Before I left my old job as an inpatient clinical dietitian, I had the opportunity to provide some cross coverage for another department and do outpatient nutrition counseling for 3 months. An outpatient RD is what most people think of when they think of a dietitian. They meet with patients to help them meet their nutrition goals, usually for a medical purpose (ie decreasing complications from chronic disease, weight loss, etc.).
Outpatient nutrition counseling was completely eye opening to me because I would literally sit with 1 client and speak to them for an entire hour about their diet. Most sessions consisted of getting a food recall from the client, discussing dieting successes and failures and getting them on track with whatever their diet goal was.
And while the focus of our sessions was always based around a specific health issue, most of the time weight loss was the bottom line.
As the months went by, I found myself repeating the same information over and over again and wanted to share some of the common things that came up that could be standing in the way of you and your weight goals!
1. Ignoring Liquid Calories
Whenever I talk to a client or patient who would like to lose weight, the first place I start is with beverages. Drinks can provide a lot of empty calories, especially those with a ton of added sugar and little nutritional value.
Here are some examples:
- Regular soda
- Fruit juice
- Sports drinks
- Sweet tea
Many people were surprised when I recommended that they decrease their juice intake. Juicing removes the fiber from fruits, which is something important that helps us to feel full. I think it’s much better to get out fruit intake from actual fruit!
Another thing that surprised people, especially parents, was the recommendation to nix the sports drinks. Drinks like Gatorade and Powerade are designed to provide energy and electrolyte replacement to athletes performing at intense levels, such as endurance athletes or working out in the heat where you are losing a lot of fluids. They have a lot of sugar and calories.
Sometimes I saw in a daily food recall that anywhere from hundreds to THOUSANDS of calories were coming from sugary beverages. Just cutting back on this 1 thing can lead to healthy weight loss.
2. Skimping on Protein at Breakfast
I mention this a lot here but I think evenly distributing your protein throughout the day and making sure you get enough at breakfast is SO important. The average person needs 0.8-1 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. So for example:
150 pounds = 68 kg * 0.8 to 1 = 55g to 68g protein per day
In general, I find that most people are getting enough protein in total throughout the day. The problem is that our bodies can only use so many grams of protein at one time. So if you are eating a dinner with 60g of protein then your body might not be actually using all of that protein, which could be problematic if you really skimped on protein at breakfast and lunch. There are plenty of newer studies that show that evenly distributing your protein throughout all 3 meals can provide greater satiety throughout the day, curb snacking later in the evening, and lead to better results with weight loss efforts.
Here are some tips for increasing protein at breakfast:
- Dairy is a high source of protein: milk, cottage cheese and greek yogurt are excellent, lean choices
- Nuts and nut butters will give you a protein boost, so add them to your fruit or toast
- Smoothies are an easy way to sneak in protein! A little bit of milk, yogurt, spinach and *bam* you’re there. This recipe for a banana pear smoothie packs 18g of protein into 1 serving.
- Whole grains will contain a little bit of protein as well
- Don’t be afraid to add meat to your breakfast. I know it doesn’t sound ‘traditional’ but something like a chicken breakfast burrito can give you lots of added protein
Here’s another post about protein intake as well if you’re interested.
3. Focusing on Subtraction Rather than Addition
Whenever I say down with a client, an important question I asked them was what had they tried in the past to eat healthier that did not work and then we discussed why.
Almost always, I would hear about how they tried to cut X, Y, and Z (usually their favorite foods) out of their diet and it was not maintainable.
It’s so much easier to focus on ADDING things to your diet rather then REMOVING things.
So maybe focus on adding a serving of vegetables to dinner every night, or drinking 1 cup of water first thing in the morning. Maybe you will decide to take a 30-minute brisk walk after dinner or increase your protein intake at breakfast. The more you adapt healthy habits, the more likely the less healthy ones will fall to the wayside.
4. Taking an All or Nothing Approach
It is pretty common for someone to decide they want to reach a weight loss goal and overhaul their entire diet at once. The problem is that change is difficult and changing too many things at one time can be hard to stick with- and very overwhelming!
Let’s say you eat out almost every night and you know this is causing you to make poor food choices you wouldn’t normally make if you ate dinner at home (because who can turn down the endless bowl of tortilla chips at a Mexican restaurant?!). Instead of saying you’re now going to cook at home every single night, maybe pick a good starting point that is more attainable. For example, start by saying you will cook dinner at home 3 nights per week and then go from there.
I really encouraged clients to pick 1 item they wanted to work on in their diet and make a small change at first. Small changes can really lead to big results
5. Eliminating Food Groups
Unfortunately, fad diets lead us to believe that cutting out entire food groups can lead to weight loss. However, most of the successful diets out there really just focus on balance and making sure you get enough of the good stuff.
The most common thing I came across was people trying to drastically cut down on carbs. Guys. GUYS. Please listen to me. Carbohydrates are not bad for you. They are your brains’ primary source of energy. That’s why people feel like crap when they go on a low carb diet. When we have too many carbs, they are stored as fat in our bodies. So again, find a good balance, pick the less processed options and build healthy diet changes that are realistic and maintainable.