March is National Nutrition Month, and this year, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is urging Americans to “Get Your Plate In Shape.” With the help of the “My Plate” model, which replaced the Food Pyramid in June 2011, the experts are giving us a reminder of the healthy nutrition goals we have heard before:
Make half your plate fruits and vegetables
Make at least half of your grains whole grains
Switch to fat-free or low-fat dairy
Vary your protein choices
Cut back on sodium and empty calories from solid fats and added sugars
So if we all know what to do, why do so many of us struggle not only to get our plates in shape, but also to keep them in shape? The problem for many of us is that we aren’t excited about making dietary changes, so we reluctantly begin following nutrition advice without a real plan.
Alternatively, if we take an active role in designing our own plates and developing our own implementation plans for change, we are setting ourselves up for the best chance of success. Here are a few tips to get started:
Analyze Your Plate: Take a look at what, when, and how much you eat every day (meals, snacks, and beverages included), and jot it down in a food journal. Consider the nutritional density of the foods you eat including the amount of carbohydrate and fiber, fat (including saturated or trans fat), protein, sodium, added sugar, and vitamins and minerals. Also make note of how you feel after each meal or snack (too full, still hungry, etc.).
With this information in front of you, you can identify the good food choices you make, as well as the choices that can be improved to create a more balanced nutrition plan that better meets your needs.
Redesign your Plate: There are plenty of generic diet plans created by magazine writers and celebrity trainers that will tell you exactly what to eat every day, but you are in the best position to decide what healthy foods work for you.
For example, your diet plan may tell you to have a spinach salad for lunch (a rich source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, and Iron), but if you’d rather choke down tar than eat it, it’s not going to make you healthier. Following a diet plan that isn’t for you leaves you feeling frustrated and much more likely to cheat. Instead, consider consulting a doctor or personal trainer to help you design your plate, but make sure that you are the one in charge!
Adjust Your Plate One Item At A Time: Choosing specific, measurable, and manageable goals that you can accomplish in sequence may lead to to greater success than redesigning your plate all at once. For example, start by adding a one-cup serving of vegetables to every meal (as opposed to saying, “I need to eat more vegetables”). The following week, keep the vegetables that you found satisfying, and try adding some healthier protein options.
Another approach is to take a few of the traditional meals you eat often and determine how to make them just a little bit healthier. Don’t be afraid to experiment with new foods or preparation methods. Over time, this methodical approach to change will help you meet your nutritional goals, and you may actually enjoy the process!
What dietary changes have you made in the past that you still stick to today? What changes are you working on now?