Lindsay Watts, RDN
Every few years, a new fad diet lures people in and promises to transform their lives with drastic lifestyle changes. These diets often come with a long list of foods that are off limits; carbs, wheat, fruit, beans, fat, sugar, caffeine and countless others. Occasionally, they focus on a few “superfoods” that promise to boost metabolism, keep you energized, and prevent all health problems. These fads gain a lot of media attention and often contradict one another. Not surprisingly, people are confused about what they should eat to stay healthy and many doubt the food choices they make.1 Meanwhile, we know that approximately 70% of adult Americans are overweight or obese2 and that obesity-related diseases continue to rise because of an unhealthy lifestyle.3-4
Ideally, everyone would adopt an overall healthy eating and exercise pattern across their lifespan. However, this amount of change is unrealistic for most of us. People have significant barriers that prevent them from reaching the ideal eating pattern, and previous efforts to encourage big changes had limited success.5-7
How Nutrition Professionals Can Help
America did not enter the obesity crisis overnight. Over the course of years, the population’s body mass index crept higher. On average, Americans only gain 1-2 pounds per year. This equates to overeating about 15 calories each day causing weight gain.5-6 In addition, about 78% of American adults do not meet the government’s national physical activity recommendations for both aerobic activity and muscle strengthening.8
A growing body of research suggests we may have more success improving the health of Americans by promoting smaller, consistent changes. This theory suggests making small, incremental lifestyle changes over time, instead of attempting to address all behaviors in a single intervention.4-7 Advocates of this approach hypothesize that it could first prevent further weight gain, and in time, lead to a slow, sustainable weight loss.5-6
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans also promote a small steps approach by encouraging healthy shifts in eating. Shifts are small changes people can make to achieve an overall healthy diet. These shifts are adaptable and can be tailored to a person’s culture, taste preferences, and lifestyle.3,7
Go Beyond SMART Goals
Health professionals often encourage patients to set SMART health goals when trying to make a dietary change. SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound goals. This is a well-accepted approach to making lifestyle changes and a great way to start small. This year, take SMART resolutions a step beyond cutting calories or eliminating negative nutrients:
- Be Positive: Focus on positive changes you can make to nourish your mind and body. Try a new recipe each week that is rich in vegetables, go for a walk with a friend, or take a few minutes for yourself.
- Be Holistic: Health is not just about what you eat and how much you exercise. Managing stress, spending time with friends and family, and doing activities you enjoy are also important to your health and well-being. Commit to spending time doing something you enjoy 1-2 times per week like going to yoga with a friend, reading, or journaling.
- Be Kind: Making changes is not easy and takes time. Be kind to yourself as you work towards your goals. People can fall short of their goals at first, and that is ok. Treat yourself as you would a friend trying to make a positive change.
For years, health professionals encouraged small, gradual changes to improve the health of patients. The theory of small changes, however, suggests an even slower approach to improving health that starts with first preventing weight gain, then working towards weight loss. This year, focus on small, positive changes to improve physical and emotional well-being for yourself and your clients.
Lindsay’s BioLindsay is a nutrition communications analyst at the Campbell Soup Company where she coordinates health professional and consumer communications. She also works with internal and external partners on retail health and wellness programs. Prior to her role at Campbell, Lindsay worked as an in-store retail dietitian. She received her Bachelors of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics from West Chester University and completed her dietetic internship with Pennsylvania State University. Currently, Lindsay is studying for her masters of science in Health Communications and Marketing with Boston University.
- 2017 Food and Health Survey. International Food Information Council Foundation. Published May 2017. Accessed May 2017. Available at: http://www.foodinsight.org/2017-food-and-health-survey
- FastStats. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Center for Health Statistics. Obesity and Overweight. Published June 2016. Accessed May 2017. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/obesity-overweight.htm
- US Department of Health and Human Services and US Department of Agriculture. 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Shifts Needed to Align with Healthy Eating Patterns. January 2016. https:// health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/chapter-2/. Accessed May 2017.
- Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Interventions for the Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Adults. J Acad Nutri Diet. 2016/116:129-147. Accessed May 2017.
- Hill Jo, Wyatt HR, Reed GW, Peters JC. Obesity and the environment; where do we go from here? Science 2003;299:853-5. Accessed June 2017.
- Hill Jo. Can a small-changes approach help address the obesity epidemic? A report of the Joint Task Force of the American Society for Nutrition, Institute of Food Technologists, and International Food Information Council. Am. J Cin Nutr. 2009;89(2):477-484.
- Exercise or Physical Activity. National Center for Health Statistics. Centers for Diseas Control and Prevention. Accessed December 4, 2017. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/exercise.htm
- Rahvi, E and Psota, Tricia L. Use MyPlate, MyWins—A Small- Steps Approach—to Set Realistic Solutions for the New Year. J Aad Nut. Diet. 2017;116(1):129-147, Accessed June 2017.