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Health & Fitness

Ask a Dietitian: Navigating Weight Loss

There's more to it than counting calories.
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Ask a Dietitian: Navigating Weight Loss

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Navigating labels and digging through the latest health trends can get confusing–and fast. That’s why we’re talking with Dallas nutritionists, dietitians, and other health professionals to make sense of it, topic by topic. Between counting calories, running miles, and eating kale, weight loss can be hard to grasp. Amy Valle, dietitian/owner at Bloom & Zest and dietitian at The Renfrew Center, offers a new perspective on a topic that’s often talked about but rarely understood.  For someone who is newly embarking on a weight loss/health journey, what are the three best tips you could give them? Tip # 1: Work With Your Body In our culture, it’s pretty common to fall into the trap of wanting to be healthy and have that validated by the number trending down on the scale. People tend to start focusing on all the “health” rules instead of actually getting in touch with their own bodies. There is no diet or set of rules out there that knows your body better than you. How would they know your metabolic rate? Or your food cravings? Or your hunger signals? It’s totally an individual experience. Learn how to be more in touch. Pay attention to when you’re hungry, when you’re full, and what foods sound good. It may seem a little oversimplified, but this really goes a long way. When you ignore your own body cues, you’re setting yourself up to feel deprived, slow down your metabolic rate, and create a negative relationship with food. Just don’t do it.

There is no diet or set of rules out there that knows your body better than you. … It’s totally an individual experience. Learn how to be more in touch.

Tip #2: Eat Mindfully Put some thought into what and how you are eating. It’s worth your time. No food needs to be off-limits. (This only leads to feeling deprived of these foods and makes them even more enticing than they were beforehand.) But it’s definitely helpful to balance out nutrients and food groups. Think past the impulse of just eating something because it’s around. Give some thought to how you’re going to feel in, say, 30 minutes to an hour. Are you going to feel sick for the rest of the night? Hungry 30 minutes later? Why do that to yourself? A good rule of the thumb is to make sure you have a balance of protein, carbohydrate, and fat at each meal. These are the three macronutrients that provide us with energy, and they all digest a little differently. When eaten in harmony, they are quite the dream team, as they work together to help you stay full, energized, and satisfied. Carbohydrates provide quick energy while protein and fat digest slower and last longer. Overeating often occurs when we aren’t taking the time to put together a balanced meal or savoring the eating process in general. Get off your phone. Taste your food. Experience it. If you’re constantly distracted while eating, it will be harder to feel satisfied by it, and you may keep eating past fullness in search of that satisfaction. Tip #3: Slow and Steady Wins the Race You’ve got to start small. Resist the temptation to hit the ground running with health goals. I get it. I don’t like to half-ass anything either. But when we go full force, we are a lot less likely to maintain these dramatic changes in eating and/or exercise. The honeymoon phase wears off, and we fall back into old patterns. Start small and build on that. First goals might be to simply start writing down your food intake and observing your behaviors and patterns. Maybe it’s incorporating a fresh vegetable at dinner every night, or going for a 30-minute walk a few nights per week. This is a huge part of my job. It’s not educating people on the science behind nutrition. It’s helping people problem-solve and set attainable goals that make sense for them. What are the foods that best promote weight loss and health in general? At the end of the day, the most important thing you can learn how to do is eat balanced meals, listen to your body, and move your body. I know it’s not as sexy, but it’s the truth. It’s kind of funny—most dietitians (who, mind you, have the most education around nutritional science) will never support a magic pill or food. Usually the people who do are trying to sell a product or are just uneducated. What are your favorite ways to encourage drinking more water? Honestly? Just buy a really cool water bottle. Nothing will make you want to drink more water than that. What advice would you give someone who has always had a mindset of weight loss versus achieving total health?  Always, always go with your health. The weight will follow in the direction that’s healthy for you in time. If the focus is put on weight loss, it’s easy to only concentrate on calories and eating less instead of what’s actually healthy for your body. Taking care of your body becomes less important and making it smaller becomes the priority. It’s pretty messed up if you think about it. It’s also helpful to think about your intentions behind wanting to lose weight. Is it actually for health? Or is it to feel more confident? Attractive? Liked? Accepted? Strong? Weight loss won’t give you that. Sometimes focusing on your weight is masking a bigger issue in yourself. It’s worth reflection. Amy Valle is a registered dietitian with Bloom & Zest and The Renfrew Center, specializing in eating disorders and compulsive overeating.