As we approach the upcoming “New Year’s season,” I feel my apprehension regarding all the magazine articles, social media posts, and talk about resolutions and diets. Far too many people approach New Year’s resolutions and intentions from a negative place, and I don’t think that’s healthy.
Whether you are a cancer survivor or someone caring for a person who is, it’s in your best interest to focus your mental energy on positive lifestyle choices rather than focusing on the things you should avoid (which is the usual approach to a New Year’s resolution). Patients with cancer and cancer survivors know firsthand that it’s not worth it to waste your time and energy on negativity and feelings of guilt.
As a dietitian, I know the difference it can make when your body is well-nourished. However, many diets and popular food rules often leave people inadequately or under-nourished. In addition, we all know what happens when people don’t get enough to eat. They become hangry (hungry + angry), and they are no fun to be around.
When we follow lists of foods to avoid, or things to “never eat,” we completely miss the point about healthy eating. For nutritious eating, our focus should be on providing our body what it needs to function, while also allowing ourselves to enjoy the tastes of amazing and delicious foods.
With a more positive approach to nutrition and eating, we should focus our intentions on including enough of the most nourishing foods. What are the things our bodies need the most? Plants!
Eating plenty of plants does not necessarily mean that you completely avoid meat. It’s not the absence of meat that makes a diet healthy. Rather, what makes most vegetarian or a vegan diet healthy is the presence of a lot of plant nutrients (which are called “phytonutrients”).
My recommendation for cancer survivors is to aim for at least 4 cups of fruits plus vegetables daily, and include plant proteins (beans, nuts, seeds) at least once a day. This could be in raw, cooked, or blended form. It’s not necessary that they be organic. What’s most important is that you find the fruits and veggies that you like and eat them.
A “tracking” method and the “plate guide” are 2 tools that I often recommend to people I counsel when they are trying to increase their fruit and vegetable intake. A tracking tool can be used for the short-term to track the fruits and vegetables that you eat for a week. Think of it like a fruit and vegetable audit.
By keeping track of how many fruits and vegetables you actually eat, you will find out what your habits are regarding these foods. Many people I counsel are surprised to find that they don’t eat fruits and vegetables as often as they think!
The plate guide (Figure) is a great tool for helping guide your food choices in a nourishing way. It’s as simple as making sure that fruits and veggies fill at least half of your plate. Sometimes simply changing the ratio of foods on the plate can make a big difference.
Instead of 2 pieces of chicken, a large pile of rice, and a small portion of green beans, switch that order so that you have green beans on half of the plate, a small piece of chicken, and a quarter of the plate for rice. Have a piece of fruit on the side, and you’re well on your way to your fruit and veggie goal!
Another great place to start with New Year’s intentions is to use some basic mindful eating techniques. At its core, mindful eating is about the following 3 simple principles:
- Pay attention to your hunger levels. Before you eat, take a few deep breaths, ask yourself how hungry you are, and what you are hungry for.
- Taste and enjoy the foods you eat. Slow down, chew your food thoroughly, and savor each bite for the taste and pleasure of eating it.
- Pay attention to when your body has had enough, and stop eating when you are satisfied (but not “stuffed” full). It’s not necessary to belong to the “clean your plate club.”
Our bodies are designed to tell us how much to eat—no calorie counting required. Calories are simply a measure of how much energy is in our food. This energy is necessary for our body to function. Therefore, calories are not bad. All of us need more calories some days, and less calories other days.
Becoming more tuned in to our body’s need for food—what kind and how much of it—is something that many people would benefit from. A great tool for learning more about this is the book Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works, by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch.
Of course, moving your body is something we know most people need to do more. The best type of physical activity for you is the kind you enjoy! Make it walking, dancing, yoga, fitness classes, or doing yard work. This is as simple as getting going and limiting the amount of time you spend sitting still.
Many businesses use the New Year to sell you a product or a service, by making you feel guilty. I encourage you to avoid those negative messages and instead focus on providing your body with nourishment and movement that keep it strong, so you can enjoy doing the things you love, and spending time with the people you love.
Happy New Year to All!
About the Author
Ms. Lanford is a registered dietitian, licensed nutritionist, and board-certified specialist in oncology nutrition who has been working with patients with cancer for more than 10 years. She developed www.cancerdietitian.com to provide evidence-based nutrition guidelines in a simple, consumer-friendly way