If Your Best Friend Were A Dietitian…

You probably have a best friend who’s an expert in her field, be it a doctor, a lawyer, an accountant, or a personal trainer. You can go to her whenever you have a question or a problem, without the hassle of an appointment or an hourly bill. Wouldn’t it be nice if your best friend were a nutritionist, and you could ask her anything you wanted and steal her most coveted pieces of advice?

Experts are aptly named because they’ve spent endless hours studying in school and graduate programs and performing research. But it’s not the information an expert has that makes her so valuable; it’s her unique experiences with clients. Dietitians have worked with countless clients to determine the nutrition advice that really works. I spoke with America’s top dietitians, from LA to New York, who have spent years linking experience with research to determine the most effective weight loss and healthy eating solutions. Read on to find out which tips really work.

Taste the Rainbow
Your Mom said it, and now the dietitians are saying it: eat your fruits and vegetables. No matter what. Shari Boockvar, MS, RD, advises her clients to eat a rainbow of fruits and vegetables. “They will give you a variety of antioxidants, phytochemicals, and different types of fiber; and in the long-term, they may protect against disease.” Besides the unique blend of nutrients in each plant, fruits and vegetables are an excellent tool in the fight against obesity. Nicole Geurin, MPH, RD tells her clients to tackle hunger with the colorful plants. “Fruits and vegetables are very low in caloric density, so they fill you up for fewer calories. Fill half your plate with colorful fruits and vegetables at mealtimes, and enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables as snacks too.” Snacking on raw sugar snap peas and carrots is easy if you naturally like vegetables, but since many people are vegetable-averse, add some flavor – and fat – to help them go down easier. Autumn Hoverter, MS, RD, CS of FoodWise Nutrition suggests adding a little olive oil or bleu cheese, because “if you’re filling half your plate with vegetables – however you prepare them – you’re still consuming more nutrients and fiber than you’d get with carbs or proteins.” Besides making vegetables more palatable, a little fat will also help you absorb more nutrients. Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble, meaning they need to be eaten with fats in order to become more bioavailable. So go right ahead: eat your vegetables sauteed in a little butter or olive oil.

Clean it up
Whole Foods is a wildly popular grocery store, but it’s also the way to eat. In addition to eating more fruits and vegetables, dietitians advise eating less processed foods and sugars. Kim Shapira, MS, RD, prescribes a clean eating plan by eliminating processed sugars. “Processed sugars cause physical addiction. Once you no longer crave those sugars, there will be more room for the ‘good stuff’ like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains,” Shapira says. Indeed, a study from the Princeton Neuroscience Institute confirms that sugar causes the same cravings, withdrawal, and relapse behavior as in drug abuse. The easiest way to cut processed foods and sugars out of your body, says Emily Murray, RD, LDN, is to avoid high fructose corn syrup. You won’t find HFCS – or any other ingredients, for that matter – in an apple, so use it as a guide for which foods to avoid. Make sure to look out for unsuspecting packaged foods too, like ketchup, bread, and pickles: one jar of tomato sauce can have as much as a half cup of added sugar! Women should limit their daily intake of added sugars to 6 teaspoons; men should consume no more than 9 teaspoons.

Be thoughtful
According to the American Dietetic Association, at least 60% of America’s workforce regularly dines at their desktop. And while it may save time and money, eating at your desk may also be causing you to hold on to some unwanted pounds. “Be present during your meals and snacks,” says Alyse Levine, MS, RD, a Los Angeles-based nutritionist. “Actually taste your food and check in on your body’s hunger level throughout the meal.” A study from the University of Birmingham found that distracted diners take in more calories than their more mindful counterparts. Even worse, they tend to forget how much they previously ate, leading to even more overeating. Diners who sat down to notice the flavor, texture, and appearance of their food reported less hunger; do the same, and you might see some pounds fall off.

Eat with your brain, not your eyes
In addition to paying attention while you eat, pay attention to your hunger cues before and after you eat. Using a food log for a couple weeks will help you become more in tune with your hunger, allowing you to “establish your food and mood connection,” says nutritionist Randi Dukoff. “Don’t concentrate on each and every calorie – pay attention to how you feel one to two hours after eating. Do you feel 100% full and perfect, or full but still craving a sweet? This information will help you to understand how food makes you feel and let you get a grip on emotional eating and excess eating,”  Dukoff says. With this information, you’ll be armed to identify and face your emotions, instead of feeding your feelings with food. And most importantly – but so often forgotten – eat only when you’re hungry! “The tip I tell anyone, which is so primitive but lost so often, is to eat when you are hungry and stop when you are getting full,” says Alene Baronian, MS, RD. Melanie Sherman, MS, RD, CSN of West Side Nutrition simply tells her clients that “eating when you are not hungry is like answering a phone when it’s not ringing.” If you recognize that you’re full, but still want to eat more – just one more brownie! – just remember that “there’s always a next meal,” says Rania Batayneh, MPH of Essential Nutrition For You.

Eat early, eat often
Because of busy work schedules, screaming toddlers, and a general lack of sleep, many Americans tend to skip breakfast, pick their way through lunch, and blow their day’s calories with a huge dinner and plenty of midnight snacks. But research has found that individuals who eat most of their calories in the morning and then taper them off into the evening tend to lose more weight than those who skip breakfast. Nancy Clark, MS, RD, CSSD, a sports nutritionist in Boston, explains it perfectly: “Fuel by day and eat less at night. If you want to lose weight, lose it at night when you’re sleeping, instead of suffering through the day being hungry.” The best way to fuel by day? Instead of the typical three square meals, snack on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and lean protein throughout the day. “Eating frequent, appropriate meals and snacks provide controlled amounts of energy, limiting insulin release and modulating subsequent swings in blood sugar. In turn, these habits will enhance metabolic function and increase the ability to make thoughtful, healthy dietary choices,” says Anna Peabody, a registered and licensed dietitian.

Dieting Doesn’t Work
When you hear the word “diet,” you might think of restriction: no fat, no sugar, no carbs. But any diet that eliminates an entire food group is unsustainable, not to mention unhealthy. Carbs, for example, trigger the release of the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin, effectively regulating mood. And even if you do lose weight in the short-term, you’re likely to gain it back, say Minh Tran, MS, RD, CSSD of Mindful Nutrition. In addition, diets are “linked to lower self-esteem, increased risk of disordered eating, including bingeing and weight gain.” Instead of the typical yo-yo dieting, dietitians urge their clients to think of a diet as their new, sustainable eating plan for the rest of their life. LeeAnn Smith Weintraub, MPH, RD sees a lot of her friends, family members, and new clients try the trendy, media-hyped diets and then, confused, fail to see results. She coaches them according to their unique, individual nutrition needs, telling them that no idea should require starving, cleansing, or restricting entire food groups. “Eating a balanced diet and watching portion sizes is the best, most sustainable way to achieve and maintain a healthy weight,” she says. Jennifer Regester, RD and founder of Eat With Knowledge, agrees: “It’s never about ‘being on a diet.’ It’s about changing your relationship with food and living a healthy lifestyle one meal at a time.” As opposed to dieting, find an eating plan that works for you and stick to it. Ana Ladd-Griffin tells her clients not to “bend or change for any person, event, or situation.” Just because your aunt is pushing another piece of her famous pecan pie in your face doesn’t mean you have to eat it: eat for yourself only.

Have Fun
You might think that dietitians spend their life eating raw vegetables, grilled chicken and fish, nuts, and quinoa. And while they probably do, there are also nights when you’ll find them noshing on fried chicken, ice cream, and pizza. Boockvar loves eating healthfully, but she also loves good food, which can sometimes end up on the  indulgent spectrum – like one of her favorites, fried chicken. She tells her clients that it’s okay to splurge every so often, as long as they eat healthful foods for the rest of the time. Sarah Mirkin, a Registered Dietitian and Diet Coach in Los Angeles, reiterates that “Everything is healthy in moderation. What’s unhealthy is food deprivation. If you eat healthfully 90% of the time, you have room to include other foods in moderation.” As long as you follow this advice, any food – a slice of dark chocolate cake, lobster thermidor, or fried mac and cheese – can fit into your new, healthy diet.

Now that you essentially have sat down with your new best friend, the dietitian, take these tried-and-true healthy eating nuggets and put them to use. One of my favorite pieces of advice is that it’s never too late to start eating healthfully. Even if you just noshed your way through a box of Krispy Kremes, forget about it; next time you sit down for a meal, nosh on your favorite nutritious, functional foods.

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