There is no time like the present to evaluate your current food and lifestyle plan. At the end of the year, it is common to reflect back and assess what you have accomplished throughout the year in the nutrition department and what you would like to work on for the coming year. What are you wishing to achieve when it comes to your overall nutritional health? Although you may establish weight loss and health goals for the New Year, will you follow them through? 

In my work as a registered dietitian at RCBM, I provide medical nutrition therapy to clients, in tandem with psychotherapists and medication providers, in an integrative approach to behavioral health.

There is a myriad of weight loss programs available in the form of books, Internet advice and through individuals that have not had formal training in the area of nutrition. They sound tempting when they promise, “20 pounds of weight loss in one month.” However, will these programs and/or practitioners help you change your eating habits? Most weight loss programs not only fail to address the emotional issues behind why you may be overeating, but they also have very little to offer in the way of nutrition education.

This is why so many “diets” don’t work. They simply provide a safety net so you don’t have to make any effort. The diet does the work for you, so you do not have to think at all. But when the diet is over, you are left wondering, “Now how do I maintain my new weight on my own?”

Here are some tips that my clients, remaining anonymous, has offered to share with others:

1.“Fad diets” don’t work. Slow and steady wins the race. Client 1 tried many “diets,” and considered herself a “yo-yo dieter (lose weight, gain more weight; lose weight, gain even more weight, and so on). She recently embarked on a diet high in protein and fat that drastically reduced carbohydrate intake putting her body into a metabolic state called ketosis. Although she lost weight quickly, she had a difficult time maintaining this food regimen as she craved the carbohydrates she was missing. She quickly gained her weight back and more. In a very low carbohydrate diet, weight that is lost is mainly muscle mass needed to preserve metabolism. As individuals regain their weight, once they “go off” the diet, the regained weight is mainly fat. As your body develops a high fat composition, this makes it difficult not only to maintain your weight, but also to lose weight in the future. In addition, there is no scientific support for cutting out carbohydrates as a blanket remedy for weight loss.

Carbohydrates are the primary source of fuel use by the body and brain to perform its necessary physical and mental functions. Carbohydrates contain B vitamins. Insufficient carbohydrates in the diet leads to lethargy, weakness, and difficulty concentrating and thinking, as well a depressed mood and irritability due to the lack of these important B vitamins. Complex carbohydrates found in whole-grains, vegetables and fruits are preferred over processed foods, such as packaged granola bars, cakes and candy, since they digest at a slower rate. This releases energy to the body over a longer period of time, keeping energy level stabilized.

Client 1 now follows a food plan balanced in carbohydrate, protein and fat that has helped her lose weight slowly and steadily. She has found that focusing on the process instead of the end result, along with persistence, have helped her move forward in order to change her habits for the long haul. She understands that what she needs to do in the weight loss process is no different in the maintenance process. Tracking food eaten, paying close attention to portions and variety, along with following up regularly with me for new strategies and accountability has helped keep her weight moving in a positive direction.

2.Skipping breakfast, while eating salad for lunch just doesn’t cut it. Many individuals omit meals in an attempt to lose weight. At dinner time, they become ravenous and overeat. Client 2 regularly skipped breakfast, ate salad for lunch or skipped lunch altogether, then came home from work and ate uncontrollably. He did not plan or prepare meals as there was very little nutritious, solid food in his pantry and refrigerator other than snack foods. He also did not consume adequate water throughout the day. “I looked at success in losing weight as eating salads,” stated Client 2, “I figured that if I was eating salads and gaining weight, something was not right.” Client 2 also did not make the time to adequately hydrate himself during the day.

Water supports cellular processes in the body. It is helpful to sip water throughout the day in order to keep consistently hydrated. A general rule of thumb is to consume half your body weight in ounces of water, with slightly more in the summer, with exercise or when you have been sweating. When your body is just 2% below its water requirement, you will feel the negative affect physically and mentally. Also, when you feel hungry, it may be that you are actually thirsty. When you are properly hydrated, you are more likely to make food choices that are nutritionally dense and satisfying.

Now that Client 2 is eating consistent meals and drinking sufficient water, he is moving toward his weight goal. Guiding Client 2 in planning weekly meals in advance, with variety from day to day/week to week, has helped him sustain this pattern naturally. Anticipating the week’s schedule is key for Client 2 in knowing what and how he has to prepare for the week as to not fall back into erratic eating habits.

3.“All or nothing mentality” leads to deprivation and lack of enjoyment of food. It is easy to get caught up in the “clean” eating movement. Clean eating is the belief that eating whole foods in their most natural state, and avoiding processed foods such as refined sugar, offers certain health benefits. Variations on the clean eating diet may also exclude gluten, grains, and dairy products and advocate the consumption of raw food. Client 3 prides herself on eating “healthy”, where she now fears that eating foods outside of her realm will negatively affect her weight that she has worked so hard to lose and maintain. In addition, her rigid eating pattern has caused her to avoid social situations involving food thus making her feel overall, extremely isolated. Educating Client 3 was my focus, with teaching the client awareness around her food behaviors, learning how to pay attention to when she was hungry and stopping when she was full, along with challenging her with foods outside of her scope and breaking down a nutrition label into its components to dispel fear and myths.

By tracking food intake, and the emotions behind what was driving her behavior, Client 3 is now eating foods all foods that she once used to enjoy, while still maintaining her weight. “I eat three meals and two snacks. I have learned how to read food labels, interpret nutrition information from articles, and immerse myself into staying in touch with my behaviors around food. I do not deny myself any type of food, whether it is sweets or fried foods, and have not regressed into old habits.”

“Healthy” is not a one size fits all definition when it comes to food, and each individual has their own perception of what healthy means to them based on culture, disease state, upbringing and many other factors. However, “healthy” or “clean eating” can be taken to an extreme. Satisfaction plays a big role in your mental and emotional health, too. It’s about looking at food like puzzle pieces, and understanding how foods fit in your life because it makes you feel good, both physically and emotionally, while tasting good. It’s an ebb and flow of mindfully listening to your body as to what it is truly hungry for.

In summary, food plans that may work for some, may not work for others. Everyone has a unique body chemistry and needs to unlock their own key to long-term sustainability of their nutrition goals. In addition, your weight does not define you as there are so many other qualities that you possess.

At RCBM, addressing weight loss goals and eating behaviors is a team effort between you and your medication prescriber, the registered dietitian and your therapist. When you understand that weight loss is process and not product oriented, you set the stage for a successful outcome of long-term sustainability.

I hope to meet you in the coming year in order to assist you with the nutrition education you desire.

Happy Holiday Season and Happy New Year.