Category Archives: Behavior Modification

Make Way for the Dinner Plate

Most of you are probably familiar with the food guide pyramid created in 1992 (below left) by the USDA to help consumers make healthy food choices. That pyramid, however, had some fundamental problems that over the years were heightened as research showed more about what makes up a healthy diet. In 2005 the food pyramid got a big facelift and was changed to MyPyramid (below right)— a colorful depiction of how your diet should be balanced with the inclusion of physical activity. Unfortunately, consumers were still lost on the message since the pyramid had no words and you needed online access and the help of a professional to understand what any of it meant.

food guide pyramid      mypyramid food pyramid

With the introduction of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines this past January, the Obama administration campaigned for a better (and clearer) picture of what our diets should look like. Today the food pyramid is a thing of the past with the launch of the newest food icon: MyPlate!

myplate food icon

MyPlate is a more fitting icon to help people balance their diets — after all, we eat off of plates, not pyramids! It’s also a tool that dietitians have been using for years. The MyPlate image is divided into four sections: vegetables (red), fruit (green), grains (orange), and protein (purple). There is also a small cup-like image next to the plate that represents dairy. Like MyPyramid, there isn’t much information on the plate about portions, but visually you can see that the vegetable and fruit sections together make up half the plate (with vegetables slightly larger than fruit), and the grain section is slightly larger than the protein section on the other half.

Another item missing from MyPlate is healthy fat, like oils and nuts. If you look at the information online, you will find that nuts fall into the protein portion of the plate, but the oils are missing representation. This doesn’t mean you don’t need them – you do! It’s just one of the flaws that already stands out with the new food icon, proving that MyPlate won’t be able to solve all your dietary conundrums (and why you still need a registered dietitian to help you understand it all!).

All in all, although MyPlate could use some tweaking, its message is clear: pack your plate full of healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein and keep your portion sizes under control.

What do you think of MyPlate? How does it compare to the food pyramid?

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You Can Get Active

In addition to National Mediterranean Diet month, May is also National Physical Fitness and Sports Month. Surely you’ve heard the obesity statistics, but just to refresh your memory, in the past 30 years childhood obesity has doubled among 2-5 year olds and tripled among 6-11 year olds. Not only are children not eating healthfully, they are also not living an active lifestyle.

To help out on the activity front, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has implemented a science-based national education program called We Can! (Ways to Enhance Children’s Activity and Nutrition). The program helps children ages 8-13 stay at a healthy weight and they offer materials to help caregivers and families encourage children to become more active.

we can program nih

Although the end of May is almost here, it’s not too late to celebrate physical activity. Here are some tips to get your family moving:

  • Take a family walk after dinner.
  • Have a dance party with your kids.
  • Park farther away from the entrance of  a store.
  • Take the stairs instead of the escalator  and race your kids to the top!
  • Acknowledge family efforts with non-food related activities like a day at the zoo or park.

Check out the We Can! website for many more tips!

What does your family do to stay physically active?

Disclaimer: I was not paid to promote the We Can! program or the NIH. All opinions are my own. 

Photo Credit: National Heart Lung and Blood Institute

Best Diet? The One You Can Stick With

This week’s health news has been buzzing with the Consumer Reports diet rankings. The results were quite surprising to many of us in the nutrition field – the top five diets are:

  1. Jenny Craig
  2. Slim Fast
  3. Weight Watchers
  4. The Zone
  5. Ornish Diet
  6. Atkins

Interestingly, Jenny Craig came out on top based on a Journal of the American Medical Association study from last October that showed 92 percent of Jenny Craig clients stayed on the program for 2 years. What Consumer Reports didn’t seem to take into account, is that the participants in the study didn’t pay a penny for the program – the researchers paid for all the expenses, which are quite hefty. The program, which includes an annual fee and the cost of all the food, can cost a couple thousand dollars per year. I highly doubt that 92 percent of the participants would have stayed on the diet for as long as they did if they were paying for it themselves.

The fact that Slim Fast, which involves drinking a shake for breakfast and lunch and having a 500 calorie dinner, came in second is also mind-boggling to me. In fact, of all the programs listed I would have thought Weight Watchers would have come out on top.

consumer reports diet rankingsThe truth is, I don’t advocate for any of these diets. I encourage people to eat balanced meals filled with vegetables, fruit, lean protein, healthy fat, and complex carbohydrates. And the food they eat should be nutritious and delicious. An occasional treat is also ok as long as it’s in moderation. This is the foundation of a healthy diet; restriction, packaged foods (especially for all meals everyday), shakes, and meal replacement bars are not.

One component of some of these diets that I do recommend is support. Whether it’s visiting a registered dietitian once a week, calling a friend for encouragement, or going to a support group, if you’re looking to lose or maintain your weight, having the support of others will help you reach your goal.

What do you think about the Consumer Reports diet rankings? Do you believe in diets? 

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

mexican food healthy choicesToday people are celebrating Cinco de Mayo, a celebration of Mexican heritage and pride and a commemoration of the cause of freedom and democracy during the first years of the American Civil War (according to Wikipedia). As part of the celebration, you may be going out for Mexican food and having a margarita (or two). But before you do, you may want to know just what’s in some of those Mexican specialties before you indulge too much!

Here’s some nutrition info about Mexican favorites:

Instead of: Choose:
Frozen margarita: range from 250-300 calories Margarita on the rocks: 170 calories
Corona beer: 150 calories Corona light beer: 99 calories
Lemonade (8 oz): 165 calories Sparkling lemonade (1/2 lemonade, 1/2 seltzer): 83 calories
Crispy shell tacos  Soft shell tacos
Flour tortillas Corn tortillas
Taco bowl salads Salads sans taco bowl
Refried beans Black beans
Sour cream Salsa and/or Guacamole

The best piece of advice I can give you is to share! Portions at Mexican restaurants tend to be very big, so to keep your portions in check share with a friend.

Take a look at some of the previous Nutritioulicious posts about Mexican food:
Real Mexican Dining
Mexican Cooking at Home
Homemade Quesadillas
Wonderful Ways to Use Watermelon

What are you doing to celebrate Cinco de Mayo?

HCG Diet &The Spice of Life

In case you were wondering where my blog posts went at the end of the week, check out two guest posts I wrote. (You may have seen me link to them on Twitter or Facebook.)

HCG Diet

First up, I wrote all about the HCG Diet for The Scoop on Nutrition, my fellow dietitian Emma Stirling’s blog in Australia.

Variety balance moderationNext, in my monthly post on the Sweet Spot Blog, “Variety, Balance, and Moderation are the Spice of Life,” covers the three basic principles of a healthy lifestyle.

I hope you enjoy the posts and feel free to comment here about what you think about the HCG diet and/or how you follow the healthy lifestyle principles.

Have a great weekend!

Ladies, Enough “Fat Talk”

Yesterday Jennifer Huget wrote an article “Enough with the ‘fat talk’” in her health column of The Washington Post (Time Magazine also spoke up on the subject). What prompted the article was a new study from the journal Psychology of Women Quarterly, If You’re Fat, Then I’m Humongous! Frequency, Content, and Impact of Fat Talk Among College Women.” In the study, 93% of the women examined (all of whom were a normal weight) engaged in “fat talk” and the most common response of women to other women who engaged in fat talk was to convince the friend that she was not fat.

I don’t know about you, but I have been witness to many women (and some men) engaging in “fat talk” all too often. Sometimes I hear it at the dinner table when someone says “I shouldn’t have eaten all that bread, I’m going to regret it when I step on the scale in the morning” and sometimes I just overhear a group of girls talking about their workouts (or lack thereof) and that they need to go on diets. The example Huget gave in her column is one I hear often as well. Does this sound familiar to you?

Girl A: “I look so fat in these jeans”

Girl B: “No you don’t, you are so skinny. Look at me!”

Girl A: “You cannot complain – you’re a stick”

Girl C: “Both of you shut up, I’m the fat one here”

Personally, I’ve had enough of hearing groups of fit-looking women (and men) talk about their weight, what they should or shouldn’t be eating, and how much or little they exercise in a deprecating manner. The worst response to comments like these is to try to convince your friend that she’s wrong. Most people who make these comments are doing so to get positive reinforcement that they look great, and if they do in fact feel bad about the way they look or feel or if they aren’t as healthy as they could be, telling them they look great won’t help.

Instead of saying “don’t be silly” or “no you’re not” answer their comments by asking them what’s making them feel that way? Or what do they think they can do to improve how they feel? Turning the conversation into a dialogue instead of a game of ping-pong will do more good for you, your friends, and all women.

Do you engage in “fat talk?” What do you think when you hear people engaging in “fat talk?” If you don’t like all the “fat talk” become a fan of Fat Talk Free on Facebook!

Does Calorie Labeling Influence Your Food Choices?

By Megan Kian

restaurant calorie labelingIn 2008, it was mandated that all fast-food restaurants in any borough in New York provide calorie labeling for the foods available for purchase. The point of calorie labeling was to make consumers think twice before making food choices. But has calorie labeling succeeded in creating a more health conscious society? Results of a new study from the NYU School of Medicine and Wagner School of Public Service shows that the calorie postings have not impacted the behavior of teenagers or their parents who come from low-income households. (A previous study by the same researcher showed similar conclusions for adult behavior.)

Although teens and their parents were aware of the calorie labels, they did not change their food orders and consumption. On average, teens purchased meals that contained about 725 calories and parents purchased meals that contained about 600 calories for their children. To the teens in the study, taste, price, and convenience were more important than calories when it came to choosing what to eat.

One reason that the calorie labels had no impact on teenagers and their parents may be that they don’t know how many calories they should actually be consuming per day. Once again this is an indication that nutrition education is needed to help inform the public how to make healthier food choices.

Has calorie labeling influenced your food choices?