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Changing eating habits, one meal at a time

100mealMarch is Nutrition Month. Bet you didn’t know that!

Every year there’s a different theme and Dietitians of Canada provides a slew of resources for dietitians and the public alike. This year the theme is: Take a 100 Meal Journey. Basically, make small changes, one meal at a time.

If you’re anything like me, you saw that and thought “100 meals?!!” It sounds incredibly daunting. I’ve since had someone explain to me that 100 is roughly the number of meals one person will eat during the month of March (it’s actually 93 if you eat three squares a day, I did the math). The idea is that you’ll make a few small changes during the month and continue to stick with them.

I’m down with making small changes. I’m still not convinced about the 100 meal journey part, but you can’t win them all. One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen people make when they want to be healthier or lose weight is to try to overhaul their entire lives all at once. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: if you want to see sustainable change you need to make sustainable changes. There’s no point in doing a cleanse (please, do dietitians everywhere a favour and avoid this honorary four-letter word around them) or going on a diet (a true four-letter word). These are things that have an end date.

They also usually involve significant restrictions and choices that no one is willing to continue to stick to for the rest of their lives. What happens when the cleanse/diet/torture ends? Generally, people go right back to their old habits. Cue the cycle. This is quite likely even more unhealthy than simply sticking with the original, less healthy, habits in the first place.

Okay, back to Nutrition Month and that 100 meal journey. Can you think of one thing that you’d like to do to improve your nutrition or eating habits that you’re not currently doing? I’d hazard a guess that most of us (yes, even we dietitians) can. If you need some inspiration, Dietitians of Canada’s got lots of that for you.

eating-salad

Something that I find myself saying often is “variety is the spice of life.” It’s true, variety is one of the pillars of a nutritious diet (hush, it’s not a four-letter word when used in this context). Why not try one new thing each week? Maybe it’s a new vegetable or fruit. Maybe it’s a new way of preparing something that you eat often; have you tried roasting asparagus rather than steaming or boiling it? Maybe it’s a new recipe or a new herb or spice. There are so many possibilities. You could probably devote the entire month to this goal alone!

We dietitians also often talk about balance being an essential ingredient in a nutritious diet. What does that mean? It means including foods from all of the food groups throughout the day. It means not overdoing or under-doing any one food or food group. To meet this goal, a small change you might want to make is to include at least three food groups at every meal and two at every snack. You might want to aim to eat at least five servings of vegetables and fruit each day. Or you could try to incorporate more vegetarian options in your diet. Depending on how much you love and currently eat meat, you could start small with Meatless Mondays, or go vegetarian for at least two out of three meals a day.

Balance also means including treats in your diet, but making sure that they remain treats. This can be fairly subjective and will depend on your energy needs and your “flexible” calories when you’ve met your nutrient needs through food but not your caloric needs. For elite athletes this can translate into more treats than it does for the rest of us. One person might have a chocolate every evening. Another person might have some chips or ice cream once a week. It’s a bit of a balancing act between nutrition and the joy of eating a stack of pancakes with maple syrup. You want to hit that sweet spot where you can indulge your sweet (or savoury) tooth and maintain your health. A small change might involve cutting back the amount of sugar you put in your coffee each day. It might involve bringing a nutritious snack to work each day so that you don’t hit the drive-thru or the vending machine. It might be portioning out your evening snack so that you don’t discover that you’ve hit the bottom of the potato chip bag without even noticing it.

There are countless other changes that you can make this month. Even if you don’t always stick with them all of the time, don’t give up because of one off day. Don’t try to go “extra healthy” the following day to compensate either. Simply learn from what happened, dust yourself off, and get right back on track the next day.

I know that you’re not big on commenting (at least not on my column) but if you have a change that you’re going to make for Nutrition Month or a change that you’ve adopted in the past I’d love to hear them. Please share them in the comments below so that we can all benefit from each other’s experiences.

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