box of 100-calorie chocolate bars in order to help you reduce your daily chocolate fix to a smaller portion but ended up eating the whole box in one sitting, you learned something about yourself. You didn’t fail. You learned that having the bars in the house is a trigger for wanting to eat them all at once. Take this information and try another strategy until you stumble upon something that makes sense.

Repeat, repeat, repeat

Trying something new and getting into a healthy eating groove takes time and patience. Repetition is needed to develop any new habit, so cut yourself some slack and remember that anything new feels awkward until you get into the habit.

The first time you try adding a piece of fruit to your usual breakfast of toast and peanut butter won’t feel just right. How could it when you have never done it before? But after you have repeated this new awkward habit over time, it becomes second nature. Acknowledge that change, no matter how small, is hard.

No better time than now

Although you may think you are invincible, chances are eating poorly will catch up with you one way or another. One of the most profound ways nutrition will affect your day-to-day life is related to your energy and stamina. You can’t put a price tag on the benefits of feeling better through your workday and having the “get up and go” to do the things you want to do in your personal time.

The toughest part about my job as a dietitian is to convince you to invest in your health now for benefits that will take months and years to show. What you eat now influences your risk for cancer, heart disease, diabetes and more. What you do is also a glimpse into the future of your children’s lifestyle and eating habits since they will reflect your choices. If you can’t be motivated to choose a healthy lifestyle for yourself, do it for your kids.

Realize that while I don’t expect eating well to rank as the focal point of your life, it shouldn’t be at the bottom of your “to-do” list either — to get to when you have the time. There is never a good time to start. Somehow, life never slows down enough to get to the things we need to change. There is no better time than now.

Tap into the biggest payoffs

If you are somewhat convinced that you should make a move toward healthier eating and have embraced the above philosophies, here are the three most important things you can do to tap into the biggest payoffs.

Avoid skipping meals and choose to eat every 3-5 hours for the best energy and also to prevent you from overeating at the next meal.

Overwhelmed by the massive assortment of foods you could eat? Start by shopping on the outside perimeter of the grocery store, where most fresh foods are located. Then at each meal be sure to choose something from each of the following categories:

  • Grains/starches such as bread, pasta, rice, potatoes and cereals.
  • Vegetables and/or fruits, including the fresh, frozen or canned variety, as well as dried fruit and vegetable/fruit juices.
  • Protein such as red meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, cheese, yogurt, milk, soy milk, beans/legumes, tofu, nuts and seeds.

For adults, an ideal plate should be composed of half vegetables and/or fruits, one-quarter grains/starches and one-quarter protein. If you are overweight, try shrinking down the size of your portions by 10-25 per cent, and you will find that your weight starts to change even though you have not changed your food choices.

If you are already doing these things, well, it looks like you are not so repelled by the field of nutrition after all.

Andrea Holwegner — the Chocoholic Dietitian — is a registered dietitian and founder and president of Health Stand Nutrition Consulting in Calgary.

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Success stories

"I am a psychologist in private practice and it is very important to me that my clients have the best care with other health care professionals. For that reason Health Stand Nutrition is my only source for exceptional Dietitians. Andrea and her team provide highly knowledgeable, compassionate, and real world support to my clients who require assistance with food lifestyle. I trust my clients to them and you would be in excellent hands making them part of your health care team."
Adele Fox, Psychologist
“This is the first time I feel satisfied; my cravings have diminished dramatically and I have a whole new relationship with food. I am eating guilt-free for the first time in my life. My energy has also dramatically increased and I feel great!
Rhonda Jenkins, Nutrition Counseling Client
“The Dieticians at Health Stand Nutrition help you to take action on the science behind eating well by making it practical, understandable, and fun. Their office is cozy and not at all clinical or intimidating. I felt like I was sitting down with a really smart, caring friend who wanted to help me make the best choices for my lifestyle and food preferences. They really are the best in the business.”
Marty Avery, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I have come to think of the program as a one stop shopping excursion for everything one needs to know about creating a joyous relationship with food and our bodies. In a single word, the course has gifted me with freedom from the punishing rigidity of disordered eating, old stories that never were true, and body dysmorphia that did nothing but make me lose sight of a body that has done everything I've asked, despite my careless dismissal of her needs. Now when I look in the mirror I find myself shifting from harsh criticism to gentle gratitude.”
Lynn Haley, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“I spent 3 hours when first diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I learned more from my Dietitian about food in those 3 hours than I had learned in all the years of my life. I also love the newsletter, there is always something to learn.”
Peter Whitehead, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I didn’t realize how strong my “diet mentality” was, and all the rules I had in my head about food. I was in a cycle of reward/punish/binge/cringe. I booked with your business very reluctantly, on the repeated advice of my doctor, to get my slowly rising cholesterol levels in check. I thought I knew everything about food, and my behaviour with food, but I was definitely re-schooled. My weight is creeping down, I feel good about my diet, exercise, body image, and lifestyle.”
Amy Floyd, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Thanks Andrea for an amazing presentation, I have heard all positive remarks from attendees and the evaluations show the same sentiment. It is really gratifying when a speaker does their “homework” and weaves in our profession’s day to day challenges within their content, you did an awesome job of this! You truly took the “die” out of Dietician! Your information on healthy eating and simplifying how we can work towards this as we are all so busy really hit the mark. Andrea connects very well with her audience; she is energetic, funny, and very approachable.”
Carole Ann LaGrange, Transfusion Medicine Safety Officer

Event Planner for Laboratory Diagnostic Imaging Annual Event

I am a family physician who sees patients with a myriad of eating concerns – from wanting to know how to plan healthy meals for active families, to weight loss, to eating disorders, and so on. I cannot recommend the Health Stand team highly enough. I have worked with (and been to!) other Dieticians in the past and too often find that they just ask for food logs and make suggestions that are easily obtained online or in books. The Dieticians at Health Stand offer much more than just telling clients what they “should be eating.” In contrast, the team really does more of a counselling practice, and they work hard to help their clients learn more about why their eating habits may be off track and not optimal for them, as well as helping people to effect change at a deep level that, most importantly, is sustainable for lifetime health.”
Dr. Deb Putnam, Family Physician

Nutrition Counseling Client & Referring Physician

“I am a busy mom, with kids in high level sports, working full-time downtown, and running our home acreage outside the City. I now have the knowledge and tools I need to plan for and manage the chaos of meal planning.”
Gillian Gray, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“As a construction company, we select speakers who can relate to our industry and its employees. Andrea’s message was delivered with humor and empathy. She makes people feel as though they can make changes without leaving behind every favorite food. Andrea focused her presentation on healthy eating as a way to keep energy high throughout the day. This message and the way it was delivered resonated with our predominantly male, blue collar culture. I would highly recommend Andrea as a speaker for groups such as ours. She will get your message across without alienating anyone in your audience – which is a huge hurdle when trying to introduce a wellness program in the workplace!”
Stephanie Wood, HR and Safety Manager

Fisher Construction Group, Burlington, WA

I found my Dietitian warm, funny, and skilled at teaching nutrition concepts without the overwhelm. The general approach of each session was to mix science with emotion, which was exceedingly effective in helping me shift my perspective on food from one of anxiety to one of joy and curiosity.”
Erin Kronstedt, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Excellent presentation! What a refreshing change to have a speaker inspire rather than “lecture” about nutrition. Your captivating stories, tips and overall approach to healthy eating uplifts and puts people at ease. It was great to hear we don’t need to strive to be perfect eaters, and that small changes really can make a difference in how we feel and in our health. Thanks to Andrea, we have solutions to our everyday nutrition challenges that can actually work in real life!”
Tina Tamagi, Human Resources

ARC Resources Ltd.

“Had I not joined this course I would have struggled with no focus, low energy, and mindless eating. Excellent teaching and motivation. This is not just a course, it is a nutrition club with mentorship, support, and connections with other people with similar situations.”
Lorri Lawrence, Pursuit of Healthiness online course participant

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