“What Should I Eat?”
As a Registered Dietitian (RD) and Licensed Dietitian/Nutritionist (LDN), I hear this question often. It’s then typically followed by… “Well, what do you eat??” I try to practice what I preach – eat high quality food that fuels both my body and mind, while also satisfying my taste buds. I eat a wide variety of foods (yes – I do eat meat, but I also really enjoy fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats such as nuts/fish/avocado/oils). The one food I have always avoided is mushy peas, because I have never liked their taste or texture. And believe it or not, I also enjoy desserts. Believe it or not, there are dietitians who will enjoy a piece of cake or some Halloween candy, but I do try to plan them in reasonable quantities and usually after a balanced meal.
The problem with the question, “What should I eat?” is that there is no simple answer. I do not believe there is a one-size-fits-all approach to healthy eating. In working with my clients, I often help them relearn hunger/fullness cues and work with them to reclaim a healthy relationship with food. We discuss appropriate portion sizes for their individual needs and how to plan meals and snacks to achieve satisfaction while also meeting their health goals. Whether it’s tailoring your eating habits to lose weight, gain weight, manage blood sugars or lower cholesterol, the key is to focus on yourself and work with a registered dietitian who can help support and guide you in this process (to find a dietitian in your area, visit the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website). As much as people may think or want me to be, I am not the food police. I am here to help educate, sort out nutrition myths (refer to my article in the September issue of Space Coast Living, pages 57-58), and provide a positive support for gradual behavior change.
I see so many people fall prey to the “diet” industry trying to sell us on the next fad or miracle pill, reinforcing the “good vs. bad” food mentality, that it’s exhausting not just for myself but especially for those who are confused and hurt by years of yo-yo dieting. Can you believe that according to data collected in 2011, the weight-loss industry was estimated to be a nearly $60 billion per year industry?? That’s crazy! So let’s refocus on the basics. Shake out the cobwebs, throw out the diet books, and focus on eating food that’s both nutritious and delicious. Below are a few basic healthy eating guidelines I often share with my patients. Pick and choose which of the following tips may be helpful for you and remember to practice patience with yourself if you are trying to change your eating habits. It can take several months to years to solidly change habits surrounding food, eating, and activity behaviors, so focus on one meal and one day at a time. Slow and steady wins the race, so set short-term goals that are achievable for you.
- Eat every 3-5 hours on average to keep your energy levels up and help prevent becoming overly hungry.
- Use this basic rule of thumb when planning meals and snacks to ensure variety & satiety:
Meals = at least 3 food groups & Snacks = 2 food groups.
- Try using MyPlate. This works especially well at buffets, parties or social functions where there are several food choices available. Keep in mind this is meant for ~9” plates, so if you use 12” or 13” plates at home, leave room around the edge as shown in the picture below:
- Monitor portion sizes. Start by thinking about your typical portions and how they compare to the standard recommended serving sizes. If they are large, decrease them by ~1/3, and if they are small or you are trying to gain weight, increase them by ~1/3.
- Focus on fiber. Most adults need 25-35 grams of fiber per day. Fiber is found in fruits, vegetables, breads, cereals and other grain products, nuts, and beans. Look for cereals & other grain products that contain 5 grams of fiber or more per serving.
- Focus on mindful eating and quality (not just quantity). Try to taste the first 3 bites of everything you eat and truly enjoy the food. If you are eating “diet” foods to lose weight but hate the taste of them, you are less likely to stick with it. For many people, it is better to eat a smaller portion of slightly higher calorie food and truly enjoy and savor it, than to eat a lot of a low-calorie products and not feel satisfied.
- Plan. Choose one day during the week to meal plan, grocery shop, pre-portion snack items, cut up fruits/vegetables, and pack lunches. Some form of meal planning is an essential part of self-care and necessary for overall health and wellness.
- Focus on variety. If you notice yourself getting bored, it’s time for a change, so try one new food or recipe each week. Focusing on a colorful plate can also help make your meal more visually appealing and more nutritious.
- Prioritize sleep. People who do not get at least 7-9 hours of sleep each night often have a harder time managing their weight. Fatigue can often trigger non-hunger eating.
- Stay hydrated – we may often think we’re hungry when really we’re just thirsty. Many people feel best with ~64 oz water per day and limiting caffeine to no more than 8-12 oz per day. If you drink alcohol, remember there are standard serving sizes for this as well. Moderate drinking is considered 1 beverage or less per day for females and 2 beverages or less per day for males, where a serving of wine is 5 oz, beer is 12 oz, and hard liquor is 1.5 oz
- Quick tip for nutrition facts label reading: always start by looking at the serving size. You can quickly determine if a food is considered “high” or “low” in a particular nutrient by using the Percent Daily Value (%DV) listed on the far right side of the label. A food listed as 20% DV or higher is “high” and a food listed as 5% DV or less is considered “low.” Try to choose foods moderate to low in fat/cholesterol/sodium, and high in fiber/vitamins/minerals.
Click here to try two of Kristine’s favorite fall recipes: Quinoa & Black Bean Salad and Pumpkin Flax Quickbread!
Kristine Van Workum, RD, CSSD, LDN has been working as a dietitian since 2000, and currently specializes in nutrition counseling for weight management, eating disorders and sports nutrition. She established her practice, Brevard Nutrition, in Indialantic, FL (www.brevardnutrition.com) after moving to Brevard County in 2009. Visit Brevard Nutrition on Facebook for weekly recipes and health tips. Kristine and her husband, Kevin, are also owners of their local small business, Alpine Yogurt Cafe, in Satellite Beach, FL (www.alpineyogurtcafe.com). Visit Alpine Yogurt Cafe on Facebook for daily frozen yogurt/sorbet flavor updates and specials.