Eating healthier: Be kind to yourself when making diet changes

This story was originally published in the Winter 2022 edition of Providence St. Mary Medical Health Matters.


In this article:

  • Providence St. Mary Medical dietetic intern, Alyssa Skinner, and clinical nutrition manager, Amanda Fenn, discuss how to best achieve healthy eating goals.

  • The USDA’s MyPlate, version of the food pyramid, remains the best model to easily create balanced meals.

  • Amanda Fenn touches on her opinions of popular diets, such as Keto and intermittent fasting.

It’s that time of year when people often think about adopting healthier eating habits. It’s important, however, that you don’t look at your daily food intake as a “diet.” Rather, if you do decide to make changes, adopt realistic expectations that fit your personal lifestyle and eating preferences. We spoke with Alyssa Skinner, dietetic intern at Providence St. Mary Medical Center, and Amanda Fenn, the hospital’s clinical nutrition manager, about how best to achieve your healthy eating goals.

Reaping benefits by making small changes

Can you offer a big-picture idea to help people improve their diets?

Many people are looking for quick results and often take an all-or-nothing approach. Try to think more incrementally and celebrate the little changes, like remembering to add a cup of vegetables to a meal.

What foods make for a balanced meal?

We recommend following MyPlate, the USDA’s updated version of the food pyramid, breaking down the main groups to easily create a balanced meal. There are five categories: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy. Try your best to structure every meal so it’s similar to the proportions illustrated.

We’ve all heard the expression “everything in moderation.” How important is that?

People tend to be too strict with themselves. Allow yourself to have a reasonable portion of what you want. If you have a healthy, well-balanced diet, no one food should be off-limits. You can occasionally have that doughnut.

How can we practice portion control without actually weighing and measuring food?

A prominent study has shown that just by using a smaller plate, people tend to eat less. The smaller the plate, the larger the amount of food appears to be. Just buying and using smaller plates and cups can make a big difference toward eating less.

What are the most important things to look for on an ingredient label?

The first ingredient listed is the main one, but second and third ingredients matter, too.

Paying attention is critical

It’s also important to pay attention to added sugar and salt. What are the most serious health issues connected to a person’s diet?

Heart disease is the most common health issue associated with diet. Many conditions related to heart disease can be improved, and then maintained, with a healthy diet and the proper amount of exercise.

Any thoughts on popular diets like keto or intermittent fasting?

You can’t stay on these diets for life because they’re not sustainable. Both force your body to burn its reserves, leading to a kind of state of starvation. People go on these diets to lose weight quickly, but once you start eating normally again, you tend to gain the weight right back.

Above all, be compassionate and forgiving with yourself. Everyone slips up. The important thing is to get back on track and stay positive.


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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.