The word “diet” is one that makes many people shudder. Just the thought of limiting comfort foods, eliminating the quick staying sweettooth fix or away from that double cheese pizza after a long day is enough to avoid starting at all.
Then there’s the question, “What diet is right for me?” With so many options— keto, Paleo, Weight Watchers and dozens more—settling on which one is best for you no doubt makes you want to stress-eat an entire cheeseburger with fries. Is a diet even the best approach to lifelong healthy eating habits?
Fortunately, Essentia Health dietitian Nikki Norland said it doesn’t need to be something to shy away from and, actually, there are some tried-and-true methods that don’t need to be a diet, but rather lifestyle changes to improve food choices.
“When it comes to weight loss, it doesn’t really matter which diet you choose, so long as you stick to it,” Norland said. “Yes, you still need to make intelligent food choices for overall health, like eating your fruits and vegetables.
“Picking a structured diet is less important than focusing on eating so that you feel nourished and satisfied. Eating in a way that eliminates or severely restricts entire food groups or macronutrients can be dangerous, but it is also boring and hard to maintain.”
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2014 compared to multiple popular diets, including Atkins, South Beach, Zone, Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers and Ornish. These diets range from low-carbohydrate to low-fat to a balanced mix of macronutrients. Over the course of 12 months, researchers found there were minimal differences in weight loss between the diets. Their conclusion: “This supports the practice of recommending any diet that a patient will adhere to in order to lose weight.”
Here are some tips to help you stay consistent with your nutrition:
• Think long-term. Any changes you make
should be ones you can stick with. Consistency is often the missing link for people
trying to improve their health.
• Plan ahead. Find a routine that works
for you. Have a weekly meal plan, prepare
foods in advance, and research restaurants
and plan for healthy snacks before traveling.
• Hack your environment. Make the places
you spend the most time as conducive
as possible to supporting your health and
nutrition. Keep your home and workplace
stocked with healthy choices.
• Seek out support. This could be a partner,
family member, friend, colleague or professional. Having someone to cheer you on
and keep you accountable to your goals is
• Focus on your behaviors, not the end
result. You have no control over the scale
(if weight loss is your goal), but you can
control the actions you take every day. Pick
one to three daily habits you can implement
and focus on each week. These could be
things like packing a healthy lunch for work,
going for a daily 30-minute walk, or eating
two cups of vegetables at every meal.
• Be curious and compassionate. Check
in with yourself at least monthly and assess
how things are going. What has gone well?
Where could you improve? How will you
reward yourself in a healthy way for your
efforts this far? What more would you like
to accomplish next month? What is likely to
stand in your way and how can you prepare
to make sure those things don’t get in your
way? Adjust your plan accordingly.
Be compassionate with yourself if you get off-track. Roadblocks such as an illness, travel or other life commitments will always come up. You’re never going to be perfect, but developing the ability to bounce back will help you remain consistent with the plan you’ve decided. Instead of beating yourself up and allowing one poor choice to spiral into many, compassion will allow you to come back to your healthy habits quicker.
Of course, snacking can be the thing that derails people more than just about anything else. You finish your nutritious breakfast that’s jam-packed with nutrients and you’re feeling good about your day. Then that 10:30 am craving hits. It’s too early for lunch, but the stomach growl is loud enough for your Zoom to remind you that you’re on mute during that virtual work meeting.
According to Norland, planning for these moments is key. “Keep chopped-up fruits and vegetables readily available so you can quickly help yourself to a portion,” she advises. “Think about convenient, on-the-go snacks like apples, oranges or bananas.
“And, yes, you can still go for chips,” Norland said. “But instead of a bag of Doritos, Cheetos or your other favorite combination of salty and crunchy, try whole-grain tortilla chips instead. Rather than dunking them in your favorite cheese dip, opt for hummus or bean dip. Air-popped popcorn, nuts and other whole-grain foods are also good options.
“But the key is to plan your snacks,” Norland added.
Some people must be on specialized diets to control health conditions like heart disease. Essentia recommends a hearthealthy diet for all ages, especially if you are at a high risk of heart disease. The American Heart Association evidence says-based research suggests eating a diet rich in vegetables, fruits and whole grains is a good start. This includes things like salmon, almonds, berries, beans and legumes. If you need something for the sweet tooth, stick to dark chocolate that is at least 60 percent cocoa.
Eating a heart-healthy diet can help improve many controllable risk factors of heart disease, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes.
Food insecurity—a lack of access to affordable, healthy food—affects many families in our community. Households often face difficult decisions such as choosing food over medication, postponing medical care or forgoing healthy food.
Essentia partnered with several other organizations in 2021 to launch a program called Resourceful that connects people to free and reduced-cost programs in our region. Food support was one of the most common requests through the program’s first 2,000 referrals.
The Iron Range has several farmers’ markets that make healthy and fresh food readily accessible. Essentia Health supports the Power of Produce (PoP) program, which gives children $2 to spend at each market on fresh fruits and vegetables. PoP has had more than 1,000 youth participation since 2019. The SNAP program supported by Essentia Health and Hunger Solutions of Minnesota has allowed SNAP users to increase their dollars spent at the Virginia market by matching up to $15. Essentia has contributed $14,000 since 2019 to the Iron Range Partnership for Sustainability (IRPS) to support community gardens in Virginia.
Essentia also contributed funds to Mesabi Range College to support creating food shelves on the Virginia and Eveleth campuses; the food shelves were accessed 689 times during the last school year. We also partnered with the Rutabaga Project to create four “free little pantries” across the region that offer basic food and household items.
Additionally, a partnership between Essentia and the IRPS provides students in three Virginia Head Start classes with the opportunity to learn about gardening, food access and healthy eating. The goal is to expand local food access and gardening skills. Through the program, children and their families cultivate their plants and harvest their crops in the fall.
IRPS is a grassroots nonprofit organization that facilitates collaboration toward a sustainable and thriving Iron Range, focusing on local healthy food and local energy through efforts such as farmers markets, community gardens, Earth Fest and the annual Iron Range Pasty Festival.
Essentia routinely offers healthy eating tips, tricks and recipes online. To access them, follow us on social media.
Anthony Matt is the media relations specialist at Essentia Health.