My Top Tips for Making Dietary Changes in 2014 – No More Diets

IMG_0591My Tops Tips for Making Dietary Changes in 2014

I’ve been invited to work with a local group for the next 6-weeks as part of a transformation programme, to promote healthy lifestyles in our community as well as raise funds for the local secondary school – Bush Post-Primary in the Cooley Peninsula.

It’s a great local programme (Operation Bush4mation) which will follow the national TV programme Operation Transformation.  There are many activities lined up, at all times of the day and night, with fantastic trainers in pilates, yoga, boxercise, circuit training, trail running as well as options to use the state of the art running track for walking, jogging and running.  The aim is to get people off the couch, think more about what they are eating and get the year off to a great start.

So far we have at least 100 people signed up to participate and Monday 13th January is kick-off.

I was asked to write a piece for making positive dietary changes and have included it here also for your information.

New Year’s Resolutions and Goal Setting

At the start of every New Year, there is always so much talk about resolutions and making dietary changes.  While it is a great opportunity to jump start your plans towards good health, for many, the resolutions don’t make it past the first week!

Part of the reason for this is that the goals set are too general and vague i.e. I’m going to get fit in 2014 or I’m going to eat healthier in 2014.

Another way to approach making changes is to set SMART goals – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time bound.  None of the goals mentioned above meet these criteria.   If you don’t pick a realistic goal, you are setting yourself up for a fall before you’ve even started.  Is it any wonder people slip off the wagon after the first day or the first week?

An example of a SMART Goal might be – I am going to eat breakfast every morning before work for the next 3 months.  You can have several, smaller goals like this and if achieved, together they may contribute to a broader goal such as weight loss.

“No More Diets”

This may seem strange coming from a Dietitian but this is my mantra.  Going on a “Diet” brings with it feelings of restriction, denial, guilt and the inevitable falling off the wagon when you can’t live with the changes on an ongoing basis.

We need to move away from this extreme “all or nothing” approach to eating, and learn to embrace making changes that we can live with and that are sustainable.  Food should be enjoyed, not feared.  I saw someone joke on twitter the other day about why we never hear about the 7:0 diet – where you strive for a healthy diet 7 days a week.

TOP Tips to Help You Achieve a Healthy Weight.

Ultimately, to lose weight you need to reduce your energy intake so that you are eating less calories than your body expends.  The following are a series of ideas to help you with that.

  • Eat Well, Feed your Body and Plan ahead

Think about how amazing the human body is and how important it is for your health to nourish it well.  You will feel so much better when you are making better dietary choices and you deserve this level of care.

I would highly recommend sitting down every weekend and planning your weekly menu.  Once you have decided what you plan to cook Monday to Friday, you can do your shopping in a planned way.  This will save you time during the week and will prevent you standing at the cooker at 6 o’clock in the evening, wondering what will I cook tonight, only to find you don’t have half the ingredients in stock.  This is where things go wrong and you reach for less healthy options.

  • Always Eat Breakfast

Eat a protein-rich breakfast – porridge made on milk; stewed or fresh fruit with yogurt, poached eggs on toast, baked beans on toast etc.  A protein rich breakfast has been shown to help control appetite.

Some studies have shown that breakfast eaters are less overweight than breakfast skippers, although more evidence is needed on the broader topic of meal frequency and meal skipping and whether this affects weight loss.

One recent study showed that people on a restricted calorie intake who eat their largest daily meal at breakfast are more likely to lose weight and waist line circumference than those who eat their largest meal at dinner time.

  • Be Portion Aware

Portion control is one of the keys to weight loss.  To get an idea of what a portion is, weigh some standard portions out on a kitchen scales.  Do you have any idea what 40g breakfast cereal or 50g uncooked rice?  The chances are the weighed out portions looks a lot smaller in reality than you expected!   I’m not suggesting that you do this all the time but as an experiment it’s worth doing and may make you think twice when dishing out your meals.

The Food Safety Authority Healthy Eating and Active Living Booklet provides some very practical information on what constitutes a portion size of the different food groups and how this varies depending  on whether you are trying to lose weight or not.  They describe portions in household measures (i.e. cups versus grams).  If you are using this resource, measure the suggested portion sizes, to familiarise yourself with appropriate serving sizes.

  • Eat off a Smaller Plate & Portion Your Plate Carefully

Big serving plates = Big Servings.  Switching from a 12 inch to a 10 plate for your main meal – would result in 22% less calories being served.   If your plates at home are very big, make the switch to a smaller plate.

Also, make sure to portion your plate in the healthiest way.  Fill half your plate with vegetables and/or salad and then the other half of your plate should be divided between carbohydrate and protein.

This is very different to how most Irish people dish out their meals.  We tend to fill the plate with rice or pasta and then pile the protein/vegetables on top which results in much bigger portions of rice/pasta/potatoes than recommended.

  • Aim for 5+ Fruit and Vegetables per day 

Fruit and vegetables provide fibre along with a range of vitamins (A,B, C, E and K) and minerals (potassium, magnesium and some iron).  These foods are low in calories and contain no fat (Avocado and olives are the only exception).  This is one food group where MORE is definitely BETTER.  These foods can be used in place of more high calorie, highly processed snack foods to improve the overall quality of your diet and help reduce calories.

  • Focus on Whole foods with Minimal Processing

Many of the foods we eat have been processed in some way but try to make a habit of eating foods that contain minimal added ingredients and that are processed as little as possible.   Food should have a place (know its source – locally produced where possible), a face (farmer) and great taste.

Also, by eating whole-grains instead of more refined foods (i.e. wholegrain bread versus white bread), you will have a higher fibre intake.  A high-fibre intake makes you feel fuller for longer and can help with weight loss.

  • Take the Mindful Eating Pledge (

Eat mindfully – Be more aware of each bite I take and enjoy each bite.

Pace not Race – Eat slowly and with intention

Eat less, Nourish More – Eat foods that nurture my body

Calm without calories – Find true comfort and soothing without food

When I Eat Just Eat – Eat Without Distraction

Mindful eating very much ties in with the idea of sitting down for meals at the dinner table without the distraction of TV.  This is something which seems to be happening less and less as TV dinners become increasingly popular.  My advice, switch off the TV and insist that the family sit down together for Dinner in the evening and use the opportunity to catch up on everyone’s day.

Other aspects of Mindful eating include, avoiding eating out of a packet – make sure to put your food out onto a plate and sit down and enjoy it and know what you are eating.

Keeping a food diary can be very helpful for some people to keep track of what they are eating and identify when they are most likely to go off track with less healthy options.

  • Avoid Demonising Particular Foods

Denying yourself the foods you love, makes you crave them more and you are more likely to binge eat when the opportunity presents itself.   Labelling foods as either good or bad, makes you fear the so-called ‘bad’ foods.  I prefer the concept of good and bad diets versus good and bad foods.

For a long-term healthy eating plan that is sustainable, aim to eat well most of the time of the time and build into your plan some small treats.  This way, you can look forward to them without over-doing it and you don’t feel deprived.  If chocolate is your thing you should avoid keeping chocolate in the house and when treating yourself, choose a kid-size bar.

  • Don’t Underestimate the Importance of Sleep (thought you’d like this one)!

One study showed that sleep deprived women ate 15% more calories and 39% more dietary fat than those who got more sleep.

Lack of sleep may inhibit your ability to lose weight.  Another study showed sleep deprived people lost 55% less body fat and lost 60% more lean body mass.

Aim for 8 hours of sleep per night

  • It’s Not about Being Perfect All the Time.

A long-term healthy weight loss program is not about being perfect all the time.  It’s about balancing the not so good days with better ones.  If you have a bad day, it’s not the end of the road.  Dust yourself down, re-examine your SMART goals and start again.




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