June 30 of 2008 I passed my board examination to become a registered dietitian. (Side Note: dietitians have since had the opportunity to change our title to Registered Dietitian Nutritionist or RDN). As I reflect on my 10 years in the practice of dietetics, there are recurring themes, recurring messages that come to mind. Today, I share those with you (in no particular order):
1. Yes, all foods can fit into a healthy diet.
It’s really about how much and how often you eat those foods that your body responds to.
2. Enjoyment and pleasure really are some of the values attached to food….and that’s not a bad thing.
Food CAN be celebratory and fun without negotiating your health. You shouldn’t feel like you’re eating tasteless foods or so restrictive that you miss out on “fun food.”
3. Balance, balance, balance.
I use this word all the time! If you are creating balanced meals and snacks, you are more likely to meet your nutrient and energy needs. Balance your carbs, proteins, and fats. Balance your food groups including grains, dairy, protein, fruits and vegetables. Balance the colors of your fruits and vegetables to take advantage of the different phytochemicals that have beneficial effects on the body.
4. Focus on what TO eat, not what to avoid.
If you focus on what to avoid, you simply feel guilty any time you consume those food items. (Even if you ate it once in the past month) And that one food item isn’t going to make or break your health goals.
5. Regular exercise is NOT just about weight.
There is great research on how exercise impacts our mental health, our body image, and not to mention our flexibility, bone density, and insulin sensitivity (how our body responds to a rise in blood sugars) …the list goes on and on. If you’re not regularly getting exercise, it’s time!
6. Stop the crazy fad diet cycle.
There will always be a new diet talked about in social circles but you don’t need to try them. The DASH (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension) and Mediterranean Diets are both healthy dietary approaches to follow if you’re interested in specific guidelines.
7. Carbs is not a “bad” word.
Grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy, legumes all contain carbohydrates that benefit the body with energy, fiber, nutrients, and antioxidants to keep you healthy and energized.
8. Just because you read something on the internet, it may or may not be true.
When you see reports about nutrition and health, ask a nutrition expert like a registered dietitian or talk to your doctor. There are many reputable sources of information like the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the American Heart Association, and the Mayo Clinic.
9. Don’t blindly start taking supplements.
You may not even need a multivitamin if you have a well-balanced diet and don’t have any malabsorption issues. Some supplements don’t even have what they say they have in them. Some interfere with your medications. Some are contraindicated with certain medical conditions. And some don’t work or fulfill their claims. Again, this is a good topic to address with an RD or MD. The Natural Medicines Health Database and the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements both contain reliable information on supplements as well.
10. If you’re going to make dietary or exercise changes, figure out why it matters to YOU first.
If you don’t have motivation going into it, your efforts will likely be short-lived. I practice a healthy diet and exercise because (1) I want to be married to my husband into our 90s, (2) I want to honor the body God gave me, (3) I feel like the best version of myself – mentally, physically and spiritually, (4) I need to keep up with 3 VERY active children…ages 5, 3 and 1 (5) I want to be a strong example of what I teach my clients…”practicing what I preach”, and (6) I want to prevent having to deal with chronic diseases and medications in the future (as much as is up to me!). Those are some of mine….and how about you?
For those of you I have worked with in these past 10 years, thank you for the opportunity to do one of the most amazing jobs on the planet.