How to succeed with a new diet in the new year

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By Caleb Lunetta

Signal Senior Staff Writer

New year means new you for a number of people and that generally comes with finding a new nutritional regimen that both helps you lose the rest of those pesky pounds while also transitioning to a healthier lifestyle.

But while local experts do encourage people to take healthy steps towards improvement, they said the trick they encourage for their clients is in taking meaningful steps toward their goals, as opposed to making abrupt life changes.

In a panel of more than 25 dieticians and experts in the field of nutrition, U.S. News & World Reports ranked the top diets people would be trying heading into 2022.

In their summation, the panelists concluded that the top three diets are as follows: The Mediterranean diet, followed by a tie between the DASH diet and The Flexitarian Diet.

While the Mediterranean diet is relatively more well-known — an active lifestyle, weight control and a diet low in red meat, sugar and saturated fat and high in produce, nuts and other healthful foods — the relatively new DASH and Flexitarian Diets have also been lauded for their perceived health benefits.

According to the National Library of Medicine, a national government medical library based out of Maryland, the DASH diet emphasizes vegetables, fruits and whole grains and includes fat-free or low-fat dairy products, fish, poultry, beans, nuts and vegetable oils. It limits foods that are high in saturated fat, including fatty meats, full-fat dairy products, sugar-sweetened beverages and sweets and tropical oils such as coconut, palm kernel and palm oils.

The Flexitarian Diet, according to the Cleveland Clinic, involves “essentially a flexible alternative to being a vegetarian. So, you’re still focusing on fruits, veggies, whole grains, legumes and nuts, but you occasionally still enjoy meat.”

However, despite these diets leading to healthier lifestyles for many people, local Santa Clarita Valley experts are urging people to not burn themselves out.

“To me right now, at this time of year, changing one or two things in their week could probably make such a huge difference,” said Michelle Schirra, a Santa Clarita Valley clinical nutritionist and nutritional coach. “If they’ll just shift a couple of things, No. 1 wean themselves off of sugar if they’re waking up in the morning to have something sweet for breakfast.”

“I think people go all or nothing to try to swing and go completely off their sugar and everything they’ve been having, and then they can’t, they can’t maintain it,” Schirra added.

Schirra said all people are built differently, and that her mantra, and well as the mantra of others, should be to do things in moderation.

“Everyone is made up differently, and some people can be stricter than others,” said Jodi Dalyai, a licensed dietitian at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital. “Some people want to go on keto or whatever. However, for the most part my mantra is always moderation.

“Most people want to be extreme and be all or nothing,” Dalyai added. “And usually January, February, March are good months for people to swing, join the gym, hire a new trainer, go on a diet and then they burn out.”

She said going too extreme may cause someone to fall back on their goals, and she attempts to avoid the word “dieting” as opposed to the phrase “healthy lifestyle.”

“We know dieting and the language of a short-term change or fix doesn’t lead to successful long-term weight loss,” said Dalyai. “You want to look at lifestyle changes that you’re ready and willing to make.”

“Eating more vegetables if someone has a low vegetable intake, cutting out sugar-sweetened beverages, increasing water intake,” said Dalyai, listing some examples of changes people could make. “Maybe moving more towards plant-based eating, cutting out excess animal food intake, reducing processed food intake, doing less eating out, more cooking at home.”

Dalyai also heavily emphasized that two factors people often overlook are stress and sleep management.

“Whether people need to engage in stress management, like mindfulness and breathing, or they really need to focus on getting more than five or six hours of sleep a night because that can really influence their health,” Dalyai added.

But both professionals returned to the point that people need to not fall into the pitfall of thinking there will be an immediate change once hopping on the scale.

“What makes you happy, just moderation with that,” said Schirra. “If you like pasta, then just eat a small little portion of it…don’t eat a big bowl of it. You have to find that happy medium.”

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