Nutrition One Change at a Time

One Change at A Time: Balanced Nutrition

Low-fat diet, low-carb diet, high-protein diet, gluten-free diet, lactose-free diet, keto diet—the list of diets seems to go on and on. I don’t know about you, but for me, it seems like with every new diet trend, what to eat and not to eat just gets more confusing. I will be the first to admit that I am not a nutritionist or a dietician. What I do know is that fad diets and diets that label certain types of foods “evil” tend to be unsustainable for most people to stick to. This has certainly been my experience. I’ll be honest, I have struggled with my weight my entire adulthood, and nutrition and diets are a hard subject for me to talk about because I don’t ever want someone to think I am a “do as I say, not as I do” person.

A couple of years ago, I had a day of reckoning with my own health. First was the sobering realization that my own age was approaching that of my mom’s when she died from cancer. My mom’s only risk factor for cancer was her weight. The second was my desire to leave a mark on the life of my grandson. My youngest child barely remembers my mom because he was so young when she died. Selfishly, I would like my grandson to remember me. I knew I had to make changes in how I eat that would be sustainable and not driven by size but by lasting health benefits. It’s taken me a couple years and a lot of help from physicians and dieticians, as well as support from family and friends, but I am now down over 75 pounds from where I was. I am still not exactly where I want to be; however, my providers tell me I am a lot healthier. The only prescription medications I now take are for allergies, and my joints rarely hurt. Making weight-loss gains and managing a healthier diet has made playing with my grandson so much more fun; I can get down onto the floor, back up again, and run around the yard more easily than before.

If we consider the diets that have stood the test of time and provide a good basis for health for all body types, we’ll notice that these are the diets built on a variety of foods. Weight Watchers and Mediterranean diets are great examples of diets that have been around for decades and have proven results in attaining and maintaining an ideal weight. These diets focus on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Sugars, salt, and fats are always in moderation. These diets actually work well for people who are underweight too! Being underweight is as significant a risk to health as being overweight. However, it is not an issue that is talked about much.

There is a great tool that has really helped me during my journey over the last two years. This tool is the healthy eating plate strategy, and I try to follow this “food map” whenever I eat. The first part of this strategy actually lies in the plate itself. Have you noticed in family heirlooms, antique stores, or thrift shops how much smaller plates were 50–100 years ago? Many nutrition studies have linked the increase in plate size and serving size to the obesity epidemic. Plate size works in reverse as well; if you use a smaller plate, like a salad or dessert plate, you are less likely to overeat.

The second part is appointing “sections” to the plate. When you are filling your plate, divide it in half. For one half, further divide that section into 2/3 and 1/3 sections. The 2/3 section is filled with veggies, and the 1/3 section contains fruits. On the other half of the plate, divide into further halves. One of those sections is for lean proteins, and the other is for whole grains.

The third part is around the plate. At the top of the healthy eating plate is a big glass of water as a reminder of the importance of water in a nutritious diet. There is also a small flask with a dropper top for healthy fats. It’s important to remember that healthy fats are good and even needed, but only in small quantities. One of the things to keep in mind when it comes to fat and sugar is how people from the Mediterranean eat desserts. Desserts, with all the sugar and fat they can contain, are not prohibited in Mediterranean diets; in fact, in most Mediterranean cultures, desserts are celebrated. However, those desserts are tiny compared to the desserts we serve in America. Most are just a bite or two. That is why diets like the Mediterranean diet and Weight Watchers are sustainable; they aren’t about deprivation but moderation.

There may also be some light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to which diets work for who and why. The National Institutes of Health is currently conducting a study that should shed a great deal of light on healthy eating. They will study more than 10,000 participants, who will be tracked using in-person and video surveillance 24/7 and will have everything they put into their mouths catalogued for a minimum of 6 weeks. People will be randomized into all sorts of different diets, such as low-carb, low-fat, and even junk food. The participants will be subjected to weight tracking, lab work, and many other tests during the study. The goal of this research is to find diet plans that can be used to optimize the health of specific people based on things like age, gender, and genetic background. It’s really meant to find a diet that is sustainable and works for each person.

It is so easy for those of us in health care to say, “Eat better.” The reality is that the doing part is incredibly difficult. I would like to close with the biggest part of my success over the last two years, one that will remain central to the rest of my life: a fantastic support system. Friends and family that cheer the victories, commiserate with the stumbles, and hold me accountable, even when it would be easier to say, “Of course you should get seconds.” I didn’t know that the people in my life were willing to be that for me until I spoke to them about my concerns for my health and specifically asked them for help. I cannot thank my support system enough for the invaluable role they play. As you add balancing nutrition to your one-change-at-a-time list, don’t forget to include a support system. It’s much easier to make and maintain healthy food choices when you have someone across the table holding you accountable.

Carol Cates

By: Carol A. Cates, MSN, MBA, RN
Chief Nursing Officer
Odessa Regional Medical Center



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