Friday, April 12, 2024



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Victoria Cox, MSC, Registered Dietitian

Diets – those often extreme, restrictive and short-lived periods of time during which we deny ourselves of our favourite foods, only to eventually “fall off of” or “ruin” the diet – and go back to exactly what we were eating beforehand! As last week’s article explained, there is a dark side to the idea of going “on a diet”; they tend to fleeting in time, can increase our risk of binge-eating/over-eating, and can even be nutritionally inadequate. Rather than taking this extreme approach, it is best for us to focus on realistic, flexible and sustainable changes that we can make to our eating patterns as we aim to improve our health. The next time that you feel tempted to start a new diet, consider these tips and tricks instead:

1. Start Small. While it is tempting to “go big, or go home”– pick a few, manageable and realistic goals to start with. When we pick these achievable goals, our chances of being able to meet them drastically increases. When we meet our goals, we feel happy and proud of ourselves, as we should!

This simply helps to perpetuate positive feelings and steps forward, rather than setting ourselves up for failure by deciding to change everything “unhealthy” about our eating habits all at once. Here are a few examples of small and realistic goals to set:

• “I will eat at least 1 cup of vegetables with my main meal, every single day”

• “I will reduce the sugar in my tea from 2 tsp to 1 tsp”

• “I will eat at least one fruit every day”

• “I will reduce my portion of rice from 3 pot-spoons to 2 pot-spoons”

• “I will cut down from drinking 5 soft drinks per week to a maximum of 2 per week”

• “I will drink at least 2 litres of water every day” 2. Aim for Progress; Not Perfection.

When we are on a diet, we tell ourselves that there is absolutely no room for any unhealthy foods; we are trying to “eat perfectly”. Instead of having this unrealistic goal of “perfection”, remember that healthy eating falls on a spectrum! Eating something “healthy-ish” is still better than eating something “unhealthy”, even it if is not what we perceive to be a perfect meal.

Consider the following scenario:

• Susan has plans of making what she considers to be a “perfect”, healthy dinner: a kale and spinach salad, topped with grilled salmon and a side of roasted sweet potato. Susan has to deal with an emergency at work, and realizes that by the time she leaves work, there will be no time to go home and prepare this “perfect” meal.

Feeling defeated, she decides that her diet is clearly ruined and she could as well just go through the fast-food drive-thru on her way home.

• HOWEVER! If Susan was aiming for progress, not perfection, she might have decided to go straight home and quickly throw together some canned tuna, a few whole wheat crackers, paired with tomato and cucumber.

Preparing this light meal would take no longer than it would to go and purchase fast-food. And while this meal may not appear as glamorous or “perfect” as her initially envisioned meal, it is an undoubtedly healthy and balanced meal, and without question – healthier than fast food!

3. Avoid Extreme Restrictions;

All Foods Fit. We may all know that foods such as cake and ice-cream are by no means “health foods”. But does this mean that we can never eat them? If you’re on a diet, you have probably told yourself that you must avoid ALL dessert foods; you have entirely restricted them. But again, we reiterate that this is too extreme an approach. It is NORMAL to enjoy a slice of cake on your birthday, or have a scoop of ice cream every once in a while. Instead of entirely restricting these foods, remind yourself that all foods can fit within a healthy lifestyle.

Having some dessert, perhaps once every two weeks, does NOT suddenly mean that you are an unhealthy person, nor does it take away from all of the other healthy foods that you eat daily.

Fun fact: We also know this to be the case in the opposite scenario, i.e. eating one random salad once every two weeks does not mean that we are suddenly living a healthy lifestyle, if besides that one salad we are eating fast food and drinking soft drinks daily.

Be kind to yourself; stay away from extreme restrictions and allow yourself to enjoy your favourite desserts or treats in moderation. A helpful rule of thumb is the 80:20 approach. This means that 80% of the time we consciously aim to make healthy choices. For example, we decide to eat vegetables daily, drink mostly water, choose whole grains and high-fibre starches, avoid frying our food etc. And the other 20% of the time? We allow ourselves to enjoy our favourite foods without having to overthink the situation, or feel like we have “ruined our diet”.

In summary, while it may be one of the oldest clichés in the book, let us aim to embody the idea of “it’s not a diet; it’s a lifestyle”. As we move further into 2021, bit-by-bit let us make small, healthy changes to our eating patterns and overall lifestyle choices. Remember – if we never “begin a diet”, then we can never “fall off of our diet”, either.


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