A dietitian’s step-by-step guide to eating well

It might be your favourite pair of jeans that suddenly feels tight or a gnawing awareness your energy levels are low. For each of us, realizing our eating habits are spiraling out of control can come in a myriad of ways.

Calgary Foothills PCN registered dietitian Andrea Kroeker says these are perfect moments to take stock and review the basics of healthy eating. But first, a word of warning. “It is important to take things slowly and make small changes that gradually move you in the right direction,” Andrea says. “Small behavior change, rather than a diet or radical action, helps you sustain a healthy weight longer term.”

1.       Get started with regular meals

Eating at least three well-spaced meals a day is essential before you start worrying about portion sizes or anything else. “It is ideal to eat three meals a day with one to two snacks in between if needed,” Andrea says. “Regular meals help you control the size of your portions and prevent overeating at your next meal,” she says. Spacing meals a maximum of four to six hours apart also helps you avoid dips in energy and the sluggish feeling low blood sugars bring.

2.       Get smaller plates

Once you are eating regular meals, it is time to take a good hard look at your plate. Actually, take out your tape measure. Average dinner plates are 10 to 12 inches in diameter, but it is easier to achieve a healthy balanced plate if you replace them with 8- to 9-inch plates. Remember those small plates that come with your dinner set? Those are closer to the size you need. “A larger plate is a visual cue to fill it up and then portion size and calorie intake rise,” Andrea says.

3.       A healthy, balanced lunch and dinner plate

The best way to ensure a good balance is to fill half of your plate with vegetables of at least two kinds at both lunch and dinner. Fill a quarter of your plate with whole grains (potato, whole wheat bread, brown rice) and the remaining quarter with meat or meat alternatives (lean meat, chicken or lentils). Because vegetables are low in calories—1 cup of broccoli yields only 31 calories—they give you a big boost of fibre, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, while keeping your calorie intake down.

4.       Try to eat three to four food groups at each meal

Andrea recommends you round lunch and dinner off with a piece of fruit and milk or a milk alternative, such as yogurt. Or save the milk and fruit for a snack in-between meals. The aim is to eat three to four food groups—vegetables and fruit, grain products, meat and alternatives and milk and alternatives—at each meal.

5.       Eat well-balanced portions of each different food group

Eating too much meat, meat alternatives and grain products and eating too few vegetables are the most common meal-time mistakes that lead to unwanted weight gain, Andrea says. The Handy Portion guide below illustrates an easy way to estimate healthy portion sizes. “People most often struggle to accept the smaller portion sizes and the need to add way more fruit and vegetables,” Andrea says. “But if you are eating a 9-ounce steak each night, don’t suddenly switch it for a 3-ounce steak. Aim to reduce the portion size gradually.”

6.       Healthy Breakfast and Snacks

What does a healthy, balanced breakfast look like? A bowl of high fibre, low-sugar cereal with low-fat milk and fruit or two pieces of whole grain toast with peanut butter and a banana are great examples. Ideas for breakfast include a quarter of a plate of grain products, vegetables or fruit. For protein, add milk or milk alternatives, yogurt, eggs, nut butters or a serving of meat and alternatives. For snacks, Andrea’s favourites include a cheese string with an apple or yogurt and berries.

7.       Take it slowly

Try to eat slowly. Take 20 minutes to eat each meal so you have time to realize your stomach is full. Eat protein and whole grains at each meal to help your stomach feel full for longer. “People are often surprised they don’t feel hungry when they eat healthy, nutritious food, when the portion sizes are smaller and they are eating more frequently,” Andrea says.

You may be able to access a registered dietitian through your doctor’s clinicm just ask. To find out more about joining a group class to ask your nutrition questions, see our Ask a Dietitian program.