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Published on March 07, 2014

Building a Healthy Relationship with Food

woman eating salad

A new year is synonymous with setting new goals and resolutions. And let’s face it, we’ve all set goals and have not followed through with them. Maybe our desires were too lofty or we didn’t have the patience to make long-lasting changes instead of quick-fix choices. But with the right guidance and the right mindset, you can build a healthier relationship with food, leading to a healthier you and a healthier lifestyle for your family.

Need help getting started?

Read these tips from Palos Community Hospital’s Nutrition Counseling and Diabetes Program Services to help you make the gradual modifications needed for healthier eating.

1. Eat whole foods and eliminate processed foods

Whole Foods

Whole foods, which are naturally high in fiber and nutrients, include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes. Processed foods contain added ingredients and preservatives. “We always have encouraged people to focus on eating whole, real foods rather than processed, refined foods,” says Lela Iliopoulos, a dietitian supervisor for Palos. “People are realizing that processed and packaged foods have a lot of ingredients and a lot of calories added to them that are of no benefit.”

Not sure what really falls in the real foods category? Palos offers counseling to provide nutrition tips and suggestions to tweak your diet and eliminate added chemicals, extra fats and unhealthy carbohydrates, while adding lean proteins and healthy fats throughout the day. With the right guidance, you can even become a pro at reading food labels to determine nutritional value.

Jan Dowell, a registered dietitian at Palos, adds this valuable tip: Look in your trash can. “If you’re truly eating whole foods, you shouldn’t have much garbage.”

2. Stay physical active

Physical Activity

People are encouraged to stay active every day. Even a daily 20-minute walk can make a significant impact in a person’s weight-loss success and general well-being.  The National Weight Control Registry, established in 1994, studies the long-term success of more than 10,000 people who have lost weight. A key to the registry members’ success? In total, 94 percent of the participants increased their physical activity, with the most frequent choice of exercise being walking.

“People don’t realize how much staying active goes hand in hand with weight management,” Lela says.

3. Portion control

Portion Control

Portion size is critical to weight management. In the past several years, portion sizes at restaurants, particularly fast-food establishments, have grown to epic proportions. And with that, comes an increase in the number people are facing on the scale. According to the American Heart Association, adults eat an average of 300 more calories a day than they did in 1985, and many of those people eat out much more than they use to.

“People are shocked by what a real portion size is,” Lela says. “But once they understand how many calories they really need for a day, it makes them more in tune with how much their body actually needs. It becomes more of a need than a want.”

Lela says it takes a bit of self-control to eat at restaurants, but it can be done. She recommends ordering half-portions when possible or sharing a dish with a friend or family member. You can even ask for modifications to be made to the meal, such as a dressing or sauce on the side, eliminating bacon or croutons, or changing the cooking method used.

Moderation is key.

4. Meal Planning

Planning Your Meals

In real life, we rush to get home and get dinner on the table. Sometimes we succumb and just give in to whatever is the most convenient and easy item. But if we take the time and plan, it doesn’t have to be so stressful. Sit down with your family and ask them what they would like to see on the week’s menu plan.

Lela suggests people plan their meals a week at a time or go to the store with a list of specific needs for the week.

And make sure you have a strategy to your shopping plan. Consider buying a lean protein you can divide and use for a different dish and night or two later. Buy fresh and frozen vegetables, but be sure to use the fresh items earlier in the week for the best quality.

5. Maintaining an eating schedule

Eating Scheduling

And don’t forget to eat breakfast every day. The best choices include plenty of fiber and nutrients through whole-grain carbs, good fats and lean proteins.

“When you have a schedule or pattern, it makes it easier to control your weight,” Lela says. “It may sound boring, but people who stick to a schedule and eat the same healthy food items for breakfast each day (maybe Greek yogurt with fruit, almonds and walnuts) or eat the same kind of snacks do better.”

6. Know how to navigate the grocery store

Shopping Healthy

Shop the perimeter of the store and you are more likely to find the whole foods. Produce and dairy are always on the perimeter with the processed foods in the middle aisles. But steer clear of the bakery.

7. Slow down

Savour, so you have no regrets later.

We’ve all heard it before, but it merits a reminder. Your stomach needs time to send a signal to your brain to let it know you are full. Give it about 20 minutes. Try eating smaller bites or sipping water with your meal. Not only does the water hydrate, but it helps make you feel fuller.

8. Keep a food diary

Food Diary

We all know what we ate for breakfast or lunch, but what about the donut your coworker brought in this morning or the leftover goldfish crackers on your son’s plate after dinner?  When you write down all those little extras you eat in a day, you understand where some of those extra calories come from.

“We encourage people to write down what they eat and keep a diary because it makes it more real,” Lela says. “People don’t realize those little calories can be what put you over your daily limit.”

9. Keep emotions in check

Emotionally Intelligent Eating

We have all taken comfort in food at some point in our lives. It’s a fact of life. And there are many different triggers for emotional eating – happiness, sadness, but a lot of times it’s out of boredom. It’s important to recognize your emotional eating and learn from your setbacks. If left unchecked, eating when emotional can spiral out of control and create additional guilt because of weight gain.

“We tell people to shift their focus and go for a walk or connect with a friend,” Lela says. “Do something constructive.”

10. Build a support system

Family, Friends, or Colleagues

One of the goals of the Nutrition Counseling and Diabetes Program is to help people become healthier, feel better and have more energy. It doesn’t even have to be about losing weight, but most often weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight are the end result of adopting a healthy relationship with food. People gain an empowerment, an increased knowledge and additional stamina after seeking advice from the nutrition team.

“We ask people what their personal goals are because we want them to be part of the process instead of us telling them what to do,” Lela says. “A lot of times people know what to do, but coming to us creates accountability and they are more likely to follow their goals. We help them break it down into achievable, smaller goals.”

Nutrition Counseling and Diabetes Program Services

The team at Palos provides both emotional and educational support and has the experience and knowledge to help people with an assortment of needs, including:

  • Celiac disease
  • Diabetes
  • Eating disorders
  • Food allergies
  • Gastrointestinal disorders
  • Heart health
  • Infant & child nutrition
  • Kidney disease
  • Nutrition for older adults
  • Pregnancy and lactation
  • Prevention and support with treatment for cancer
  • Prevention and wellness with good nutrition
  • Sports nutrition
  • Vegetarian nutrition
  • Weight management for children, teens and adults