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Ditch The Diet

This article was first printed in the 2019 Vail Health Magazine.

There are many potential reasons why diets fail, but for the most part, it’s because they’re unsustainable. Many involve restricting certain foods or adhering to rigid rules, which makes it difficult to figure out what we’re actually supposed to eat. In addition, most of us are busy, on-the-go and budget conscious, so meeting the unrealistic expectations inherent in fad diets is, well, unrealistic.

The trick is to do what works best for you. “Fortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all diet that is best for your health, nor is there a single food that will make — or break — your health,” explains Makayla Meixner, MS, a registered dietitian and food operations manager at Vail Health. “Instead, wellness depends on our overall eating patterns: the combinations of foods and beverages we choose consistently across our lifespans.”

Instead of trying to adhere to impractical rules set forth by restrictive diets, it’s important to have more realistic expectations for healthy eating and to realize that these expectations are different for each person. Factors like personal goals, lifestyle, budget and taste preferences should all play a part in the decisions we make about the foods we consume.

“In general, the expectation is that you make healthy choices regardless of, for example, the number on the scale,” she explains. “And you include food from a variety of different food groups each day. You balance so that you’re getting a little bit from carbohydrates, proteins and fats each day. And you do so in moderation.”

Those three elements — variety, balance and moderation — are the keys to healthy eating.

Variety refers to the foods you are eating and how diverse your food choices are. A varied diet includes an array of foods within each of the major food groups. This helps ensure you’re getting all the nutrients you need, including essential vitamins and minerals. One way to achieve variety is by considering how colorful your meals are: Different vitamins can give off different pigments, so if you have green, red and orange veggies on your plate, you have a good variety.

"Variety is going to ensure you get all your essential nutrients,” Meixner says.

“Balance refers to the proportions on your plate,” she explains. “It helps ensure you’re choosing foods from all of the food groups and have an adequate mix of carbohydrates, fats and proteins: the energy providing nutrients.”

Meixner suggests the “my plate” method: Fill half of your plate with fruits and veggies, a quarter with a starch or grain and a quarter with a protein. That helps balance the different food groups and energy types.

The last element is moderation. Moderation refers to portion control, getting enough — but not too much — of any one nutrient, as well as calories.

The key is eating everything in accordance to your hunger and fullness cues. Meixner says our bodies are excellent at deciphering when we're full and when we're hungry, but our culture has skewed our perceptions of serving sizes, leading us to eat well beyond our physical needs. Getting in tune with what our bodies are actually saying is the key to moderation.And before you vow to eschew sugar forever, Meixner says there’s no reason to cut out the foods you love as long as you enjoy them in moderation.

“A big thing with moderation is listening to your hunger and fullness cues,” Meixner explains. “So if you really love cake and you’re not already full, eat some cake in moderation. It’s not going to completely sabotage your dietary pattern because your wellness depends on the combinations of foods and beverages you choose consistently.”

So how do we eat a variety of foods, in balance, with moderation? When it comes to nourishing our bodies, a little thought and planning can go a long way. 

Learn more about vail Health's Food and Nutrition department:
The mission of Vail Health's Food and Nutrition department is to improve patients' lives through quality nutritional care and expert education. We provide our in-patients with wholesome, nourishing and well-balanced meals that enhance their treatment and recovery. In addition, our goal is to educate patients on nutrition and health to help them make good decisions and maintain a healthy lifestyle. To schedule an appointment with one of our RDNs call (970) 479-5058.