New year, new you? If you’re dedicated to pursuing a healthier lifestyle in the year to come, working with a dietitian can be a great first step. Skip the hours of internet searching trying to figure out which foods are in, which foods are out, and which foods are right for you. Instead, turn to Aspen Valley Hospital Registered Dietitians Kristy Bates and Lauren Mitchell for evidence-based nutrition education and inspiration for how a dietitian can help you meet your health goals.
A dietitian is board-certified in nutrition, food, dietetics, and holistic health and wellbeing. While the terms dietitian and nutritionist are often used interchangeably, there is a distinction. Dietitians have specific credentials and extensive training, offering expertise in medical nutritional therapy and counseling. This year, make a plan to work with your local dietitian to learn healthy, flavorful recipes, how-tos, and other tips and tricks that make staying healthy fun and easy.
Understanding Your Unique Dietary Needs
A big and important first step in understanding your unique dietary needs is a personalized nutritional assessment, starting with identifying individual goals and challenges. Is your objective to lose weight, or simply to incorporate more fruits and veggies into your diet? Is this the year you commit to a plant-based menu, or do you just want to minimize your meat intake and lower your cholesterol? Perhaps it’s trying to find more foods that help reduce inflammation. Whatever your goals, working with a dietitian to identify them gives you a solid nutrition road map.
From there, it’s time to unpack your current lifestyle and dietary habits. A dietitian can help you identify those habits you might think are healthy, but that actually need adjusting. Wondering if breakfast is really all it’s cracked up to be? Or if intermittent fasting is effective? These are the types of habits a registered dietitian can help you answer in a way that is conducive to your lifestyle.
Building a Balanced Plate
Gone are the days when “eating healthy” meant filling your plate with cardboard-like food. These days, it’s easy to find wholesome, healthful recipes that maximize flavor and nutritional value. Learning how to craft nutrient-rich and delicious meals that balance macros and micros is an essential part of long-term health. Macronutrients are your total caloric intake. Think of the food groups – carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Then there are micronutrients, which include vitamins, minerals and water. Again, if you’re not sure how to reach an optimum balance of these two essential food categories, a dietitian can be an excellent resource.
Dietitians can also offer practical tips for portion control and making smart food choices. If the holidays found you abandoning all efforts to watch what you eat, now is a great time to reenlist some popular portion control measures, like using smaller plates, learning how to read food labels, and aiming for an array of colorful fruits and vegetables to complement grains and proteins.
Navigating Dietary Restrictions
Perhaps one of the trickiest aspects of navigating a modern diet is food allergies, intolerances and dietary restrictions. Again, this is where dietitians shine! Avoiding trigger foods and those with allergens can seem daunting, but learning how to cook without them can be incredibly flavorful, satisfying and fun.
Look to your dietitian to help you find creative alternatives for common food allergens without sacrificing flavor. Some creative ingredient swaps include:
- Applesauce instead of oil in baked goods
- Brown rice, farro, diced cauliflower or quinoa in place of white rice
- Greek yogurt instead of sour cream
- Egg whites instead of whole eggs
- Plant-based meats in place of red meat
- Skip the poultry for some tofu instead
- Sweeten baked goods with dried fruit instead of chocolate
- Try non-dairy milk in place of milk and coffee creamers
Dietitians have done the legwork to come up with recipes that provide plenty of nutritional value without skimping on flavor or adding unhealthy fats or additives to your plate. They help you embrace a variety of foods within dietary boundaries without forgoing the satisfaction of a hearty meal.
Creating Sustainable Habits
One of the most meaningful takeaways of working with a dietitian is life-long dietary practices. These food and nutrition experts don’t just give you a few recipe ideas and call it a day. They work with you to establish baseline practices and habits that cater to long-term success. Dietitians help with goal setting and establishing realistic milestones for dietary shifts that can last a lifetime, leading to increased longevity, heightened energy, and more food enjoyment. And of course, when it comes time to celebrate achieving your nutritional goals, they’re happy to join you in that aspect of your wellness journey, too!
Mindful Eating and Emotional Wellness
Food and our reliance on it can take unhealthy turns. We often turn to food in times of stress or heightened emotions. It can become a crutch or, in serious cases, an addiction. Dietitians can help patients not only recognize these unhealthy patterns, they work with you to break free of emotional reliance on food.
Key areas of focus include mindful eating and emotional wellness. Dietitians are experts in the art of intuitive eating, which is a conditioned way of trusting your body to make the food choices that feel right to you without judgment or falling prey to whatever the latest diet trend is. Intuitive eating allows you to enjoy food in the right way at the right time, nourishing your body instead of eating for the sake of simple calorie consumption.
And then there’s addressing emotional eating and stress-related habits. The first step is identifying triggers, and then working with a dietitian to set in place nutrition solutions and guardrails that help prevent you from succumbing to over or under eating due to emotional strain.
Incorporating Fitness and Nutrition
Diet and exercise go hand-in-hand when it comes to achieving health goals. One supports the other, and it’s important to address these two facets of health and wellness together when setting your goals for the year.
Some key things to remember when tailoring nutrition to support fitness objectives:
- How many calories do I need to support a healthy weight?
- How much exercise should I plan for to support a healthy weight?
- What kind of calories should I be eating to ensure my body is getting enough nutrients for exercise?
- Are there certain vitamins and minerals I should be paying attention to?
- If training for a specific goal, objective or race, what are some healthy snack and meal ideas?
- Which foods will help me maximize energy levels for optimal workout and training performance?
Working with your dietitian to tailor a nutrition plan designed to optimize your workout and exercise is key to reaching your current athletic goals.
Meal Planning Made Easy
Daunted by the idea of a weekly meal plan? Not sure where to source the best, most healthful recipes? Overwhelmed by figuring out which ingredients you want to incorporate into your diet and which ones you want to avoid? Stress not; the Aspen Valley Hospital dietitians are here to help!
Some important elements of meal planning your dietitian can help with include:
- Time-saving tips for busy schedules
- Balancing convenience with nutritional value
- Cooking in larger batches for easy weekly meals
- Knowing which vitamins to incorporate into your diet on a daily basis
- Meal planning for your family’s next camping trip
- Cooking at altitude
Staying on Track with Regular Check-ins
Working with a dietitian is a great way to add some accountability to your nutritional journey. They can offer ongoing support to help you stay on track regarding your dietary goals and objectives. They can also help you make periodic assessments and adjustments as needed. And most importantly, dietitians are your biggest cheerleaders, helping you address new challenges and celebrating your continued progress.
Empowering a Healthier Lifestyle
Working with a dietitian offers a variety of benefits, including those that go well beyond the plate. Enjoy improved energy levels and overall wellbeing. Maximize exercise and performance, and establish life-long habits that lead to improved health. Dietitians can be an important ally in the ripple effect of a healthy, balanced diet, positively impacting your mental and physical health for years to come.
Want more expert advice to guide you on your Healthy Journey? Stay up-to-date with the latest from Aspen Valley Hospital.