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How to Think Like A Dietitian

By Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD

Healthy Eating

When you see someone who is successful, it’s normal to want to copy what he or she does. But I think a better strategy is to learn how to think like them. Why? Because thinking is what proceeds feelings and actions and is ultimately responsible for our habits, including what we eat.

While I can’t speak for all dietitians, I can let you into what goes on in my mind while making daily food decisions. I often write about my top three considerations: nutrition, taste, and how food makes me feel. Let me show you what I mean…

Breakfast: I start my day at about 5 in the morning to write before my kids get up, so I usually have some coffee. A couple of hours later we all have breakfast. I’m pretty ritualistic about this meal and usually have oatmeal topped with some brown sugar, flax meal, nuts, raisins, and chopped fruit. I like a lot of milk in my oatmeal — about a cup’s worth!

My thinking: I believe this meal sets the tone for the whole day. Oatmeal hits all three of my criteria. It’s nutritious, full of soluble fiber and nuts, adds some protein and healthy fat, flax gives me a boost of omega 3s, and the raisins and fruit add to my daily fruit and veggie goals. I absolutely love the taste — a little brown sugar adds just the right amount of sweetness. But most importantly, this meal keeps me full all morning — a must-have for a busy mom like me.

Midmorning nosh: My breakfast usually lasts three hours and then my stomach starts grumbling. I typically choose something with protein and fruit — like a mozzarella cheese stick and oranges or yogurt with some fruit and nuts (if I’m home).

My thinking: The job of this meal is to take the edge off until lunch and to fill in nutrition gaps — get extra fruit and dairy servings. I like fruit but unless it’s a banana, it won’t fill me up enough. While I like the taste of starchy stacks, like pretzels and crackers, they leave me unsatisfied.

Lunch: Around 12:30 is lunch. This meal can vary — I eat with my kids when they are home, usually serving up grilled sandwiches filled with tuna or turkey or cheese and avocado. We have the sandwiches with raw fruits and veggies. When I’m by myself I usually have leftovers or beans and rice with a salad. This meal is usually finished off with some dark chocolate.

My thinking: Lunch is my biggest meal of the day — and getting it right is important. If I skimp, I’m hungry all afternoon. I enjoy having salads or veggies/fruits with this meal to increase the fullness factor. I look forward to this meal to give me a break from the day. My biggest sweet craving is after lunch or in the afternoon. Dark chocolate hits the spot, but sometimes I go out of my way to have a chocolate chip cookie. I don’t fight these cravings like I used to and they have declined as I’ve gotten older.

Afternoon nosh: Fruit and veggie smoothies, yogurt & nuts, raw veggies with hummus, or nuts seem to work well.

My Thinking: If I did a good job at lunch, I’m not hungry until about 4 p.m., but I may have something to eat earlier with my kids. I look at what I had all day and fill in nutrition gaps (if still low on calcium, I will have some yogurt; on a low fruit and veggie day I will opt for the smoothie). Occasionally a sweet treat will go here and that’s okay because I don’t have long to go until dinner — and it isn’t the start of my day.

Dinner: This meal is a family affair and varies but we will usually have a variety of food — protein, starch, fruit/veggie, and usually a salad. I serve most meals “family style” — in bowls that are passed around.

My thinking: If I did a good job of feeding myself all day, I’m not super hungry at dinner. I like to provide a variety and eat until I’m satisfied. I usually go to bed a couple of hours later so there’s no need to make it the filling meal that is so crucial at breakfast and lunch, which is really needed to carry me though the day.

My old thinking: When I first got into nutrition I tried to only eat what I thought was good to me. Leaving out taste and how food makes me feel backfired as I was hungry often (salad at lunch not enough for me!) and my cravings for sweets was at an all-time high. I find some of my clients only eat for taste and ignore how the food they eat makes them feel and the power of nutrition.

Today, all of the foods I eat taste good to me, a majority (but not all) are nutritious, and the combination of these foods help to keep me satisfied and energetic. The balance that ends up on my plate first starts in my head. How about you?

Photo: Lifesize

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