just one thing Blog
Nutrition and Lifestyle Tips ... Quick reading and lots of resources
to make doing "Just One Thing" a realistic goal!
to make doing "Just One Thing" a realistic goal!
It might sound crazy, but calorie counting just doesn’t work for everyone. And who wants to keep track for the rest of your life? I find the most successful approach to eating less and eating more healthfully is to focus on food groups.
Every day, make it a daily goal to eat:
If you plan your meals and snacks around those food groups, you won’t have room for the extras and empty calories that cause unwanted weight gain, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar, such as soda, chips, candy, and donuts.
JUST ONE THING: Make a plan to replace empty calorie foods with foods from the six healthy food groups!
While it’s true that many Americans gain weight between November and January, and many people are above a healthy weight, all the diet programs and weight loss apps in the world cannot magically make you healthier.
A better approach is focusing on specific behaviors to change… and the weight loss, if needed, will follow!
My clients have the most success when they set 3 goals, in 3 different categories:
Sure, these three steps aren’t sexy or revolutionary, but if you commit to them, I’ll share specific healthy eating tips and ideas in future posts.
JUST ONE THING: Make a plan to change your behaviors, not the number on the scale!
The buzz word this year has been Self-Care. It’s the ability and intentionality of promoting health, including physical, spiritual and emotional. It may sound indulgent at first, but it’s important to take time for your own wellbeing so you can be your best at managing stress, relationships, daily activities, and whatever health threats come your way.
Eating well is an important component of self-care. I think of it as your opportunity to nourish yourself both physically and mentally. When you eat foods that are good for your body, your body thanks you with better digestion, sleep, mood and energy levels. Here are my top tips for nutrition self-care!
JUST ONE THING: Choose one of these tips to start to show yourself some LOVE!
Food and beverage portions have been growing steadily for the last 30 years. Portion Distortion is a term that describes our distorted ideas of what an appropriate portion actually is. If you trusted some popular restaurants, you may think that a portion of meat is 7 ounces, a portion of potatoes is 1 cup, and a portion of juice is 8 ounces, while actual recommended serving sizes are half that!
What’s wrong with large portions? Having too much food in front of us encourages us to eat and drink too much, usually much more than we need to stay healthy. Americans gain 1-2 pounds per year on average (with some gaining much more), meaning 10-20 pounds of extra weight in just 10 years, increasing one’s risk of diabetes, heart disease, some cancers, and digestive issues. Why would you want to put up with these if you can prevent them?
The first recommendations I make to my clients is to eat smaller portions. It’s easier than counting calories and more practical than giving up their favorite foods.
JUST ONE THING: For the next one to two weeks, pay attention to what a correct serving size looks like and you won’t have to weigh or measure forever. Enjoying just the right amount will be second nature.
What do canned tomato sauce, flavored yogurt, salad dressing and bagels have in common? They each have at least a teaspoon of added sugar!
“Added sugar” is different than natural sugar, which is found in fruits, vegetables, and unflavored milk; it adds flavor and structure to these foods and gives your body energy. On the other hand, added sugars do all that but more, contributing to dental caries, weight gain, and chronic disease.
Sugar sweetened beverages are one of the biggest sources of added sugar in the U.S. and globally. Just one 12-ounce can of soda provides over 30 grams (which is more than 7 teaspoons)! To put that into context, the American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugar to no more than 6% of calories, which is about 25 grams (6 teaspoon) for women and 30 grams (7 teaspoons) for men.
Other beverages high in added sugar include fruit drinks, coffee drinks, and energy drinks as well as sports beverages, smoothies, and flavored yogurt. Coffee creamers and hot chocolate mixes serve up 5-8 grams per tablespoon (and who uses 1 tablespoon?). Another significant source of added sugar is breakfast food, including cereal, cereal bars, sweetened instant oatmeal, pastries, toaster pastries, and even some breads.
Even if you avoid the most obvious sources, start to read food labels to choose the dressing, peanut butter, and sauces with the lowest sugar content. With the average intake of added sugar in this country topping 22 teaspoons daily, or 130 pounds per year, it’s time to start listening. Forget the math. Just eat smarter – water instead of sweetened beverages, oats instead of sweetened cereal, whole foods instead of boxed mixes, and spices in place of sauces.
JUST ONE THING: Skip all sugar-sweetened beverages this week. Your taste buds will adapt and learn to appreciate fresh, natural flavors, saving you from sugar’s dark side.
September is Better Breakfast Month and for good reason: eating a better breakfast can set a positive tone for the rest of your day. After a long overnight fast, your body is ready for fuel! Research has shown that starting the day with food in your stomach improves concentration, memory, and problem solving ability. It provides important nutrients to the brain and muscles, jumpstarts your metabolism, and alleviates the distraction of hunger.
The best place to eat breakfast is wherever it is most convenient. In a perfect world, we would eat breakfast mindfully at the kitchen table, but we might also find ourselves with food in hand while drying our hair, gathering supplies, or packing lunch. We might also eat in the car, on the bus, at the office, walking to class, or attending a meeting. The important thing is to plan ahead so that we have food available to accommodate our busy schedule.
The most common reason for skipping this meal is time, given all that goes on in the morning. Consider preparing the night before by arranging the table, setting out whatever food is not perishable, getting bags or backpacks organized, and going to bed a little earlier to make waking up less dramatic. In the morning, keep televisions and computers turned off to avoid distractions, and try to get showered and dressed before eating; this will give your body a chance to wake up, especially important if eating in the morning is a new habit.
It is also important to have food on hand that can support eating on the go as well as sitting down. If you do not usually eat breakfast, start small. A bowl of yogurt with fruit, a protein bar with milk, or peanut butter on whole wheat toast may be just enough. A good rule of thumb is to include two or more food groups, and make one of them high in protein, such as nuts, meat, beans, eggs, cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt or milk. Pair these with a fruit, vegetable or whole grain. Skip the donuts and soda - while they may be easy to grab, their quick energy jolt will soon lead to a crash, counteracting the benefits of eating breakfast in the first place.
There is a lot of truth to the saying “breakfast is the most important meal of the day”.
JUST ONE THING: Add breakfast to your morning routine. Push away the excuses and pull yourself up to a new healthy habit!
Over on my other blog, Going Gluten-Free, I wrote last month about traveling while keeping gluten-free. I got a lot of positive feedback and encouragement to share it on this blog as well. Here you go…
Eating out while traveling can be difficult when you have to follow a gluten-free diet, but it is possible! I use a three-part game plan: research, prepare, and ask questions, with the ultimate goal of enjoying my companions, surroundings and adventures without stress.
It helps to know a little about the culture and food habits of your destination. Explore online and in travel books, talk to people you know who live there or have traveled there, and check in with some gluten-free websites such as Traveling Gluten-Free.
Next, look up restaurants, markets, and stores before your trip to see if they carry foods and beverages you can eat. You do not have to have special GF products; plan to eat a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains (other than wheat, barley, rye and oats!), dairy (milk, milk substitutes, and yogurt), lean proteins (fish, game meat, beef, chicken and other poultry if possible), and healthy fats (olives, avocadoes, and vegetable oils). Be cautious with nuts, seeds, oats, and sauces that my have cross-contact with gluten.
Because your choices of some foods may be limited, plan to take your own. Pack containers of safe GF nuts and seeds, rice cakes, crackers, popcorn, trail mix, and dried fruit. If you can take a cooler, pack yogurt, cheese, fruit, pre-cut vegetables, and even hummus and salsa if you like to dip.
Throughout your trip, do not hesitate to ask questions about foods and ingredients. It may not be helpful to ask “Is this gluten-free” but rather “Can you please tell me the ingredients?”.
Ask questions in a way that is polite and non-demanding. As you know, there are people who follow a gluten-free diet to be trendy or other non-medical reasons, so employees, hosts or tour guides may not take your request seriously unless you are sincere and friendly.
JUST ONE THING: Plan ahead to keep your healthy eating habits even when traveling!
Remember all the fun activities you enjoyed as a child? Summers meant swimming, bike riding, skating, roller blading, baseball, softball, soccer, hide and seek, Four Square, tag, hopscotch, climbing trees, jumping rope, playing on monkey bars, and obstacle courses. I’m sure you can add a few. The magic of childhood meant lots of physical activity without knowing it!
As adults, young and old, we tend to be a sedentary bunch. Take some time today and every day this summer to do something fun, like you did as a child. If you want more serious and structured suggestions, see my previous post. If you want to recapture playing, it’s time to gather your friends, kids or neighbors for Red Rover, Red Light-Green Light, kickball, and other fun, non-competitive games to get physically active.
For rainy days, you can also try one of the myriad videos available for kids and families, like the ones featured here.
Enjoy these long days and stay healthy!
Physical Activity refers to any of your body’s movements that
use energy and involve contraction of skeletal muscles -
so, almost any movement. This includes walking, standing
up, taking the stairs, doing household chores, and working
in the yard.
Exercise is a type of physical activity that is planned,
structured and repetitive, done to improve or maintain
physical fitness. I usually call it intentional, because you
typically have to think about it and do it purposefully to
improve your fitness in some way. Or to have fun :)
Which should you do? Both!
If you currently have a sedentary lifestyle, meaning you don’t get much of either, start incorporating Physical Activity into each day. Just a few examples include:
Once you are physically active throughout the day, add Exercise. This means you get your heart rate up for at least 10 minutes and cannot sing (you can talk but not sing when you are exercising at a moderate exertion). At least four times a week, try one of these (and work up to 30 or more minutes as soon as you can):
Why add physical activity and exercise to your life? Research shows they helps with stress management, weight maintenance, sleep quality, digestion, chronic disease management and prevention, slowed bone loss with age, improved flexibility and balance, and even better pain management of arthritis.
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans from the Department of Health and Human Resources recommends that healthy adults move more and sit less. Read more of their recommendations here.
You got this!
P.S. I know, this was way more than 200 words! Thanks for hanging in there :)
If there is one thing most people have learned in the past year about their health, it is to not take our immune system for granted. We need to do all we can to help it do its work to fight off illness and infections.
In that spirit, I received so many questions that I decided to put my suggestions into a book, both to provide help in preventing illness and to counteract all the confusing misinformation out there.
In Eat to Defeat Viruses: A Nutritionist’s Guide to Strengthening Your Immunity, I lay out the most important things you can do related to your diet, physical activity, stress and self-care… all in a practical, eat to read way that motivates you.
Reviewers call it a “must read”. I hope you enjoy it.
There is a common phrase among nutrition professionals that “All Foods Fit”. It means you do not have to give up your favorite foods in order to be healthy, lose weight, or manage a chronic illness. I say “Most Foods Fit” because truly, you may have a medical restriction - an allergy, intolerance or illness that necessitates avoiding certain foods, like wheat bread or butter.
If you don’t have a medical restriction, then yes, all foods can fit. This is a cornerstone of intuitive eating, the practice of making peace with food so that it does not control you; rather, you are in control and get to make choices related to what you do and do not want to eat.
Here’s how it works. If you like cookies, you eat cookies. If you like tortilla chips, you eat tortilla chips. Because who doesn’t crave what they can’t have? If you tell me that I can’t have chocolate, the one thing I want is chocolate. Why even go there?
But it isn’t a free-for-all, either. It is in your best interest, the best interest of your health, to eat a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins, legumes, good fats, and dairy/dairy substitutes. If you eat six cookies for lunch, you won’t leave room for those beneficial food groups. You won’t feel or look well either, if you choose to eat unlimited amounts of processed foods – think constipation, acne, headaches, sluggishness, etc. So, you decide to take care of yourself by choosing a variety of food groups that give you nutrients, including fiber, vitamins and minerals.
All Foods Fit means not labeling foods as good or bad - so no patting yourself on the back for eating carrots and no feeling guilty about eating fries - AND this philosophy means loving yourself enough to eat a variety of foods. For example, if you are craving fries, plate up a portion of grilled chicken and fresh fruit along with a small serving of fries. Your body will thank you.
Best of health.
One of the most common questions I get is a version of “What should I eat at each meal?”. It might sound like “What is a meal?” or “What does a good meal or snack look like?”. If you wonder the same thing, don’t feel guilty or hopeless; years of convenience foods, advertising influences, and grazing have led many people to feel lost when it comes to serving up a healthy meal.
A simple way to start is to picture a round plate, ½ filled with vegetables and/or fruit, ¼ filled with a lean protein, and ¼ filled with a complex carbohydrate.
We call this the Plate Method because it allows us to visualize a healthy meal using a plate, without counting calories or macros. I love its simplicity as well as its benefits – it gets us a meal full of fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals while leading to fullness and satisfaction. You won’t get these benefits from a bowl of instant ramen noodles or a pastry.
Of course, every meal doesn’t have to look like this, but it works well for lunch and dinner. For example…
At risk for diabetes? Learn how the CDC recommends using the plate method for meal planning here.
Best of health.
Did you know that feelings of hunger and fullness are sharper in children than in adults? That’s because they are less influenced by habit and environmental factors, so they actually listen to their bodies. Eating when you are hungry, and stopping when you are almost full, may be the secret to getting a handle on mindless eating and overeating.
For more information, try using my Hunger and Fullness Scale!
Best of health.
Welcome back to Just One Thing! After a crazy year, I return to offer my insight for getting back on track - back to taking care of your health by doing just one small thing at a time. Remember, little steps lead to long journeys and little actions lead to big changes.
This month, let’s make a New Year’s Resolution to make health a priority. No more bingeing on sourdough bread, no more day drinking, no more curling up on the couch for hours on end. Once a day, I aim to eat a healthful plant-based meal high in vegetables, and once a day I aim to move for 30 minutes or more. Will you join me?
Happy New Year and best of health!
P.S. I am also starting a new blog where I get more specific about one specialty area: going gluten-free!
2020 started off like most other years, but quickly became a time of reset. I have deleted my blogs from this time period to focus intentionally and mindfully as I move forward. I hope you are all able to do the same.
Thank you to all of my readers who have kept this site so popular over the past two years! I can't wait to update you when I log back in!
Students in New York are learning about food systems and all the effort that goes into getting food items from the farm to their plates. They are also discovering the impacts of food waste, fast food, advertising, and other topics. You can learn more, too: Eating as Part of the Natural World.
Just One Thing: Think about how your food is connected to the environment, culture, farmers, ranchers, and other producers.
This Friday is National Cocoa Day! The main ingredient of chocolate, cocoa contains compounds called flavanols, which have many health benefits - including protecting the heart, lowering blood pressure, preventing blood clots, and reducing inflammation throughout the body. They also have been shown to improve thinking skills by helping brain cell connections, as discussed here: Cocoa: a sweet treat for the brain?
The benefits of cocoa extend to its food products, including cocoa powder and dark chocolate. Too much butter fat and sugar found in café hot chocolate drinks will outweigh the benefits, so try making your own hot chocolate with dark cocoa powder, skim milk and enough sugar to sweeten but not overwhelm.
Just One Thing to do: Enjoy a cup of flavanol-full hot cocoa.
Many clients have told me over the years that they start unhealthy eating habits around Halloween and continue right through December 31. But a new month is always a good opportunity for a fresh start. Use the next few weeks to give your body the food it deserves!
First, clean out the refrigerator. Toss your Thanksgiving leftovers – the mashed potatoes and gravy are past their expiration dates, anyway, and any pie or whipped topping lurking in the freezer are better off in the trash.
Second, review the food groups. Your body is probably craving vegetables, even if the weather is cold. Use a slow cooker to prepare a chili, stew or soup that is rich in vegetables and beans; these will fill you up, provide hydration and fiber, and satisfy you in a comforting way that cold chips and cookies cannot.
Lastly, have fruit visible and easily accessible. Apples and oranges are in season, and frozen fruit that is gently heated makes a great topping for yogurt and oatmeal.
Just One Thing to do: Start each meal with a vegetable or make vegetables the focus of your meal with homemade chili, stew or soup.
Wherever you are, whatever the weather, going outside is good for your health. Sunlight and fresh air help manage and prevent anxiety, improve sleep, boost immunity, and stimulate your thinking skills. Adding some physical activity to the mix will burn calories and lift your mood.
If it's cold, be sure to bundle up - wear warm socks and sturdy shoes while covering your head, face and hands. Warm or cold, wear sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat.
Just One Thing to do: Head outside after lunch to walk around the block and take deep breaths of fresh air.
My recent blog about self-care generated a lot of emails, and I’m so happy to know it was the reminder many of you needed to take care of yourselves. In this crazy time, we need to pay attention to our mental and physical health.
Along those lines, I want to continue to encourage nutrition self-care with intuitive eating. This is an approach to food and health that says do not diet, do not deprive yourself, and do not feel guilty about eating. An intuitive eating philosophy says you know your hunger and your fullness signals – or at least you can learn to. This makes it possible to honor your body without outside influences from others, from social media, from the scale, from diets.
Do you want to get started eating intuitively? Start by making peace with food – it is supposed to be nourishing, not the enemy. It is ok to eat a variety of foods, and if you stop thinking of a food as forbidden or off limits, you will be less likely to crave it and binge on it. So listen when your body says it is hungry, and just as importantly, listen when it says it is full. The more you practice paying attention to hunger and fullness, the more you will trust your body.
For additional steps to take, visit the experts’ 10 Principle of Intuitive Eating here.
Just One Thing to do: Use Intuitive Eating to trust your food choices.
The National Institutes of Health designates November as National Diabetes Month, and this year its focus is on the link between diabetes and cardiovascular disease (see information here and the image below) because individuals with diabetes are likely to have heart disease or stroke.
In addition to encouraging you to see your doctor for an updated exam and lab work, I like to highlight the good news: Did you know diabetes can be managed to prevent complications? Increasing your physical activity just a little bit, making just a few healthful food changes, and monitoring your blood sugar can make a huge difference. I know sometimes people get overwhelmed thinking about the “should’s” of diabetes management: I should exercise, I should go on a diet, I should skip holiday dinners. But it doesn’t have to be that hard.
If you have type 1 diabetes, talk to your doctor and dietitian about balancing your insulin, food and activity with your lifestyle to maintain your blood sugar.
If you have type 2 diabetes or prediabetes, determine if you need to lose weight. Just a 5% weight loss can reduce your blood sugar and your cardiovascular disease markers; that means losing 10 pounds if you weigh 200 pounds. To me, that is certainly more reasonable and realistic than thinking about needing to lose 20, 30 or even 40 pounds. If you do need to lose weight, add a 30 minute walk daily along with smaller portion sizes at every meal and snack. Those, too, are reasonable and realistic changes!
Just One Thing To Do: Instead of being overwhelmed, focus on small, reasonable lifestyle changes to feel better and prevent complications.
I recently enjoyed dinner with friends, and we all agreed it ended with the perfect Fall dessert: cooked apples with a scoop of natural vanilla ice cream.
What made this dessert special was its simplicity, not to mention how easy it was to prepare and how great it smelled and tasted.
I simply cored and chopped up 6 medium size granny smith apples, placed them in a slow cooker with about 1 inch of water, added generous sprinkles of cinnamon and a cinnamon stick, and left them to simmer. I tasted occasionally, and ended up adding a tablespoon of brown sugar and a pinch of pumpkin pie spice about halfway through their six-hour cooking time. When guests arrived, the house smelled amazing and when it was time for dessert, there was no prep required.
Best of all, the health benefits of apples are numerous. They contain fiber, potassium, vitamin C and antioxidants – read more here!
Pears can also be cooked in a slow cooker just like apples, and they share important traits for preventing digestive problems, outlined here.
Just One Thing to do: Enjoy apples and pears fresh or cooked for their wonderful flavor and health benefits.
Self-Care is a trending topic, and I am a fan. Until recently, I never took the time to prioritize my own needs – I’m sure you’ve been there, either going to school, nurturing your career, helping partners and friends, raising children, caring for aging parents, volunteering, you name it.
But self-care can help you do all of those things better. It is essentially taking care of your needs so that you can stay healthy both physically and mentally, with enough energy to live your best life. There are many ways to incorporate self-care into your day to manage stress and stay fit: taking a daily walk, getting enough sleep, doing meditation or yoga, optimizing your work environment, journaling, scheduling a massage or mani-pedi, connecting with nature, and feeding your spiritual self with prayer, gratitude or inspirational quotes.
And most importantly, there is what I call “Nutrition Self-Care”. Do you feel your best when you skip breakfast, snack on donuts at work, and eat fast food for lunch? What about if you overindulge in late night beer, chocolate, or chips? None of those are off limits, and I am not advocating counting calories or macros. Instead, I’m thinking how much better you will feel if you…
You have to own your health. Diets won’t do. Deprivation won’t do. Your body deserves good food, and it is the ultimate self-care to make it a priority.
Just One Thing: Make time for “Nutrition Self-Care” by fueling your body with good, wholesome foods you love.