I’m Jessica Jones. As a Registered Dietitian for a primary care clinic, I counsel hundreds of patients on medical nutrition therapy for weight management, hypertension, diabetes and hyperlipidemia.
Translation: I help people eat healthier. While no two nutrition counseling sessions are exactly alike (part of the reason why I love my job), there are a few things I tell most patients to improve their chances for success. Here they are:
1. Tell me why you’re here in the first place.
Do me a favor and channel Patti Stanger for a moment—remember her infamous “Why love now?” question? Now transfer that concept to nutrition. One of the first things I need to learn from every patient that steps into my office is, what is their motivation for change. I’ll ask, Why are you ready to improve your diet today? or What would losing 20 pounds mean for you? It may seem simple, but discovering this motivation is everything. Times 10.
It’s important to find out what’s driving you to make change, so you can stay focused in achieving your goals. For some of my patients, the answers may be, “I want to feel more confident about myself” or “I want to be in shape so I can play with my kids after school.” Whatever it is, find it, tap into it, embrace it, and use it to light your fire.
2. Eating healthy tastes really good.
I hate canned vegetables. The fact of the matter is, vegetables were never meant to be mushy or dull, rather works of art that should be cooked to a crispy perfection. (Or eaten raw if that’s your flavor.) Sometimes, when my patients think about eating more healthfully, they imagine lifeless canned string beans, soggy carrots ‘n’ peas, and rock hard brown rice. The reality is that the healthiest foods taste incredible. And anything less than incredible does not deserve a place at your dinner table. For example, if brown rice by itself doesn’t “hit the spot” as my granddaddy would say, spice it up with cilantro, onions, garlic, and a teaspoon of EVOO for more flavor. If you need ideas for simple, healthy plant-based recipes, you can find tons on my website Food Heaven Made Easy.
3. Planning is the key to success.
Planning is the pinnacle of healthy eating. But sometimes it feels like a drag. My patients have a lot going on in their lives, and spending an hour a week creating a meal plan may seem like more trouble than it’s worth. It’s not. An hour a week will save you time, money, calories, and even a little bit of inner-turmoil in the end. Think of it this way: without a plan, any one of us would choose to go to that not-so-healthy fast food joint when we’re hungry. It doesn’t make you a bad person or incapable of reaching your health goals, it just means you didn’t have a strong enough plan in place that day. If you need more help with meal planning, watch my Meal Planning Made Easy video here.
4. It’s all about baby steps.
My patients will often come to me with the goal of dropping 50 pounds in two months. I always smile inside. Goals are good. Realistic goals are better. Studies suggest that the average weight loss is 18 pounds in 6 months. Losing 50 pounds in two months is not impossible, but it’s highly unlikely, and potentially unsafe. Not to mention that most people who lose weight fast typically gain it all back—and then some. I totally understand that faster results can be more exciting, but it’s the small changes that add up to big results over time.
5. Eat vegetables. Always and in all ways.
There are two ways to go about getting enough veggies in your daily diet. One is making ½ of your plate vegetables for most of your meals, also known as the MyPlate method for meal planning. It sounds so basic, but I promise you it works. My patients who are able to do this lose more weight, improve their blood sugar levels, reduce constipation, and lower their cholesterol levels. If the MyPlate method doesn’t make sense for you (or if you have, say, a soup for dinner), the other way to ensure you are getting enough veggies is to eat at least three cups per day—every day. It doesn’t matter if they are with meals or as snacks, but three cups is the bottom line for optimal health.
6. For the love of fruit, step away from the juice.
You might hate me for this, but I’m just going to come out and say it: I don’t recommend drinking fruit juice, or anything else that’s loaded with sugar. My patients often rebuttal with, but what about “natural” fresh squeezed orange juice? And my answer is still, “I don’t recommend it.” In most cases, it’s better to have seltzer water instead of soda, or eat your fruit rather than drink it. The whole fruit gives you all the vitamins and minerals, and is also loaded with fiber, which stabilizes blood sugar, lowers cholesterol, and helps you feel full. Instead of soda, energy drinks, or fruit juice, I always recommend water, unsweetened almond milk, my sugar free mocha freeze recipe, or fruit-infused water.
7. Focus on making sustainable changes.
My patients often tell me that when their doctor diagnosed them with pre-diabetes, they cut out tortillas. And rice. And beans. And fruit. And corn. And almost everything in between. While the motivation to get their health on track is excellent and greatly appreciated (serious kudos), I probe them to explore whether or not this is something they can do long term. Healthy eating is about making sustainable lifestyle changes, one small step at a time. While cutting back on some of those simple carbohydrates can be a good thing, completely eliminating a food group that includes cultural foods that you love, may not be realistic for the long haul. (Who wants to live in a world without tacos? I’m not a monster!) We’ll work together to find the happy, healthy, and sustainable path.
8. You’re really the expert, not me.
When it comes to your health and diet, I may have a recommendation or two on potential room for improvement, but remember that you are the expert of your life. In fact, most of the time, during my visits, the patient is the one doing all of the talking. I am merely a supporting role in helping facilitate strategies for success. I always tell my patients that they are the ones who usually come up with the best blueprints for behavior change because they know themselves so well.
9. Don’t let a slip become a fall.
One of my favorite professors in grad school used to tell us not to let a slip become a fall. These words have always stuck with me. Just like you, I too can have a bad day (or week), where I should have stopped at one cookie before bed and somehow ate three, or The Real Housewives marathon got the best of me and I didn’t get to prep my lunch for the next day. Know that this is 100 percent normal. No one is perfect—perfect is boring. When you have a slip, chalk it up to the game of life and just try to do better next time. Never give up. You’re way too awesome.