March is National Nutrition Month® and is a great time to take a look at your meal plan. Maybe your New Year’s resolution to eat healthier didn’t quite pan out as you hoped, or maybe you’re ready to spring clean your diet. If you’ve done even a little research you’ve likely found a plethora of nutrition advice available online, in magazines, and through well-meaning friends. The trouble is this can make it all too easy to choose a diet that may be, at best, ineffective or, at worst, dangerous. That’s why I turned to registered dietitian and nutrition expert for TOPS Dena McDowell. Dena shared with me her top three tips to consider before choosing a meal plan.
- Meet with an expert! A registered dietitian is the nutrition expert who can help you sift through the media’s diet claims and provide education and meal planning that is right for you. This person will help recommend the appropriate calorie level, meal plan and exercise to help promote weight loss based on your personal experiences and health history. Dietitians can also help teach behavior modification and encourage lifestyle changes to help you achieve overall health goals. Before starting any meal plan, you should check with a local registered dietitian to make sure that what you are doing is safe for your health.
- Keep it simple (and balanced). If the diet that you’re considering has numerous rules of food to include or avoid, that should be a red flag. A healthy meal plan should not exclude foods or food groups*. By doing so, you’re missing out on key vitamins and minerals essential to maintaining overall health. This may cause nutrient deficiencies in the long term.
- Don’t forget about portion control. If the diet says you can eat unlimited foods every day or certain days, you should question the rationale and long-term effectiveness of this type of meal plan. Meal plans that allow “cheat days” or unlimited portions of foods do not teach the behavior modification needed to see lasting weight loss. The only exception to this rule is unlimited portions of vegetables. If you see a meal plan that is balanced in food groups and says you can eat unlimited portions of vegetables, then I say go for it! This is a great choice to help weight loss as well as improve overall health.
*Everyone is unique and no one meal plan will work for all. If you’re abstaining from animal products or other food groups for health, religious or ethical reasons, we respect that and wish you well on your journey to health. This is meant to be more of a caution against choosing fad diets that exclude groups of foods. As always, check with your doctor or a registered dietitian for the plan that’s best for you and your unique needs.