“Food is a constant in our lives,” says Reshaunda Thornton. She’d know: As a dietitian, she’s constantly helping people navigate their relationships with it. As part of her business, Better Vessel Nutrition, she consults with clients about ways to make sustainable changes. “Food is at every point in our lives,” she says. “Every time there’s a celebration, every time there’s a vacation. When good things happen, and when bad things happen: a death or a divorce; the highs and lows.” Over the years, she’s collected a few rules of thumb, many shared in her book, Play to Win the Food Fight. Although each client she meets is unique, she says, there are some basic tips that everyone can use.
1. Your goal and plan of action have to fit you. Though she admits that a dietitian’s role is primarily to teach clients, Thornton has found that just educating others isn’t always enough to help “people make the move forward.” It’s not just telling clients what they should eat, she’s learned; it’s telling them to do it in a way that fits their personality and lifestyle.
2. Understand why you need to make changes. “We know the difference between an apple and a doughnut,” Thornton says, “but for some reason, we’re not choosing that apple more than a doughnut.” Take a moment, she tells clients, and reflect on why—then think about how a healthy decision might be more beneficial.
3. It’s all about how you feel about food. “Every person that you ask, someone has tried at least three different diets in their lifetime,” says Thornton, who emphasizes self-love and a healthy relationship with food. When diets don’t work, many people are left with a sense of defeat. “They’re feeling failure and are continuously struggling emotionally with body image,” she says. “Their relationship with food becomes sour. It’s this cycle.”
4. Your consistency must be life-proof. Between vacations, holidays, and the unexpected, people drop the ball. Then old habits and patterns return. “Life is always going to come with ups and downs,” she says. “If you let [good] food [habits] fall apart every single time, you’re always going to be going back and forth like a yo-yo.”
5. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store. It’s the oldest trick in the dietitian’s handbook, and Thornton stands by it: “I call it strategy shopping. On the perimeter, everything is fresh; there aren’t any preservatives. If you can pull it, grow it, or kill it, in my opinion, that’s unprocessed food.” While shopping, pick up these healthy snacks: fruit, nuts, pretzels or popcorn, and string cheese.
6. Look for a guilty food alternative. Have a guilty pleasure? Figure out what you like about it, then look for it in a healthier form. Soda drinkers often just like carbonation, so she points those clients to sparkling water. Like the sweet taste? Try adding a flavor to your water.
7. Don’t quit cold turkey. Instead, see where you can add and subtract. For example, rather than having a chocolate bar or brownie, switch it out for a breakfast bar or trail mix a couple times a week. “Transition by having it less and less often,” she says. “Over time, you might find yourself saying, ‘You know what? That brownie really isn’t all that good. I’d prefer to have this instead.’”
A Balanced Diet
Many women suffer from nutritional deficiencies, and though supplements are great, Thornton recommends adding these foods to your plate:
Vitamin D · Dairy products · Eggs (yolks) · Salmon · Cheese
Calcium · Dairy products · Low-fat cheese · Fruit (for those who are lactose intolerant) · Fortified foods (mostly grain based) · Soy products, such as tofu and edamame · Almonds
Iron · Dark-leafy green vegetables such as spinach or kale · Beans · Dried fruits, especially strawberries