New Year, New You: Avoid diets, make small changes to achieve nutrition goals


By Dave Ongie

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a three-part series about keeping your New Year’s Resolutions. Studies show that about 80 percent of people who make a resolution abandon it by the second week of February.

There are many reasons for making a New Year’s resolution, but for many folks who vow to eat healthier, the stakes can be very high.

“The American health rankings recently came out, and Tennessee continues to really struggle with high rates of obesity, high rates of diabetes and high smoking rates,” said Dr. Karen Cassidy, the Medical Director at UnitedHealthcare of Tennessee. “These are the kinds of lifestyle choices that contribute to the other things we see in Tennessee, which is higher rates of premature death and higher rates of cardiovascular disease. So I do think making those commitments to improving health is important.”

A plethora of fad diets and conflicting information that can make it hard to know where to turn for someone looking to start the year off with a new eating plan. The first stop for anyone looking to lose weight should be the doctor’s office. There are several factors not related to diet and exercise that can affect your waistline, and your doctor is in the best position to assess those factors.

Dr. Allison Agnott, who practices family medicine with Mountain States Health Alliance, cited studies that show two people can do an identical amount of eating or activity, and one person can actually gain weight if he or she sleeps poorly or is under a great deal of stress.

“That is because of the rise of adrenaline under those circumstances, and adrenaline is similar to the hormone cortisol,” Agnott said. “So it’s like being on prednisone if you’re sleeping badly or if you’re very stressed, and that’s why you gain weight. Sometimes you need medical attention if you sleep badly. You might have sleep apnea or some other sleep disorder.”

Even if you aren’t suffering from excessive stress or a sleep disorder, eating healthy can be tough. Here are some tips to keep your nutrition plan on track:


1. Diets don’t stand the test of time

If you ask most nutritionists, they’ll tell you diets – especially the ones that forbid specific food groups – are destined to fail.

“A lot of them are super-drastic and something you can’t do past a month or two,” said Lindsey Evans, a dietician at MSHA. “Make sure it is something that is sustainable.”

So instead of swearing off bread or vowing to eat only grapefruit, making small, sustainable changes is a much better way to ensure long-term success.

“Look at your eating habits, your lifestyle, your behaviors and make changes there,” said Dr. Michelle Lee, who teaches clinical nutrition classes at ETSU. “Those are things that will last you a lifetime. If you can’t follow a diet for more than two months, it’s not going to help you in the long run.”

Replacing sugary drinks with water and desserts with fresh fruit are just two ways to build a nutrition plan for the long haul.


2. Plan ahead to stay on track

Life can get hectic, and when it does, there are plenty of convenient places to pick up a quick meal.

But the problem with convenience is that it often comes with a trade-off; fast food is usually not very healthy, and those extra calories can quickly derail your nutrition goals.

Evans tells her patients to set aside some time on the weekend to do some food prep for the week ahead. Then when life inevitably gets hectic, there will be healthier choices at your fingertips.

“Prepare some side items or meats, different pieces you can put together to make full meals or snacks out of,” she said. “That way you kind of have no excuse not to have a homemade dinner or snack or lunch throughout the week.”

Agnott is also a fan of preparing meals ahead of time. She also suggests having healthy recipes and the ingredients to make them at the ready. If you’re traveling and have to eat out, Lee suggests doing some research and scouting out healthy choices at restaurants you’ll be frequenting.

“If you know you have to eat out, go online and find menus and pick out some of their lower-calorie choices that would be better,” Lee said.


3. There’s an app for that

Technology makes it possible to track calories in real time and find healthy recipes from around the world in a matter of seconds.

The experts who contributed to this story all have their favorites. was lauded as a great way to track calories, and Evans says is also an excellent way to keep track of what you’ve eaten. Seeing as most people don’t get enough vegetables in their diets, Agnott said is a good source of recipes that incorporate plant-based foods.

The Internet is a great resource, but Evans offered a final word of advice for those trolling the Web for nutrition advice – always make sure you’re getting information from an expert.

“Always look at who’s writing it to making sure it’s someone that’s a reputable source,” she said.


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