Over the last nine years of practicing as a registered dietitian, I’ve helped hundreds of people in Philadelphia. I’ve been trusted with their hopes, and their personal stories; I’ve watched as they have both struggled and overcame. But in time, they have also gifted me with a keen understanding of what it truly means to lead a “healthy” lifestyle. Here are the five key takeaways I’ve learned.
1. Start where you’re at – not where you aspire to be.
All of us have goals, but we need to start from our current condition, not the one we hope to attain. You wouldn’t sign up for a marathon without first running a 5k. Your goals are within reach if you first acknowledge where you are. Life is not an Instagram feed and we’re not competing for “likes.” Try to be better than your baseline – not someone else’s. If you accept where you are, define where you want to be, and make intentional choices with your goals in mind, you will succeed.
2. Our relationship with food is multi-dimensional.
It’s not enough to look at our diet in order to determine what is necessary to lead a healthy life. In fact, our issues with food are very rarely issues about food. Rather, our relationship with food is based on a multitude of factors – everything from childhood trauma and personal experiences, to diagnosed illnesses, prescription medication, and self-esteem. Over the years, I have learned the importance in taking a holistic approach to health — spiritual, mental, and physical — for every client. Our overall health is made up of more than just what’s on our dinner plate.
3. Science-backed evidence is best.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could take a magic pill for better health? Unfortunately, no such thing exists. In 2015, Americans spent $2 billion on dietary supplements for weight loss and $2.6 billion on pills promoting muscle growth. Not only are these supplements ineffective and not medically recommended, but they have also been shown to pose serious health risks. Before taking any supplement you should speak with your doctor or dietitian to ensure that you need it, and that it has been investigated and supported by peer-reviewed scientific literature. Forget the pills and focus on changing your behaviors by creating boundaries. Behavioral nudges, such as using small plates for calorie-dense items and large plates for more nourishing meals, have been proven to reduce caloric intake by more than 200 calories per day.
4. You can have it all – just not all at once.
You’ve heard it countless times: moderation, moderation, moderation. And while it may seem a bit of a cliché, it holds true. Life is all about balance. Balancing a healthy diet with exercise; balancing shopping with spending money; balancing working with spending time with family and friends. That’s why a good registered dietitian understands that it’s not always about eliminating things from your diet. For instance, instead of having both a kombucha and an almond matcha latte in a day, choose one. Sometimes it’s about swapping one thing for another or simply minding your BLTs: bites, licks, and tastes.
5. Food – and life – is meant to be enjoyed.
Taking charge of your diet is extremely important to leading a healthy, balanced lifestyle. However, it’s not the only thing. You should never shy away from spending quality time with friends and family, simply because you don’t want to eat a slice of Lorenzo’s Pizza (yum!) at a Sixers game. It all comes back to balance. Guilt should never be associated with eating a favorite food or you will always land yourself in a tug of war on whether you are allowed to enjoy that food or have to feel guilty for eating it. I personally never feel guilty eating a Salted Caramel Budino when enjoying a meal at Barbuzzo with friends. Instead of avoiding certain social situations while trying to be mindful about your nutrition, try playing “food favoritism” so you can truly enjoy your indulgences. You deserve it.
There is so much I have learned over the past decade as a practicing registered dietitian – much more than what’s on the pages of any of the books I’ve read. Diets are never one size fits all. Neither are registered dietitians. It’s up to the client to find who’s best for them. Registered dietitians invoke different styles, different ways of doing things, and have different beliefs. However, one thing remains the same for each of us: we genuinely want to help others lead healthy, happy lives.
Theresa Shank is a Philadelphia based registered dietitian and the founder of Philly Dietitian.