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Sharon Price, MS, CNS, LN offers personalized nutrition counseling to help individuals navigate the often-complex interplay between food and health— taking a special interest in healthy body composition, gut health, and food allergies. Her goal? To help clients savor good health and nutrition without feeling overwhelmed or over-burdened.

Small Adjustments Add Up to Major Diet Improvements

By Sharon Price, MS, CNS, LN

Sharon Price, MS, CNS, LN

The phrase “going on a diet,” has always sounded like an unpleasant trip to me. You go on the diet and then come home to your normal way of eating, right?.

Just the word “diet” itself can be laden with negative connotations, from yo-yo dieting to crash dieting or even (gasp) cheating on your diet. The common thread here is the idea of diet as a set of rigid, temporary rules to be endured or evaded or eventually discarded, instead of eating for nourishment in a way you can sustain—and enjoy!—for the long-term.

But how do you get there when the typical American eating style is literally termed SAD (for Standard American Diet)? It can seem overwhelming. One trick is to start with small shifts over time.

Adjustment One: Vegetables

Start adding vegetables—maybe a big salad, maybe some veggies in your omelet or a smoothie. Have fun with it, trying colors and veggies you haven’t before—red cabbage, purple cauliflower, all colors of carrots. (Did you even know there were all colors of carrots?!) Work your way up to making veggies part of nearly every meal, including breakfast.

And to help your first shift, drink more water! Make sure you are staying hydrated throughout the day and not misinterpreting thirst signals as hunger.

Those two changes are what I call “crowding out” tactics. As you add more vegetables, you get not just a load of colorful phytonutrients but a lot of fiber (yet another reason to drink more water)!

You may find that just doing these two things helps you naturally eat fewer processed foods or sweets – simply because you have less room for them.

Adjustment Two: Sugar

For a next shift, try being mindful of the amount of sugar and refined carbohydrates you’re eating. Both elevate your blood sugar in much the same way, sending you on a roller coaster of sugar highs followed by crashes that leave you wanting more.

Hidden sugars can be an easy starting point. They’re the ones you didn’t even know you were eating—sugar in deli meat? Don’t need it. Loads of sugar in your so-called healthy yogurt? Better to get a plain kind and sweeten lightly or add your own whole fruits and nuts. Definitely cut down on soft drinks, as liquid sugar adds up quickly.

The less of those sweet and highly processed foods you eat, the less you will crave them, creating a virtuous cycle of eating healthily and feeling better. Cutting down on sugar (hidden or not) is one of the best ways to combat simmering inflammation and the chronic health problems it can spur. But you don’t have to do it all at once – and nor should you, unless you want a raging headache and a lot of crankiness.

Now you’ve filled your menu and plate, more and more, with fiber-rich veggies or beans and lots of water. You’ve pared down sugar and refined flour over time, while not declaring them forbidden or evil.

Adjustment Three: Protein

Next, take a careful look at the protein you consume—whether you eat meat or not. You should eat a variety of different lean and high-quality proteins.

If you tend to like meat at dinner, consider a morning smoothie with a plant-based protein instead. Combining protein with fiber (yep, those veggies or beans) and healthy fats like olive oil or small amounts of nuts and seeds is what helps you feel satisfied after eating.

Make Your “Diet” Your Own

And speaking of feelings, remember to slow down and enjoy what you’re eating. And notice how you feel afterward. You may find that you feel better having a lighter dinner as you get older, or that fueling yourself with a protein-rich breakfast really helps you to power through the morning.

But you also might find that certain foods—yes, even the healthy ones—simply don’t agree with you. And that’s ok! Forcing yourself to eat quinoa because it’s fiber rich and has some nice protein will backfire if you turn out to have a sensitivity or food allergy. Pay attention if you always get an upset stomach or a headache after eating a certain food, or even if you just feel a little brain foggy.

I’ve seen many nutrition clients who come in, frustrated, starting with, “I eat a perfectly healthy diet, but ….” They feel terrible, or can’t maintain a healthy weight, or have sleep issues. And their eating does often look great on paper, but we are not all the same. What’s nourishing for one individual may have the opposite affect on another.

What’s important is figuring out what works for you, which often involves working out what definitely doesn’t. And that can change throughout your life. The goal is to remain aware and adaptable so you don’t go from enjoying what you eat to dreading it, or end up never feeling satisfied.

Because feeling satisfied and enjoying what you eat are key to finding an approach that works with your life while helping you to achieve your optimal level of health and well-being.