Healthy Eating

5 Basic Rules of Healthy Eating: The Dietitian’s Guide

By: Amanda A. Kostro Miller, RD, LDN

When you do a quick Internet search for “healthy eating tips,” you may find millions of hits. Some sources will tell you to do “low carb” or “plant-based,” but is that really the best answer for you? How do you know if the information is accurate, practical and evidence-based? Look no further! In this article, we will lay out the dietitian-approved basic rules of healthy eating.

Use this information as a guide to navigate through your weight loss journey. These recommendations have been tried and true in nutrition practice. What’s even better is that most of these rules can be applied to any diet!

5 Basic Rules 

Small, slow behavior changes are the most sustainable. If you jump into doing all 5 of these tips, then you may feel overwhelmed and give up prematurely. To make these changes last, try to adopt 1-2 of these tips at a time. Choose a few, master them and then move on to your next change. It may take a few weeks (or months) to master each change, so don’t be discouraged!

Click here to read about the 5 basic rule –> 5 Basic Rules of Healthy Eating: The Dietitian’s Guide 


Diet or Exercise?

Both are important for your life but which should you focus on for your health goals?

Advice from a RealSimple article says that for different effects on your life, you will want to focus on either diet or exercise.

  • If you want to lose weight, diet is the first thing you should focus on. To lose a pound a week, you need to cut about 500 calories a day. It is easier for most to swap one Starbucks frappacino for a small coffee and eliminate a bowl of ice cream at night, than to spend an hour at the gym. To lose weight, stick with primarily plant based diets and limit processed foods, and consider using an app to track you intake.
  • To have more energy, diet is also key. To avoid blood-sugar spikes, a balanced diet and frequently eating smaller snacks will keep your energy from depleting.
  • For reducing the risk of heart disease, focus on exercise. “Being fit is more important” to heart health than diet, according to professor of medicine Dr. Martha Gulati, M.D.
  • Diet and exercise can also effect libido and mind “sharpness,” but exercise has proven to be more effective for improving these areas of your life.

Read the full article for a more detailed discussion. 

Eating Less is More Important than Exercise

The “Biggest Loser” emphasizes exercise when it should be focusing more on diet.

  • Adding 30 minutes of exercise does not reduce your calorie budget as much as cutting out two large sodas.
  • It’s not true that American’s are refusing to move. The percentage of physically active people in America increased from 2001 to 2009, along with rates of obesity.
  • A recent meta-analysis found that physical activity in children is not the main determining factor in whether they will become obese. Rather, it is diet (with gradual changes), that is more effective for weight loss. Exercise has many positive side-effects but it is not the most effective way to cut fat.

The full article on the importance of diet can be found here

Exercise Versus Diet

Is one more important than the other?

A meta-study conducted by the Journal of the American Medical Association sought to compare the effectiveness of 59 diets and found that there was no best diet. Instead, what was most effective was the dieters’ ability to stick to it. With practicality being the most important, a LifeHacker article explores whether diet or exercise is more important for weight loss.

Exercise Based Fat Loss is Relatively ineffective

  • A study asked women to perform moderate to vigorous exercise 5 days a week for a year without changing diet, and found that they lost about 2 kg of fat (4.4 lbs). Considering that the reality of time spent exercising actually amounted to 155 hours a year, it took over 70 hours of exercise to lose 1 kg of fat. That is a lot of work to cut down two pounds.
  • Most of the calories we burn are used to keep basic functions of the body running. Comparatively, exercise is a much smaller caloric expenditure than the resting metabolic rate.
  • Spending 2-3 minutes logging your foods into a food diary is more effective than 30 minutes at the gym every day.

Read the full article with more advice on diet from weight loss experts here 

The American Obesity Epidemic (AHA)

“Deceptively Simple” Solution to Obesity?

The American Heart Association says that the the way to beat obesity is to eat fewer calories and increase calorie burning activity. So why is a simple solution so hard to implement?

  • The body naturally wants you to consume energy, so organs send out cues that tell you to eat. When you’re eating, the body then sends cues that tell you to stop. However, recent studies suggest that obese people have a harder time receiving the signals that tell them they’re full.
  • Eating healthy is also difficult, with large portion sizes and sugary drinks. The American diet includes a lot of big meals, refined grains, and red meat, and fewer fruits, vegetables, and nuts.
  • Obesity has physical and mental costs on the people it affects, but it also has a financial cost to the nation. It is estimated that the cost of obesity is $190 billion a year in weight-related medical bills. 

Successful Strategies

  • Changing eating habits by keeping a food diary, eating more filling, high-fiber foods, removing tempting foods from the pantry, and avoiding a lot of carbohydrates.
  • Diet is more effective for losing weight, while exercise is important for keeping it off.
  • It is not just a matter of willpower. Obesity is a disease that may require medical attention and support to recover.

Find more information about the American Obesity Epidemic here.

Obesity Worldwide

An article from the Harvard T.F Chan School of Public Health has explored Obesity throughout the world and highlights some striking observations, summarized below.

  • Roughly 500 million people are obese today, with obesity being defined as a BMI greater than 30. This is twice the amount of worldwide obesity as in 1980, and if current rates continue, 1 billion people will be obese on Earth by 2030.
  • Obesity has shifted to be a “disease of the poor,” affecting mostly lower-income populations and even becoming a pandemic in developing countries.
  • Rates of obesity in the United states is highest among other high-income countries. Ethnic groups have higher rates of obesity.
  • Rates of obesity are not increasing as quickly in Europe, however there is an upward trend in BMI numbers.

Read the full article to learn about rates of obesity in each region of the world.

Obesity Prevalence Maps (CDC)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that no state has an obesity rate less than 20%, as of 2015. In 21 states and some territories, obesity rates were between 30% and 35%, while 4 states had obesity rates greater than 35%.

  • American maps of self reported obesity among adults show the highest reported rates in southern states, followed by midwestern states.
  • Among Non-Hispanic White adults, the highest rates (>35%) of self-reported obesity in the United States appeared in West Virginia.
  • For Non-Hispanic Black Adults, the distinction is less clear, with more than half of the States reporting greater than 35% rates of obesity. For this population, all states east of the Mississippi river show an obesity rate greater than 35% except for New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island.

To see how your state fares in comparison to the rest of the country, check out the CDC Obesity Prevalence Maps for yourself.

Quick Facts About Obesity

According to the State of Obesity, which is a  project of the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation,  greater than 1 in 4 adult Americans are obese.  The project explores different demographics relating to agee and  location and and their relationship with obesity, activity, and weight-related disease. A few facts from their fast facts page are listed below.

  • Nationally, nearly 38% of adults in the US are obese, and 25 states have an adult obesity rate of 30% or higher.
  • Among US teenagers, on 27.1% were physically active for at least 60 minutes a day in 2015, while 41.7% use a computer for non-school related activity for 3 hours a day.
  • Colorado is the most active and least obese state, with 17.9% inactivity among adults,  and 20.2% obesity.

See more facts about obesity.