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Most of us are familiar with standard-issue dietary guidelines. In the US, we have the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans. These are simple recommendations that, if they’re followed, lead us toward better food choices and a better overall diet. General guidelines like these are great, but I often suggest taking them a step further.
Since no one knows the strengths and weaknesses of your diet better than you do, you might want to establish your own “personal” dietary guidelines. Think of them as your individual food rules—a handful of your own “dietary do’s and don’ts” that help you maintain a healthy diet and a healthy weight.
While there’s plenty to be said for the tried-and-true strategy of daily calorie counting, many people seem to easily manage their weight by simply following a few of their own “food rules.” They know which foods (or eating behaviors) get them into trouble. And they also know that as long as they stick to their self-imposed rules, it doesn’t take much more than that to keep their weight in check.
These items are on my personal list. If I follow them most of the time, they help me keep my weight where I want it to be. I like fruit juice but the calorie cost is too high, so I eat my fruit rather than drink it. When I make it a rule to have a fruit and/or a vegetable with every meal, it’s easy to get all my servings in for the day. And while I could easily enjoy a glass of wine every night, I’m aware of the calories, so I save it for the weekends.
Just for the record, I’m no different from anyone else—I break my rules from time to time. I really do try to avoid fried foods, but I’ve been known to swipe a French fry or two from a friend’s plate in a moment of weakness.
Some people may need time to establish food rules and make them work. Most of my overweight patients, for instance, can name a few foods they won’t eat—but it’s only because they don’t like them. (In case you’re interested, the top three seem to be liver, Brussels sprouts and lima beans). But when asked if there are foods they avoid because they think they shouldn’t eat them, they’ll say, “That’s my problem—I eat everything!” For these folks, establishing rules can help. But it may not be enough to help them reign in their calories effectively. So, I’ll usually help them identify some of their biggest dietary offenders, have them keep track of their calories for a while, and then work to establish some “rules to live by.”
When it does work, eating according to your own guidelines can be a great way to establish a healthy approach to eating and weight management. The rules don’t always have to be about foods you do or don’t eat. Your rules might be more behavioral ones, like “I don’t take second helpings.” Or even, “I don’t get up in the middle of the night and have a snack.” (You’d be surprised how many people do that). It’s your personal list of do’s and don’ts, so do what works for you. Many people find that by establishing a few rules, their approach to eating is simplified. And instead of being a slave to calorie counting, it just feels more natural to simply “eat my way every day.”