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Ask the Expert: Healthy Nutrition in the New Year

Ask the Expert: Healthy Nutrition in the New Year


Ask the Expert: Healthy Nutrition in the New Year

Looking back at the first month of the New Year, many of us have been happy to breathe a sigh of relief that the stress of the holidays is over, made especially challenging by the almost two years of pandemic, the Omicron surge and continued uncertainties. And we’ve likely set New Year’s resolutions with a goal to take off some of the holiday weight gain or the pandemic pounds that have snuck on since the COVID-19 outbreak began!

According to a new Harris Poll/HealthDay survey, nearly 2 of every 3 adults (63%) plan to change their diet in 2022, either by cutting back on specific foods or eating less.

Overall, the poll found that more than 43% of us (2 in 5 adults), reported that they have gained weight. Our food environment is often filled with ultra-processed hyperpalatable foods, the majority of us have experienced increased stress and we are seeking more comfort foods. Many are also drinking more and sleeping less!

So where do we begin? Research suggests that New Year’s resolutions or goals to lose a certain amount of weight, follow a strict diet, or work out, generally are unsuccessful. The number one reason: we often set unrealistic goals, try to change too much at once, or do things that we really don’t want to do!

What is one change you can make that will have an immediate and lasting impact on your day?

Perhaps starting with self-care and compassion is where most of us can begin!
This has been a particularly unsettling and unprecedented time. You are not alone.

The acronym SELF may give you some ideas you may want to consider that in my opinion have yielded the most positive results in my patients over the years.

S: Structure; Would you consider taking 10 minutes on Sunday afternoon to plan out some meals and/or snacks for Monday or the week so you are less likely to skip meals, eat on the run, or grab fast foods? See my website hearthealthyrd.com for some sample meal and snack suggestions. Research suggests starting out with a good protein source is a great way to avoid being “hangry” midmorning and to keep your energy and appetite level more stable throughout the day.

E: Environment; Creating a positive environment is key to minimizing temptation. As James Clear in his bestselling book, Atomic Habits, recommends, “It’s almost impossible to constantly stick to a positive habit in a negative environment.” What tempting foods are being brought into the house? If there is a treat or snack that is hard to limit to a “serving size?” You may want to consider leaving food that “talks to you,” out of the house, especially not on the kitchen counter!

L: Less is more – choose more whole foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, lean protein, nuts and seeds, and unsaturated fats). Perhaps fewer processed foods with added sugar and sodium. Author Michael Pollan suggests: “If your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize it as food, neither should you.” Instead of thinking you need to take away foods, think of adding! Is your plate colorful? A study conducted in 2020 before vaccinations and the Delta and Omicron variant, found that people eating a plant-rich dietary pattern were slightly less likely to develop COVID-19 and had lower risk of developing severe symptoms vs. people who didn’t eat fruits and vegetables. Think of dividing your plate in half — with ½ being produce and the remaining, a small amount of protein and a starch, preferably including legumes or whole grains. Even being more aware of appropriate portion sizes would be a start. When we eat out the meals are usually twice as large as what we need and often have as many calories, sodium and fat for the entire day!

F: Family and friends involved! We all need support. It makes it extra challenging when others we are close to are not on board. We often follow the dietary habits of those we are most close to. Consider working together, trying to get their support or possibly even just setting a good example, without nagging!

In addition to SELF, consider focusing on other areas of self-care including making sleep a priority. Getting enough sleep is one of the most important factors to consider when making changes and can affect our appetite, energy level, stress level and blood sugar! Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Think of sleep as a “guardian for your brain.”

Moving more during the day and sitting less (motion equals lotion) would also be an excellent option. During COVID-19, many people are fearful of returning to a gym. If you don’t venture for a walk outside or attend a gym, there are wonderful resources online and on YouTube. Fairfax County Healthy Strides Virtual Fitness Classes, http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/healthy-strides, is a great one to consider. It’s free for everyone and there are classes you can easily log onto. Even sitting outside on a patio or walking your dog can do wonders! I love the concept of getting a dose of “Vitamin N” (nature), every day!

It’s also so important not to be too hard on yourself. Change takes time.

And finally, three key thoughts to consider when making a change that will most likely lead to success!

Is the one change you are going to consider EASY, ENJOYABLE and most importantly is it SUSTAINABLE?

Success in the New Year isn’t about a certain number on the scale, depriving yourself of some of your favorite foods, or a lifestyle you can barely tolerate. Success is a sustainable lifestyle you can ENJOY… today. And wouldn’t we all benefit from some unconditional joy right now??


Mary Hunt is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who has been serving the Fairfax and Washington metropolitan area since 1987. Her approach focuses on empowering her patients with optimism and providing them with the knowledge and tools they need to achieve healthier eating habits as well as overall improved health and wellness.

Members of Eileen West, MD and Associates are eligible to receive a complimentary nutrition consultation with Mary at your convenience. Call the office at 571-999-9378 or email us at info@eileenwestmd.com to schedule your consult today.

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