New year, new you - December 27, 2019

Courtesy of The Times of Northwest Indiana

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With Christmas in the rear-view mirror, many of us look at the beginning of a new year as a time of analyzing what went well and what we want to change.

For many, changes include a better diet and exercise program. It’s understandable, especially after the holiday buffets and sweets that seem to be at every turn. The clinical nutrition team at Methodist Hospitals answered questions about approaching the new year with a commitment to healthy eating and exercise.

The team consists of Krystina Smack, Caitlin Iwema, Gina Cha and Amanda Ahlenius. All are registered dieticians, and Smack is the clinical nutrition manager at Methodist. Mitchell Steuer is an exercise specialist in Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation at Methodist, and contributed commentary on exercise.

Times: What’s the best way to start exercising? What’s the best exercise for your overall health, and to lose weight?

Clinical nutrition team: Start out slow and increase as your body becomes used to exercising. If you currently do not exercise at all, even adding a 30-minute walk five days a week will be beneficial to your health. Signing up for a local gym or fitness class membership can help motivate you to exercise more. Group exercise classes can provide encouragement from peers and coaches.

Don’t forget to stretch to protect yourself from injuries.

For weight loss, it is best to do both aerobic activity and muscle-strength training. This will promote building lean muscle and getting rid of excess fat.

Steuer: Try exercises that you may be interested in and see how you feel while you do that specific exercise. Research shows people stick with what they enjoy. Start easy with the talk test. Walk or jog at a pace that you can have a conversation with someone. If you’re so short of breath that you can’t talk, you’re starting too quick. Keep a pace where you can have a conversation with a walking partner.

Regarding what’s best, any exercise that keeps your interest and that you can keep up as a routine is a winner. Swimming is a great full body exercise, if you have access to a local pool. It’s low impact and easy on your joints, and it’s great for all age groups.

For weight loss, a combination of resistance training (weightlifting) and aerobic exercise (walking, jogging, biking, rowing, swimming) is optimal. But remember to start slow and gradually add on.

Times: What is a realistic healthy eating diet? How do you begin?

TEAM: Healthy eating is eating a well-balanced diet with lean proteins, whole grains, fruits and plenty of vegetables. Reading food labels and paying attention to portion sizes can be helpful for eating a healthy diet.

There are many calorie counting apps that can be used to help track your intake. You can enter your age, gender, weight, height and activity level. The app helps give a calorie range of what you should eat in a day. Even doing this for a few days can be eye opening to show an overview of what you may consume too little or too much of in a day.

Times: Is weight loss different than eating healthy? What is optimal?

Team: A weight loss diet should not be any different than eating healthy. You can eat six times per day if you plan what to eat. It’s important to plan meals ahead of time. Snacking can be part of your plan. Cooking methods that cut calories include: Cook without adding fat (bake, broil, roast, boil). Use nonstick cooking sprays instead of butter or oil; You can also use wine, broth or fruit juice instead of oil when cooking. Use low-calorie foods instead of high-calorie ones when possible.

Pay attention to your body. When you feel like you have had enough to eat, stop. Quit before you feel full, stuffed or sick from eating. You can have more if you are hungry. If you still feel hungry or unsatisfied after a meal or snack, wait at least 10 minutes before you have more food. Often, the craving will go away.

Drink plenty of calorie-free drinks (water, tea, coffee, diet soda). You may be thirsty, not hungry.

Pick lean meats, low-fat or nonfat cheese, and fat-free (skim) or low-fat (1%) milk instead of higher-fat/higher-calorie choices. Get plenty of fiber. Vegetables, fruits, and whole grains are good sources. Have a high-fiber cereal every day.

Cut back on sugar. For example, drink less fruit juice and regular soda. Limit the amount of alcohol (beer, wine, and liquor) that you drink.

Keep all food in the kitchen. Eat only in a chosen place, such as at the table. Don’t eat in the car or the bedroom or in front of the TV.

A healthy balance of carbohydrates is needed for energy. Talk with a dietitian first to see if you need to restrict or omit carbohydrates from your diet.

Weight loss diets should be individualized; diets found on the internet are not ideal. If you need/want to lose weight, talk with a dietitian to get your personalized plan.

Times: For weight loss – how do you determine if you need medical help?

Team: Weight loss is usually self-monitored and done through intentional purposes. However, if weight loss is unintentional, or presents itself with other symptoms (such as increased thirst or loss of appetite), a health care professional should be seen. Unintentional weight loss can be a symptom diabetes, cancer and other diseases. Self-motivated, purposeful weight loss should be done slowly and not done through extreme diets, as this can cause unwanted stress on the body and can result in more disadvantages than benefits.

Times: How much does stress play a role in a healthy lifestyle? What are the best ways to handle stress?

Team: Eating to deal with feelings other than hunger, such as stress, can lead to eating more junk food or making unhealthy food choices. If you eat due to being stressed, here are some other things you can try: Call a friend for support; use inspirational quotes to help you avoid the temptation to eat; take a warm bath or shower; listen to music or a relaxation CD; take a walk; try activities that keep you from eating.

Times: What other lifestyle changes can help with the goals of diet, exercise and weight loss?

Team: Getting involved in a support group can be a wonderful way to commit to goals related to diet, exercise and weight loss! When these changes are attempted alone (without a support system), they usually don’t “stick.” Asking a friend to check in on you every week, starting an exercise routine with your partner, or speaking to a dietitian on a regular basis to meet weight loss goals will create a more successful outcome for you.

Times: What should you watch out for — what undermines most people?

Team: We often expect instant results when we start on a new diet or exercise regimen. It is easy to become discouraged when we don’t see big changes in numbers on the scale. Remember that healthy weight loss is losing one to two pounds each week. It is best to make changes in diet and exercise that are sustainable in order to achieve long term results. Be patient and do not give up!