Creating a Healthy Relationship with Food

It’s that time of year again when the season of celebration quickly turns to the season of dieting. Whether it’s making New Year’s resolutions or getting “back on track,” the dieting season is full of restrictive rules and hyped up promises of the results you can expect from your “new and improved” diet and lifestyle.

I get it: there are many frustrated people out there who have been trying each and every diet looking for a quick fix to lose weight, feel better, and have more energy. Which is why it is no surprise that the U.S. weight loss market is now worth a record $72 billion. With marketing, trends, and fads being spread about by the media and big-time social media influencers, it’s easy to buy in to these false claims.

As a Registered Dietitian it is my job to debunk those false weight loss claims and to help individuals find the most efficient and sustainable method of weight loss. When it comes down to losing weight, and maintaining the weight loss, you should start with a mindset shift that focuses on the total healthy lifestyle package as opposed to just one wellness pillar (i.e., just the nutrition, or just the fitness).

If you’re ready to stop the cycle of fad dieting, then here is a mindset shift you should consider.


Know what “fuels” your body most effectively and make 3 simple selections for each meal: vegetable + protein + grain.

When it comes to preparing a healthy plate, the greatest number of micronutrients will come from dark leafy greens, and vibrant colored produce; those non-starchy vegetables will give you tons of micronutrient goodness and loads of fiber (and will also leave you feeling satisfied. When it comes to portion size, the nutrient-dense vegetables should make up at least 50% of your plate. Examples include: kale, spinach, cucumber, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, peppers, mushrooms, onions, and zucchini.

Next is a protein: 25% of your plate should contain a lean protein which is essential for building, repairing, and maintaining lean muscle. Examples of lean proteins include: animal meat such as chicken, lean beef, pork, turkey, salmon, white fish, tuna, eggs, yogurt, legumes, shellfish, and tofu.

Lastly, the remaining 25% of the plate should have a whole-grain carbohydrate source which is utilized as the body’s main source of energy. These products can be things such as: quinoa, brown rice, wild rice, oats, whole wheat pasta, whole grain crackers, popcorn, amaranth, and buckwheat.

If and when a snack is needed, be sure to reach for something that has carbohydrates and protein in it as that type of pairing will satisfy your hunger immediately by increasing your blood sugar and keep you feeling full longer as the protein digests over several hours.

And finally, if you feel the craving to indulge, it is best to allow yourself to have it and not restrict. Restriction and avoidance of foods can lead to a compounding craving effect that may result in a binge or episode of overeating. So, in conclusion, if you want a cookie, don’t restrict, don’t diet, don’t tell yourself no. Eat the damn cookie, enjoy it, and move on!


Strive to perform several types of movement and physical exercise throughout the week.

It is important to understand that both cardiovascular conditioning and strength training are needed to maintain the body’s healthiest composition of lean muscle, body fat, and water weight. It is recommended that you perform strength training three days per week for 20 minutes and cardiovascular conditioning 3-4 days per week for 15-45 minutes under moderate intensity.

Remember that cardiovascular conditioning will increase blood flow and increase oxygenation from the heart to the extremities and utilizes carbohydrates as the primary fuel source during periods of higher intensity.

Strength training, on the other hand, utilizes fats as the primary fuel source during low, steady state intensities. Thus, strength training can transform fat stored as energy into healthy muscle over time.


Know what your body needs to reset and reboot properly.

Getting adequate, quality sleep is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Research has shown that when people adhere to restrictive fad diets in conjunction with not sleeping well, the amount of weight lost is decreased as hormonal influences increase overeating.


Try to find your ideal stress-control regimen and avoid cortisol triggers.

Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, enhances your brain’s use of glucose and gives us quick energy to “fight-or-flight” when a dangerous situation is perceived. Unfortunately, this rise in cortisol is quickly followed by a blood sugar drop, which leaves us feeling tired, hangry (hungry and angry), craving sugar, and MORE STRESSED! Once in a low blood sugar state, cookies and donuts in the breakroom look way more appealing than the green beans, grilled chicken breast, and quinoa you brought for lunch.

Stress and cortisol reduction works with sleep, physical activity, and diet to help your body’s natural hormone cycles stay on track. If you have trouble being consistent with stress reducing practices, experiment with a different method. You don’t have to sit cross-legged breathing in and out making strange sounds. You can listen to music, take a short walk, read some inspirational quotes, or day dream about your personal wellness vision. A 5-minute break would be a great way for you to disconnect from the frantic outside world and soothe your nervous system. No matter how busy the day, you need a few moments to yourself.


The balancing act between nutrition, fitness, rest, and stress management isn’t always easy, but there are a few key things that you can do to fit them all into a busy schedule.

  • First, stay present and aware of what’s going on in your life. Schedule in times throughout the day (actually write it in, and reserve the time) for the various pillars of wellness and be realistic about what’s actually reasonable for you in terms of time and energy.
  • Short on time for movement? Think about separating your fitness sessions into small 5-minute mini-workout increments morning, noon, and night or set that wake-up alarm 15-minute earlier, skip the snooze, and bust-a-move first thing in the morning. You’ll start the day off feeling accomplished and positive.
  • Stay ahead of stress building up by practicing a simple 60-second breathing break mid-day and before you connect with your family or friends in the evening.
  • Stress management session, have on hand simple ingredients to make a balanced, wholesome meal.
  • Use commutes and transit time in the car to your advantage and connect with a friend or family member for a quick serotonin-boosting check-in.
  • Use the time waiting in line at the grocery store or post office to send a quick “hello, thinking about you and hope all is well” to someone to show them you care.
  • Come up with a wind-down routine to gain a more restful night. Maybe perform some light stretching and deep breathing while listening to mellow tunes surrounded by soothing scents of lavender.

So, the next time you’re tempted by the promises and claims of quick-fix diets, remember: it’s multiple wellness components that affect the body, and that an all-encompassing healthy lifestyle will have a much greater impact over time on your quality of life and happiness.

You’ll know you’ve found the healthy lifestyle “magic potion” if you can stick with it, and it’s helping you feel your best and achieve your overall health and wellness goals.


Contributing Writer:
Bethany Watkins
Registered Dietitian | OWNER – Happy Body RVA, LLC