Scratch “DIET” off Your New-Years List in 2016!

Happy New Year from 2 Your Health!
As many of you know, in addition to writing for 2 Your Health and creating menus and recipes, I also continue to work with individuals in face to face meetings. As we approach the beginning of the new year, the most frequent question is “how do I eat better this year to improve my health permanently?” As a registered dietitian, the key word I latch onto here is “permanently”. If you are truly asking me how to permanently improve your health, then you’ve come to the right place. If you are asking me to recommend the best diet, you might be surprised by my answer. My challenge to you for 2016 is to think beyond the typical “diet” and focus on permanently improving your health!

“Diets” are an Epidemic.

The problem is, when New Year’s rolls around, people start thinking about losing weight, which naturally leads to talking about diets. The problem is, a diet, by most people’s definition, is temporary. New Year’s becomes the time you take the plunge and try that diet you’ve been hearing about all year long from your “enlightened” friends. Today, it might be paleo or gluten free diets. Tomorrow – who knows what they’ll think of next. Think back through the last 10, 20 or 30 years and try to remember all the crazy diets people were hailing as the next “big thing”. Now – realize that the things you are hearing about at the water cooler will sound just as silly 5-10 years from now. The point is, diets come and go. They are as temporary as fashion trends. If you are TRULY looking to make permanent and lasting health changes, you have to think beyond the temporary and focus on strategies that will bring you success for the long-term – for the rest of your life.

Thinking BEYOND the diet.

Step I: Small Successes
It is practically impossible for a person to completely change their health habits all at once and expect any sort of success. You have to focus on small pieces of the health puzzle. I often remind people that the first change to make is to accept that diets do not work. What IS important is to make small changes that are easily achieved and will last a lifetime. Perhaps 2016 is the year that you give up sweet tea completely. Maybe that means that you start by mixing half and half sweetened tea and unsweetened tea, and then you eventually progress to drinking unsweetened tea. You will find that within some period of weeks or months, you have replaced an unhealthy habit with a much healthier alternative. Once you tackle sweet tea, maybe you work toward eating breakfast each day. What is important to know is that small changes count as long as they are sustainable across time. Individually, these may seem like small victories, but they add up over time in ways you can’t imagine. Always keep in mind – your weight did not reach the current level overnight and reducing to a normal level will also not happen overnight. Your current condition is a result of a lifetime of choices and habits. Undoing the effects of these takes patience and time.

Step 2: Follow a blueprint for healthy eating.
You wouldn’t set out to build a house without a blueprint, or assemble a piece of furniture without the instructions (well, some of you would). When it comes to healthy eating, you should find a well-trusted plan to guide you through your lifestyle changes. This is the part where my clients often mention some diet that has been trending on the Internet and has generated numerous testimonials. At this point, I remind people that diets do not work when thought of as a DIET (temporary as opposed to permanent). Then I provide science based answers about healthy eating.

The DASH Plan for Healthy Eating.

Fresh fruits and vegetables for the DASH meal plan
One of the most effective eating plans for all people is the DASH plan which is an acronym for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The DASH plan was developed by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute which is a part of the National Institutes of Health to provide an eating plan that is heart healthy and easy to follow. So while at first glance you might think that DASH is only for those with high blood-pressure, you’ll find that it is a great eating plan for all-around good health and lifestyle.

The DASH plan promotes eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables plus whole grains for carbohydrates. For proteins, the plan encourages animal based proteins of fish, chicken, turkey and plant based proteins of nuts, legumes and beans. And for fats, DASH promotes vegetable based oils such as canola while limiting high saturated fat oils such as palm and coconut oils. The plan also discourages high saturated fat meats and dairy that is high in saturated fat such as whole milk. Finally, since calories count in any plan,

So what CAN’T I eat with DASH?

Every diet has a catch, right? DASH does limit a few things, but the key word here is limit. DASH discourages consuming excessive amounts of sweetened beverages and sweets such as cookies, cakes, pies, candy etc. Also, DASH encourages higher intakes of potassium, calcium, and magnesium while limiting sodium intake to 2300 mg. So – does this mean you will never eat a slice of pie again? Absolutely not. The DASH plan will allow you to set and know your limits though, so you aren’t eating excessive amounts of pie, or sodium, or anything else. As we like to say around here – “all foods can fit”, you just have to learn the rules so that you can enjoy your favorite foods on YOUR terms, as opposed to having your life and health dictated by food addictions.

DASH: A plan for the rest of your life.

The DASH plan is not a fad, and it will not go out of style. No one will be joking about the “DASH diet” 10 years from now either – “hey, remember when you tried that cabbage diet? Man, that was dumb!” One of the best things about the DASH plan is that it does not require the purchase of any fancy or unusual foods and is an approach that the whole family can enjoy. With DASH, you won’t have to order any pre-made meals, use arbitrary points systems, eat pounds of cabbage or be required to shop only at the super-expensive and trendy grocery stores. All you need for the DASH plan is to learn the guidelines, and then make your grocery list.

What is not so obvious is the impact that this plan can have on your overall health. Since the plan is heavy on fresh vegetables and fruits (8-10 servings daily), keeping full is generally not an issue (fiber is the key). For the 6-8 servings of grains daily, whole grains are the focus and sodium levels on individual products should be considered. Protein servings are limited to 6 or less daily as a means of providing adequate but not excessive protein intake while being mindful of sodium. Dairy is limited to low fat products (skim or fat free products are better) and kept at 2-3 servings daily. There is a recommended number of 2-3 servings of fats and oils daily (1 tsp for example) but generally getting adequate fat in your meals is not an issue.

How can I get started with DASH?

With this brief description of DASH, starting 2016 with sustainable changes is achievable. In later posts, I will give more detail on DASH with sample foods and meals that fit the eating plan goals. However, if you want to get a jump start on the DASH eating plan, provides members with weekly meal plans built around the DASH guidelines. These meal plans include everything from common pantry items, to acceptable fast-food and restaurant items, to delicious recipes from our premium recipe collection. These meal plans make getting started with the DASH eating plan a no-brainer.

We hope you found this information helpful, and we wish you the best in 2016!

Author: Carla Spencer

Carla Spencer is a Registered Dietitian and founder of 2 Your Health. Her extensive career working with individuals with health challenges led her to create this site dedicated to helping people enjoy their lives while working to prevent or minimize the impact of kidney disease.

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