Lessons learned after close to 20 years as a dietitian
If you’ve felt stuck when it comes to knowing you should eat better but struggle to start or sustain changes in your diet, you are not alone. After close to 20 years of experience as a Registered Dietitian, I’ve had the chance to observe thousands of individual’s eating habits and look at a wide range of nutrition and behaviour-change research on best practices. Here are my top three success principles on how to move forward for a healthier diet for life.
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For the clients seen by dietitians in my nutrition counselling practice for a wide range of goals, one thing is for certain. There are many unnecessary food restrictions. As dietitians, we ironically spend far more time adding foods back into our clients’ diets than taking things out.
There are no bad foods, only bad overall diets. Restriction usually triggers overconsumption and feelings of guilt and failure. Instead, create space for including as much variety as possible to help you live a good life. You can eat anything, just not everything; it’s about being intentional about your choices.
Science has demonstrated there is no one best diet. Sure, we have some common best practices (such as eating lots of vegetables), but the best eating plan is the one you will actually follow. This has much to do with what I call your “food personality.” You can achieve good health, energy and move towards your personal best weight:
- both as a vegetarian or including animal-based foods
- with limited cooking skill or as a savvy home cook
- as someone that adores meal planning or someone that is not a natural planner
- someone time-strapped or with plenty of time
Repel any eating regime (a diet) that suggest there is only one way to achieve success. While diets are appealing because they make decision-making simple (at least at first), they don’t actually fit into real life and therefore sustainability is always a challenge. You don’t need a diet, you need a customized lifestyle that suits your food personality and family situation.
2. You need both the WHAT and the HOW
Knowledge doesn’t necessarily equal action. Once you have a good sense as to what foods are healthy to eat, what trips most of our clients up is the “how” to actually do it. Many of our clients underestimate the power of creating replicable systems to help simplify and speed overall decision-making. Without how-to systems, all your healthy eating knowledge is doomed to be implemented, unnecessary time is spent and the workload can never be shared.
Here are some of the things that are important to explore:
- when to eat on weekdays, weekends and for shiftwork if needed
- how much to eat (balancing healthful foods chosen for nutrition as well as soulful foods chosen for taste and fun)
- breakfast, lunch, supper and snack ideas for home (including backup plans that work for changing schedules and time demands)
- a supper system for meal planning (that works even for people who despise planning)
- how meal ideas and recipes are simply sorted and used (hard copies or electronic)
- reusable fast grocery shopping list (hard copy or electronic)
- food choices and success tips for on-the-go, at work or for travel
3. You need to explore the WHY
Any plan that does not provide support for the other non-nutrition reasons we eat is simply doing you a disservice. You are not flawed if you have not been able to stick to a plan, the system you followed was flawed. We eat for many reasons outside of nutrition, including emotional triggers as well as in response to sensory cravings and learned behaviours from our upbringing, culture and environment.
Some of the knowledge and tools that are very helpful include:
- cognitive behavioural approaches to eating
- psychology and habit formation research
- motivation, accountability and goal setting tools
- intuitive eating and mindfulness
Nutrition and lifestyle change is always a messy mix of successes and failures. Dietitians see clients’ failures as helpful so we know where to go next or what tool or strategy might be a better fit. To take a closer look at all the important aspects of building a healthy diet you can live with for life, download my Personal Nutrition Scorecard: www.healthstandnutrition.com/scorecard
Want to see more? Check out Andrea’s Facebook Live Video where she speaks about this topic! www.facebook.com/chocoholicRD
Canada nutrition expert Andrea Holwegner “the chocoholic dietitian” and CEO of Health Stand Nutrition Consulting Inc. leads a team of Calgary nutritionists specializing in nutrition counselling for sustainable change since 2000. She is a workplace wellness expert, professional speaker and online nutrition course creator with an award-winning blog and popular free monthly e-newsletter at www.healthstandnutrition.com. Twitter: @chocoholicRD. Facebook: @chocoholicRD Instagram: @chocoholicrd
As originally printed in The Calgary Herald