Last week I was conducting a training in weight loss counseling for mental health professionals and we were at the part where we practice how to help a client set dietary goals. I show the class a sample diet for a practice client and have them come up with possible dietary goals to help the client get started losing weight. Here is the sample diet for our practice client, Jim:
Breakfast: Dunkin Donuts – coffee with 5 sugars and 2 tbsp cream, egg/cheese/ham bagel sandwich
Snack: 2 mini-muffins on the snack tray at work, small coffee with 1 tbsp cream and 1 sugar
Lunch: Taco Bell—3 chicken soft tacos, Diet Dr. Pepper
Snack: Nature Valley Peanut Butter Granola Bar, Diet Coke
Dinner: 12 oz steak, 25 tater tots, and green beans, Diet Coke
Dessert: 3 bowls of ice cream
Total calories: 3,502
As you can see, Jim’s diet has a long way to go, but let’s cut him some slack since he’s just starting off on his weight loss journey. Where to start?? When I asked the group to brainstorm some dietary goals for Jim, one person said, “He should eliminate all fast food and eat more whole grains.” Another person said, “He should consume 8-10 glasses of water per day.” You could also say that Jim should eat more fruits and veggies, get at least 30 grams of fiber each day, consume fish several times a week, use oils high in omega-3 fatty acids, reduce his red meat intake, reduce sodium, cut out sugar, and the list goes on…
If we had to create an extreme makeover of Jim’s diet, it would look like this:
Breakfast: 1 cup Kashi cereal with 1 cup strawberries, black coffee
Snack: low-fat string cheese with 10 whole grain crackers, glass of water
Lunch: Spinach salad with ½ cup mandarin oranges, 10 almonds, 4 oz grilled chicken. 1 slice multigrain bread with 1 tbsp Smartbalance, bottle of seltzer
Snack: low-fat Greek yogurt with 1 cup pineapple and ½ cup granola, glass of water
Dinner: 6 oz salmon, 1 cup brown rice, and green beans, bottle of seltzer
Dessert: popcorn (air popped) with 2 tbsp Smart Balance, glass of water.
Total Calories: 2,062 (down 1,440 calories from original diet–he will lose 2-3 lbs a week on this diet)
Although we have transformed Jim’s diet to be in compliance with many common dietary recommendations—I would NEVER recommend this diet to Jim at this point in his weight loss journey. In fact, I would advise Jim against the above diet at all costs. The point I want to make in this post is that there are 101 things you can do to make your diet healthier, but you should NOT attempt to do them all at once. Doing so is a recipe for failure.
Consider what Jim would need to do to comply with this diet. To begin, he will need to completely overhaul his refrigerator and cabinets because none of these foods are in his home. He will also need to pack his lunches (something he isn’t used to), cut fruit and veggies each night (something he isn’t used to), cook salmon and other foods that weren’t previously in his diet (something he isn’t used to), and eat far fewer calories (something he isn’t used to). What needs to change about the previous sentence is that we need to eliminate the number of these: “something he isn’t used to.” People can do maybe 1 or 2 things they aren’t used to, but 4, 5, and 6 things they aren’t used to? All at once? Does a juggler first learn to juggle with 5 balls or just 1? I have found time and time again that when people overhaul their diets this drastically right away, their ability to stick to the diet deteriorates quickly over time. There is no sense in starting a diet, no matter how healthy, that you cannot stick to.
Instead, I would suggest that Jim take an approach that will achieve him the same degree of calorie reduction as the previous, but allow him to cling to many of his current habits while he gets adjusted to eating fewer calories. I cut and paste his original diet and tweaked it (I crossed out things I eliminated or reduced).
Breakfast: Dunkin Donuts – coffee with 5 4 sugars and 2 tbsp 1 tbsp cream, egg/cheese/ham bagel sandwich ENGLISH MUFFIN
Snack: 2 mini-muffins BANANA on the snack tray at work, small coffee with 1 tbsp cream and 1 sugar
Lunch: Taco Bell—3 2 chicken soft tacos, Diet Dr. Pepper
Snack: Nature Valley Peanut Butter Granola Bar, Diet Coke
Dinner: 12 6 oz steak, 25 15 tater tots, and green beans, Diet Coke
Dessert: 3 ONE bowls of ice cream
Total Calories: 2,118 (down 1,384 calories from original diet)
Notice his new diet looks quite a bit like his old diet, but with a few nips and tucks. Yep, I’m telling Jim it’s OK to eat tator tots and ice cream while trying to lose weight. Don’t worry though, I’m going to work with Jim on what I call a gradual dietary evolution. We begin with a lower calorie version of his current diet, then once he has nailed that I will bring in some small changes involving healthier foods, and gradually incorporate more and more over time. Jim is going to evolve. Eventually we will get Jim into salmon and Kashi bars, but he’s far away from that; we still need to ever-so-slowly wean him off the sugar, fat, sodium, and flavors he’s so accustomed to. If I bombard Jim right away with everything that he needs to do right, he will panic and I will lose him. Changing the way you eat is VERY HARD and cannot be done overnight. It has to happen gradually…So gradually that the changes are almost unnoticeable, or at the very least, the changes do not seem hard. I would check in with Jim after a week to find out how difficult the plan was, if he said too few calories, I’d bump him up a bit. If he said A-OK, I’d suggest another minor tweak.
So yes, Jim can have his ice cream and eat it too. Eventually I will challenge him to reduce to only a few days a week of ice cream or switch to a 150 calorie McDonald’s cone. And eventually I will offer him a Kashi bar…
And eventually… he will love the Kashi bar.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will be the new and improved, healthy Jim.
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