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Want To Feel Better About Your Weight? It’s About Balance and Lifestyle, Our Dietitians Say

Couple cooks a healthy meal to support their weight loss diet

If you’ve ever googled something like, “How to improve my diet,” or “What are the healthiest foods to eat?” then you already understand that food and nutrition play significant roles in determining the quality of our overall health.

But how do we make changes to our diets that can truly enhance our lives? It’s certainly not easy, with fatty fast food, salty snacks and processed sugars readily available. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to eat healthier.

“It is important to know that a weight loss of even 10 percent can significantly reduce your risk of developing chronic health problems even if you don’t get to a so-called ‘healthy’ Body Mass Index (BMI),” said Serena Biondi, MS, RD, Smilow Cancer Hospital in Waterford. “This is why it’s important to speak with your healthcare team about small changes you can start making now.”

How to lose weight in a healthy way

Across YNHHS, licensed dietitians like Biondi are working with patients to leverage the benefits of healthy eating to improve their medical conditions. Their advice and guidance goes beyond any cookie-cutter diet advice found online, and much of the education they provide is also relevant and transferrable to the lives of those without chronic conditions.

“We always start with an assessment, and it’s pretty comprehensive,” said Wendy Cartier, RD, a clinical dietitian who specializes in helping patients in the health system’s Bariatric (Weight Loss) Surgery program. Cartier also works with patients with fatty liver disease, and she coaches patients in a variety of other weight-loss programs.

“We ask about a lot of things,” Cartier said. “Our entire team respects that every person is unique, so we take time to get to know each individual. We start with a weight history. We discuss any previous diets or weight-loss attempts; what worked and what didn’t. We discuss lifestyle factors. For example, are you doing your own cooking? Does someone else cook for you? How often do you eat out? Are you drinking a lot of alcohol? What does your physical activity look like? It’s very comprehensive.”

If the questions seem personal, that’s because the dietitians have their patients’ best interests at heart. “The biggest misconception is that a dietitian is going to judge someone,” Biondi said. “Perfection isn't going to get you where you need to go because that's not what life's about.

“Focusing on balance rather than perfection can get a lot of people moving in the right direction,” Biondi continued. “Working with a dietitian can help because we can make sure that a goal is sustainable. We also start with short goals versus massive long-term goals. Dietitians have lots of tools in their toolboxes, and when something doesn't work, we can always find another way for people to meet their goals.”

Establishing healthy eating habits

For example, a first step could involve discussing eating habits, such as slowing down at meals or identifying emotional triggers that lead to overeating. A dietitian also may discuss stress management, exercise, sleep quality and establishing support from loved ones.

“It’s important to measure success based on more than just someone's weight goal,” Biondi said. “How someone feels and the habits they are improving are going to be more important in the long term.”

Of course, there are also themes that most people can work on, the dietitians say. “A common pitfall is people skipping meals and then eating larger portions when they finally do eat,” Cartier said. “Sometimes, just the balance of their diet needs adjusting. Someone might be eating too much protein and not enough fruits and vegetables, or they’re eating a lot of fruits and carbohydrates but they’re not getting enough protein. Again, a big factor for most people is finding balance. Most of us can improve the balance in the foods we eat.”

That balance includes adequate protein, fiber, hydration and eating on a schedule that works well for an individual’s lifestyle. “As dietitians,” Cartier said, “we know that everyone’s situation is different, so we try to help find what works for them. That’s what’s different about working with a dietitian – we’re helping people put good habits into practice based on their lifestyle.”

At the end of the day, Cartier said, “It’s really nice to give people a path they can follow, one that they feel good about – that’s very gratifying. There’s a lot of stress associated with weight and food, and some people give up because they feel they’ll never reach their ‘ideal’ weight, so why try. I’ve had a lot of people come into my office with their arms crossed. They’re nervous about the interaction. But by the end, you can see that they’re a lot more comfortable, they’re engaged, and you can see that they feel hopeful about next steps. That transition is really great to see. Working with people toward their long-term goals is really gratifying.”