Has anyone ever told you that diets don’t work? Well, they’re telling you that because it’s true. There is so much conflicting information out there regarding which types of “diets” should be followed or products promising an easy solution to improving our health or losing weight. When following a diet, it often comes with a lot of food rules, restrictions, or a duration of time that it should be followed.

These diets rarely teach each person how to continue with healthy habits after a highly restrictive period of changes, so this can cause yo-yoing in weight and wellness. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution to healthy eating or lifestyle habits, there are some general tips that can be considered to use nutrition, activity, and mindfulness to keep ourselves in good physical condition.

We should consider the importance of not restricting or overexerting ourselves to the point that we become burned out with the practices we are putting into place. Looking at a plan for lifelong health rather than a short-term solution for rapid weight loss can help to put sustainable practices into place that will carry us through lifelong health.

Hanna Christenson
Hanna Christenson

One of the first things that should be considered regarding our lifestyle is that our habits are formed by practicing the same things repeatedly until they are automatic, whether this is intentional or not. Setting short-term, realistic goals can be a good way to narrow down which habits are being worked on to gradually move toward long-term goals like improved chronic conditions, decreased/discontinued medication use, decreased pain, improved mobility, weight loss, or overall wellness.

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Setting short-term goals on a weekly basis like going for a 15-minute walk, consuming a certain number of servings of vegetables/fruits, or getting to bed by a specific time each night can be gradually adjusted weekly to improve habits. Writing these goals down or checking in with a trusted family member or friend can help to keep us intentional in our habits and accountable.

Nutrition is a key factor in a healthy lifestyle, and food should be thought of as our fuel. While many diets teach us which foods are “off limits,” it can be beneficial to consider which items are the best fuel for us rather than putting food into a good or bad category.

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When it comes to fuel of any kind, we want to have the purest product for the fuel to work well. Consuming more whole foods and limiting the processing can provide us with high amounts of nutrients, fiber, and energy. With any type of food, we can consider what that food would be like in its most whole form before it reached the form it is on our plate.

When it comes to animal or plant-based products, how was it raised/grown, how much processing has the product gone through, or how many ingredients are added? If you can tell which cut of meat your protein food has come from or use an item as it was grown, those foods will be best tolerated by our bodies as fuel. For example, choose roasted turkey breast rather than turkey pepperoni or choose baked sweet potato rather than frozen sweet potato tots to consume more whole foods.

Non-starchy vegetables can be excellent sources of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber to help us feel full. These items can typically be consumed in their most whole form, fresh or frozen, or can be strained and rinsed from a can to still include high amounts of nutrients while limiting sodium.

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While these items are high in nutritional value, they are typically low in calories, which makes them an excellent food to focus on in meals to help us feel full, while keeping our energy intake at a manageable level. If you can make half of your plate vegetables at meals, especially at lunch and dinner, this will help to include the nutrients we need and help us to feel full from our meals.

If you are going to consume large amounts of one type of food, non-starchy vegetables are the best category to pick from. Starchy vegetables like potatoes, peas, corn, beans/lentils, and winter squash are also excellent for us but are best consumed in moderation to not provide us with excessive amounts of carbohydrates in one sitting. These are still excellent sources of carbohydrates along with whole, unprocessed grains and whole fruits.

Fruit also contains high amounts of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber but we often hear claims that “fruit has too much sugar” or “you shouldn’t eat fruit because it has carbohydrates.” While fruit does have sugar and carbohydrates, this is naturally occurring sugar called fructose and is not the same as cane sugar or high fructose corn syrup. Consuming one serving of fruit 2-3 times per day can provide excellent sources of natural carbohydrates and sweetness, but this intake should be spread throughout the day for the best balance.

Carbohydrates have become a very hot topic in diet culture as there are many fad diets that focus on cutting them out or significantly limiting them. Our carbohydrate intake is important to consider as consuming large amounts of these, especially highly processed or sweetened items, in one sitting can make it difficult for us to maintain or lose weight. If we consume moderate amounts of whole, unprocessed carbohydrates spread out throughout the day, that can be an excellent way to maintain sustainable eating habits as well as our overall wellness and weight.

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Changing habits, especially lifestyle habits, can be very difficult for us as we are very habitual creatures. We often have very high expectations for ourselves when we decide we want to make changes, and this can lead to us being hard on ourselves if we do not automatically make the changes we have decided we want to do. Having patience and grace for ourselves is always important, but especially when it comes to stepping out of our comfort zone.

Think of how you would encourage a loved one if they were making healthy lifestyle changes. If they felt defeated, would you encourage them to keep going and remind them of the progress they’ve made so far? If they said negative things about themselves, would you disagree and point out their positive aspects? Consider this as you make changes and try to practice positive self-talk the same way you would converse with a loved one.

Having a healthy mindset is a very important part of physical wellness as well. If you are interested in learning more about this information or would like assistance with getting started on changes, Cuyuna Regional Medical Center in Crosby has a lifestyle change program available through our Clinical Nutrition Department, which you may inquire about at 218-545-4498.

Crow Wing Energized has a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved program through the National Diabetes Prevention Program and offers lifestyle change classes. Reach out to Kara to learn more: Kara.Schaefer@essentiahealth.org