We all agree that finding practical and realistic ways to consistently add healthy foods into our day-to-day life is incredibly tough. As a Registered Dietitian, I have the privilege of working with clients to develop a lifestyle plan that fits their individual schedule and family structure, ultimately moving them closer to their health goals.
While details of lifestyle plans vary from one client to the next, there are a several tips that seem to apply and work well for most any individual, especially busy ones.
- “Add In” Philosophy. We all know setting goals is key to any behavior change and dietary lifestyle is no different. When people ask, “What foods am I eating that are causing health issues?”, I suggest flipping that question to ask, “What foods aren’t you eating and how might that causing health issues?”. For most Americans, our daily diet is substantially deficient in fiber. Fiber is only found in plant-foods; that is, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans. They are also loaded with protein, vitamins, and minerals, making for one of the most nutritionally well-rounded meal. Life is not about restrictions, it’s about creating new habits.
Tip 1: When setting your dietary goals, make the primary focus on adding in the fiber-rich, nutrient-dense, protective foods; secondary to decreasing/limiting a particular food.
- Focus and Mastery. Most people who try to change everything about their life all at once find out it’s exhausting and ultimately become so burned out that lifestyle modifications are not sustainable. Many clients find success in setting goals that are laser-focused on one aspect of their day and mastering it. For example, if beans aren’t a staple in your daily routine, then take a month to focus on adding beans in creative ways. Soups, dips, smoothies (yes, it’s true!) brownies (crazy talk!), salads, etc. The goal is to master a one particularly healthy food such that you don’t need a recipe to whip up something delicious!
Tip 2: Make one change and master it. Yes, it takes time. However, most find it minimizes the feeling of being overwhelmed with having to change everything all at once. It also minimizes the likelihood of abandoning the desire for making a lifestyle change altogether.
- Step Away from the Recipes: Don’t get me wrong, recipes are great and can provide ideas for unique dishes or guidelines for how to season certain foods. But for anyone who has ever tried to “live by recipes” day in and day out, it’s exhausting, gets old fast, and is ultimately not sustainable. The alternative is cooking to food categories and creating a “meal in a bowl”. The food categories include: whole grains (e.g. rice, quinoa, farro, etc.), beans (all kinds including lentils & split peas), vegetables (starchy & non-starchy), and flavor enhancers (herbs & seasonings, low fat or oil-free dressings). A simple example would be a Southwest Bowl: black beans, corn, brown rice, sautéed onions, mushrooms, peppers, cooked sweet potato, and topped with cilantro, squeeze of lime, smoked paprika! If beans and corn are canned, brown rice and sweet potato are microwavable, then it shouldn’t take very long to put together!
Tip 3 Cook to foundational food categories (those with high fiber) which include beans, starchy and non-starchy vegetables, whole, intact grains. Top with flavor enhancers and accent with any other non-fiber rich foods (typically high in calories/fat).
Take a deep breath and experiment! It takes time and practice to make a running change with anything in our life, and that is especially true of dietary modifications. Start small and set goals for yourself. It won't happen overnight, but baby steps in the right direction is still progress towards a healthier lifestyle.
Originally published in MD Life magazine