New Year Diet Plan a Bust? Tips to Get Back on Track

Northwestern Medicine
Health and Wellness January 24, 2022
A few weeks into the new year, has your diet resolution already gone off the rails? Lela Iliopoulos, MS, RDN, nutrition manager at Northwestern Medicine Palos Hospital, offers some tips to get your healthy eating plan back on track.

Her No. 1 piece of advice is focus on your health, not your weight. Aim for a balanced diet with plant-based foods that make you feel full and satisfied, and you will naturally consume fewer calories.

“Don’t get too hung up on calorie or carb counting,” said Iliopoulos. “Instead, focus on quality foods and how food fuels your body. Reflect on how certain foods make you feel — physically, mentally and emotionally.”

Iliopoulos recommends a foundation of whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Limit meat, processed foods, added sugar, sodium and refined carbohydrates.

Choose Color

If your planned diet is too rigid, it may be hard to follow. An easy way to increase vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants is to choose colorful foods. Colorful fruits and vegetables contain phytonutrients that help ward off chronic diseases.

Each color provides a unique benefit, so mix up your colors and ensure you are getting some red, green, orange, yellow, blue and purple foods.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends vegetables and fruits should fill about half of your plate. A half cup of chopped raw vegetables makes up one serving, so try to have at least two servings in each meal. Squeeze some extra color into your day by grabbing fruit or raw vegetables as a snack.

Olive Oil

While eating all those vegetables, avoid heavy dressings, and make them more appetizing with a splash of olive oil.

“I usually dress all my vegetables with extra virgin olive oil and, when appropriate, fresh lemon,” says Iliopoulos. “It enhances the taste of any vegetable and also increases the absorption of antioxidants and other phytochemicals present in the vegetable.”

Iliopoulos suggests incorporating olive oil into meals and using it in place of other oils and butter in baking recipes.

Go Nuts

Nuts contain fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that contribute to good health and suppress inflammation. Nuts containing omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial; walnuts contain the most.

Eat nuts as a snack instead of chips or pretzels. Add nuts to your oatmeal, sprinkle them on yogurt or salads, and incorporate them into your own plant-based burgers and meatballs.

Anti-inflammatory Diet

If you need a more structured plan, Iliopoulos says an anti-inflammatory diet incorporates many of these strategies. In general, this type of diet is built around whole foods and is predominantly plant-based, limiting red meat, eggs and dairy.

“We need inflammation to protect us from pathogens, cells that cause cancer, and for our immune system to function properly. However, an imbalance with too much inflammation is bad and causes chronic disease,” says Iliopoulos.

An anti-inflammatory diet is low in saturated fats, refined carbohydrates, added sugars, sweetened beverages and processed foods. It is made up predominantly of vegetables, fruit, beans, lentils, whole grains, nuts, seeds and water for hydration.

Food that are rich in omega-3s and monounsaturated fats are considered anti-inflammatory. These include olive oil, fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines), avocado, nuts and seeds.

Develop Healthy Patterns

“Know that the benefits of eating healthy begin immediately, even with a single meal, and the benefits accumulate over time. There are immediate immunologic responses that occur,” says Iliopoulos.

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