A healthy regimen starts with a balanced diet

Social media is filled with celebrities plugging the latest fads in dieting and exercise with claims of helping to maintain the perfect body. But don’t believe everything that you see. Baylor College of Medicine expert Courtney Cary, a senior registered dietitian in the Department of Medicine – Gastroenterology and Hepatology, stresses that there’s no quick fix for losing weight.

A healthy meal of grains and tea.“Juice cleanses are expensive diarrhea. Counting calories is a miserable way to be hungry all the time,” Cary said. “There’s no single food that can change our metabolism. It’s based off so many factors like genetics, medications, exercise level and sleep.”

Cary emphasizes that we shouldn’t compare ourselves to people we see on social media or even our own friends and family because every person’s metabolism works differently. But in our diet-obsessed culture, she admits that it’s hard to change the health narrative. That’s why she tells her patients that nutrition is all about balance. She believes that all foods can fit into a healthy diet.

“Even the pickiest person can create a balanced diet based on the foods that they love,” Cary said.

Cary says that people should find foods they like that include healthy nutrients like fiber. She calls fiber the star nutrient because it provides satiety, controls blood sugar and cholesterol and helps produce regular bowel movements. Fiber comes in many different forms—fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains—providing many different choices for how to get the most fiber into your diet. Even a simple switch from white rice to brown rice can increase your fiber intake.

“I base every single meal on how much fiber I can get in,” Cary said. “Even if I go to Whataburger, I’m thinking about how to get fiber into the meal.”

When building your meal, Cary recommends following the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate guidelines: one-quarter protein, one-quarter grains, one-half fruit and vegetables.

“I start out with my protein—it could be chicken, fish, shrimp, tofu or even quinoa,” Cary said. “Decide the leanness of meat and the style of food you want to eat. Then I choose everything else based on what I think goes with that protein.”

Cary says that it’s important to listen to your body’s hunger cues: eat when you are hungry and stop eating when you are full. She also says you should not ignore cravings because it could lead to binge eating later.

“I meal prep for the week on Sundays, but if there’s a day that I don’t feel like eating the meal that I made, I won’t,” Cary said. “If I eat the food that I prepared and don’t enjoy it, it’s a waste and I will binge something I like later. If you are unhappy with your food choices, you’ll be unhappy later.”

Other lifestyle factors play a role

The food that we eat is only one part of a healthy lifestyle. Cary also emphasizes the importance of exercise, sleep and water consumption. Don’t be discouraged if you struggle to find motivation to go for a run or hit the gym. Cary advises that exercise can be anything that gets you moving, even walking the dog or going up and down the stairs while you talk on the phone.

“If you are sick or tired and feel like you can’t exercise, it’s ok to skip a day,” Cary said. “If you burn out on exercise, it will be difficult to maintain a balance in your life. Exercise when you can and do what you like to do.”

Throughout the day, ensure that you are drinking enough water to ensure proper hydration. If you struggle to drink enough plain water, Cary recommends trying sparkling water or flavored water like Crystal Light. At night, try to get at least 6-7 hours of sleep. Listen to your body when you feel tired and start winding down for the night. Don’t wait until you fall asleep on the couch.

Ultimately, Cary says that being healthy is about more than just what you eat. She encourages her patients to set healthy habits that are unrelated to food.

“Find a way to start your day that will set you up to be productive,” Cary said. “For me, it’s making my bed. At night, get into the habit of healthful practices that settle your brain down. I try to read instead of watching TV or scrolling through TikTok.”

Visit our healthcare page to learn more about our gastroenterology and digestive programs and treatments.

-By Molly Chiu

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