Byline: Ashley Ritzo, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and Certified Health and Wellness Coach (CHWC)
Any diet can be made healthy if it supplies a balance of nutrients within appropriate ranges that do not result in a deficiency or toxicity of any kind. Following special diets may require extra attention and effort to ensure that all of the body’s nutrient needs are met. As with anything in life, there is more than one way to do things; but it is no secret that a diet composed of whole foods high in fruits and vegetables, minimally processed whole grains and lean proteins is most widely recommended for maintaining optimal nutrition and a healthy weight.
Finding the right balance for your individual needs is the key! Take a look at the healthy eating plate designed by the Harvard School of Public Health for a good starting point. This way of eating provides a good balance of all nutrients with a modest calorie intake to support overall wellness. It can be applied when eating at home or eating out and for a variety of health conditions whether your goal is to improve your eating habits in general, lose weight, improve your heart health or improve blood sugar control. Here are a few more tips for optimal nutrition:
- Choose foods as close to the way they occur in nature as possible. These foods generally have more nutrients with less of the harmful characteristics like sodium, added sugars and other preservatives. For example – a baked sweet potato comes straight from the ground; whereas French fries come from a potato that was peeled; sliced; seasoned with salt, preservatives and other seasonings; deep fried; frozen; re-fried and then served to you.
- Drink plenty of water. A good rule of thumb is to divide your weight in pounds by 2 and drink that many ounces of fluid per day. Water is best, but tea, coffee and other liquids count too. However, watch out for unnecessary calories from beverages other than water, plain, unsweetened tea or black coffee.
- Eat regularly spaced meals and snacks. Eating approximately every 3-5 hours is ideal for keeping metabolism running and blood sugar levels stable to prevent excessive hunger.
- Be physically active. The major culprit for weight gain as we age is loss of lean body mass. Exercise and adding more activity in your day-to-day life can help maintain your muscle mass and use more calories to keep your weight stable or maintain weight loss. Even standing instead of staying seated can burn up to 30% more calories!
- Pay attention to what your body is signaling to you. We are all born with the ability to identify when we are hungry and when we have eaten enough to feel physically satisfied, but these signals often become masked over the years. Think of an infant who cries when hungry, but refuses to be fed when they are satisfied. Try to rate your hunger level each and every time you prepare to eat in order to relearn your body’s hunger cues. Similarly, slow down and be mindful during eating to get back in touch with your body’s signs of fullness. (The university’s fall Eat for Life courses are enrolling now. Eat for Life is a 10-week program that uses mindfulness as the foundation for learning how to create a healthy relationship with your food, mind and body.)
- Plan, plan, plan! Life happens, and we have to be prepared for it. There is no way to prevent the occasional late night at work, soccer game that goes into over-time or just a down-right stressful day; but we can have strategies in place to help us manage those events. Just having a rough outline of options for meals and snacks for the week can reduce the frustration of last-minute decision-making and limited time. Keep your schedule in mind when putting together your ideas, and try to plan accordingly.
- Mindful eating video, and other audio and video resources related to wellness
- Weight management resources for university faculty and staff
- Physical activity resources for university faculty and staff
- Discounts on fitness centers and more
About the author: Ashley Ritzo is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Health and Wellness Coach. Ashley’s favorite part about being a dietitian is helping people learn that eating healthy doesn’t have to be restrictive or boring. Anyone can work nutritious eating habits into their life with the right plan of action.
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