A Simple Strategy for Healthy Eating

May 6, 2020

Every March, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics celebrates National Nutrition Month. Blanca Villarreal, RD, LD, is a Bariatric Coordinator and Registered Dietitian at the Weight Loss and Wellness Center at Doctors Hospital. She was especially enthusiastic about this year’s theme – “Eat Right, Bite by Bite” – because it supports the philosophy that every little bit (or bite!) can be a step in the right direction. Below, Villarreal provides a simple strategy for healthy eating.

Find the Right Plan

“Right now, U.S. News & World Report ranks the Mediterranean diet as the healthiest diet with the DASH diet number two,” Villarreal says. The Mediterranean diet in a nutshell? Beef once a month, fish and chicken once a week, with the bulk of your diet coming from plants, legumes, whole grains and nuts.

Customize the Plan to Work for You

Villarreal emphasizes that for a plan to work it has to be individualized. Part of her role is carefully customizing the plan to the patient. “Every person has to follow what is realistic for them,” she says. “I take into consideration their tastes, time, prep, availability, budget and family.”

Help Kids Make Healthy Choices

“You want to compromise with children,” she advises. “You don’t want a constant struggle to change their entire way of eating.” Villarreal suggests you allow a requested sweet after they’ve had something healthier or been active. “You may have to do that 30 times or more in order to reinforce that positive behavior.”

Small Changes Can Make a Big Difference

“’Bite by bite’ is how you make this realistic,” Villarreal says. “Just focus on your next meal being healthy, then you don’t have to confront a complete change. Your mind has enough motivation for that one meal.” The same goes for exercise. “Begin with small changes. Go around the block or walk to a nearby park. Over time, you can build on those changes.”

Journaling and Finding Support Are Keys to Success

Consider joining a program that offers social support. “This helps keep you accountable,” she says. Monthly appointments with a Registered Dietitian can do the same. Villarreal adds that journaling brings awareness to slip-ups and makes you more thoughtful about what you are eating.

Eat Slowly

“It takes about 20 minutes to register a feeling of fullness,” Villarreal says. “When you eat too quickly you’re likely to end up eating more.”

Make Smart Choices When Eating Out

Finally, Villarreal suggest that going to restaurants can still be part of your healthy eating plan, you just need to be prepared. “I encourage patients to go online and check the calorie counts at favorite restaurants,” she says. “Find the healthiest options and stick to those. You don’t even have to open the menu.”

For a decade, Villarreal has been helping people make better nutrition choices to live healthier lives. Her education and experience have taught her that finding a plan that works for you, customizing it to fit your needs, and starting with small, manageable steps are the keys to success. “There are no shortcuts,” she says. “Follow that ‘bite by bite’ concept and move in the direction of your goals.”