Health & Fitness

Your New Year’s fitness plan is futile without nutrition

Whole Foods Produce Team Leader Bryant Pikcilingis stocks grapes in the fruit section of the store in Boise, Idaho, on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016.
Whole Foods Produce Team Leader Bryant Pikcilingis stocks grapes in the fruit section of the store in Boise, Idaho, on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016.

We are officially two weeks into the new year, and perhaps you’ve started an exercise program to shed a few pounds. If so, just make sure that exercise alone isn’t your sole path to weight loss. Good nutrition is a crucial.

Of course there is no shortage of information on this subject. You hear about diets like Paleo, Atkins, ketogenic, etc. Advocates will make a sound argument for the benefits of each one, while critics will quickly line up to point out all the pitfalls.

People have to remember that there isn’t a universal method or diet that will work for everyone, since everyone responds differently to different foods. But regardless of individual differences and nutritional needs, every person needs consistency, behavior change and an environment for success. If we start by implementing strategies and adopting the right mindset first, we will lay a solid foundation for not only losing weight, but also keeping it off.

Outlined below is a simple and effective approach to get you on the right path and on your way to better nutritional wellness.


Focusing on less helps you achieve more over the long haul. This is a popular method used by Leo Babauta, author of the bestselling book “The Power of Less.” It’s pretty simple: You pick one habit to work on monthly. Typically, after one month it becomes something you do automatically, and from there you move on to the next habit. Nutrition expert and founder of Precision nutrition John Berardi uses this exact approach with clients. By implementing the one-habit approach, clients have a 90 percent success rate. But if a person works on two habits at once, the success rate drops to 30 percent.

Remember, less is more. Here’s how to do it:

Start with the easiest changes first. Think of it this way: It’s similar to training for a marathon. You wouldn’t run 20 miles for your first run, would you? Of course not! You would start with smaller distances and gradually increase each week. Working on behavior and habit changes is the same. Start with something easy that you know you can do every day that is measurable. For example, with my clients, a lot of times I’ll have them work on drinking 8-12 cups of water a day. Once they get that down, they can progress to working on more challenging habits like eating 3-5 servings of vegetables a day, or adding more whole foods to their daily menus.

So make a list of at least three things that you need to work on nutrition-wise. Rank them and work on the list from easiest to most difficult. For example:

Habit 1 (easiest): Drink 100 ounces of water/day

Habit 2: Consume 3-5 servings of vegetables/day

Habit 3 (hardest): Eat home-cooked meals 5-6 days per week and minimize eating out to 1-2 times per week


Focus on eating whole, clean foods as opposed to counting calories. Calorie counting is a guesstimate at best when it comes to tracking nutrition for a variety of reasons:

▪  The FDA permits inaccuracies of up to 20 percent, and most food companies may use up to five different methods to estimate calories. In other words, 150 calories could range from 130 to 180.

▪  How food is cooked, or chopped, or blended, affects the amount of energy available for digestion and absorption changes.

▪  The number of calories that the body absorbs greatly varies from individual to individual.

▪  Calorie counts on labels and databases are based on averages that date as far back as 1896. Even the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has stated, “Foods, being biological materials, exhibit variations in composition; therefore a database cannot accurately predict the composition of any given single sample of food.”

Also, not all calories are created equal and too heavily influence poor nutritional choices. (For example, “I’m saving my calories for pizza tonight.”) Or we choose low-calorie processed food like chips, cookies and diet cola while avoiding high-calorie, healthy, nutrient-dense foods like avocados and nuts.


I’m a big advocate of working on the basics of nutrition first and foremost. If you dial in these seven habits, you will cover the vast majority of your nutritional needs and get well on your way to your ideal weight.

Slow Down! Many of us eat way too fast. It takes about 20 minutes for our sensation of fullness to kick in. The pathway from our stomach to our brain and back is long. If you eat too quickly, you are more likely to overeat by the time your brain can communicate it’s time to stop. The long-term goal should be taking 15-20 minutes to consume each meal. I know this may be too ambitious for a lot of us, and that’s OK. Just slowing down by 1-2 minutes can make a big difference. From there you can work toward the 15- to 20-minute goal.

Stop Eating at 80 Percent Fullness: Rather than eating to the point of fullness, focus on eating until you are no longer hungry. In conjunction with slowing down, this again will allow plenty of time for your brain to communicate that it’s time to end the meal. Many benefits come of this, including better overall appetite cues, improved digestion and increased performance with your workouts as well.

Eat every 2-4 hours: When you go prolonged periods without any food, your body goes into conservation mode simply because it doesn’t know when the next meal is coming. As a result, the body holds on to any excess fat storage, which a lot of people would prefer to do without. Eating smaller and more frequent meals will keep your metabolism running at higher levels throughout the day and make you more likely to let go of the extra stores.

Eat Fruits and/or Vegetables with Each Meal: There is a good reason why mothers harp on their children to eat their fruits and veggies. Nutrient-dense and low in calories, fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamins and minerals and actually help buffer the body’s acidic response to protein and grains. One medium-sized fruit, ½ cup of raw chopped fruit or vegetables and 1 cup of raw, leafy vegetables each equals one serving. Aim for 1-2 servings per meal.

Eat “Quality” Carbohydrates: Cut back on the processed, sugary carbs like juice, white flour, muffins, etc., and focus your efforts on eating more whole foods and fiber-rich carbs. This includes a mix of vegetables, beans, legumes, whole-grain breads and pastas, quinoa, long-grain rice, etc. Typically, vegetables, beans, legumes and most fruit can be consumed often and at any time of the day. For breads, pasta and rice, ideally these should be consumed after workouts or physical activity, especially if fat loss is a goal. Primarily, this is because the body has its highest tolerance of carbohydrates post-workout than any other time. This will help refuel the body without any carbohydrate “spillover” into fat storage.

Include Protein-Dense Foods & Healthy Fats: Up to 1 serving (20-30 g) for women and 2 servings for men (40-60 g) should be included with each meal. A portion size of protein is visually about the size of the palm of your hand. Protein-dense foods include lean meats such as ground beef, chicken, turkey and bison. Other great protein sources include salmon, tuna, eggs, cottage cheese, tofu, beans, etc. Also, a mixture of fats should also be part of a balanced diet. Vitamins A, D, E and K are critical to optimal human function and can only be absorbed by the body with adequate fat in our diet. Eating a variety of meats, cheeses, nuts, olive oil and a fish oil supplement are all great ways to getting our daily dose of fat.

Drink at least 10-12 cups of water a day: Remember that 70 percent of the human body is water. Every physiological reaction that takes place in your body is highly dependent on adequate hydration — including fat loss. So in addition to balanced eating, make sure you are getting plenty of H20 into the mix.


Last, remember to go easy on yourself. Don’t magnify one bad day or meal into anything more than what it is. We are all human, and nobody is perfect; 80-90 percent compliance will still keep you on course to a healthy life. Like you, I enjoy an adult beverage and dessert. I don’t lose sleep over it when I indulge on occasion, nor should you.

Jason Wanlass is the owner of Champion Fitness Training in Meridian. Contact him at or

Other tips

  • Choose grilled fish or chicken over fried option.
  • Opt for water instead of soda.
  • Choose whole-wheat over white bread.
  • When preparing and cooking multiple meals, freeze what you are not using immediately in single-serving containers.
  • Don’t eat anything out of a bag or container. Place food on a plate or in a bowl so you can see what you are eating.
  • Do not keep sugary drinks in the house.
  • Serve salad and vegetables before the entrée and starches are brought to the table.
  • Pre-plate your main dish from the stove or counter.
  • Turn off the TV and eat sitting at the table (conscious eating).
  • Keep pre-cut fruits and veggies on your middle refrigerator shelf.
  • At least six single servings of protein are in your fridge: eggs, yogurt, string cheese, tofu, etc.

Sources: “The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition” by John Berardi and Ryan Andrews; “The Power of Less” by Leo Babauta

Stick a feather in your cap and add macaroni to this lentil soup

By Ellie Krieger

Special To The Washington Post

Some dishes are tagged as comfort foods because of the emotional connections we have with them; they conjure memories of good times, feelings of being nurtured or being carefree. But there is a physical aspect to comfort food as well — the kind that warms you from the inside out, fills you up and leaves you awash with contentment.

This homey soup is definitely in that realm. It’s an earthy and filling bowl of lentils enhanced with Swiss chard, tomato and elbow macaroni, seasoned with a deeply flavorful yet mellow mix of Middle Eastern spices. While it is 100 percent comforting, unlike most feel-good foods that are best eaten only occasionally, this one is incredibly good for you.

Aside from its aromatic seasonings, a few ingredients make it stand apart. First, there’s the Swiss chard, which I consider a “sleeper” kind of greens because it’s just as wonderful but not used nearly as often as spinach or kale. This recipe makes the most of the chard by using both its leaves, added toward the end of cooking, and its tasty stems, added at the start along with the onion so they become tender. Then there are the whole canned tomatoes, squeezed by hand, one by one, before being adding to the pot. This technique yields an especially rustic, homestyle texture, and I personally get a kick out of the process of squishing them, but you could substitute diced tomatoes if you want to skip that step.

The whole-wheat pasta gives the soup a friendly, lighthearted appeal, breaks up consistency of the lentils and provides a satisfying toothsomeness. But you could leave them out.

This soup is one of those one-pot wonders that is perfect to make on a weekend so you have a nourishing meal at your fingertips for the week ahead. Knowing there is a satisfying meal in a bowl ready at home waiting for you is something of a comfort in itself.

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Krieger is a registered dietitian, nutritionist and author who hosts public television’s “Ellie’s Real Good Food.” She blogs and offers a weekly newsletter at

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Lentil and Macaroni Soup With Swiss Chard

6 servings (makes 10 to 12 cups); make ahead: The soup thickens upon standing, so add a little more broth or water when you reheat it. It can be frozen, without the pasta, for up to 3 months.

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)

1/2 bunch Swiss chard (6 ounces) leaves and stems separated, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 1/4 cups brown or green lentils, picked over and rinsed

8 cups no-salt-added chicken broth (may substitute vegetable broth)

One 28-ounce can no-salt-added whole peeled tomatoes, plus their juices

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed

1/2 cup dried whole-wheat elbow macaroni


Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, stir in the onion and cook for about 5 minutes, until softened. Add the chopped chard stems, the garlic, cumin, coriander and crushed red pepper flakes; cook, stirring, for 1 minute, then add the lentils and the broth.

Add the tomatoes, one at a time, crushing them with your hands over the pot, plus any juice that's remaining in the can. Add the bay leaf, salt and pepper; once the mixture is bubbling at the edges, reduce the heat to medium-low, partially cover and cook for 25 to 35 minutes, until the lentils are tender; check the tomatoes during this time and break them down further with a spoon.

Increase the heat to medium-high; stir in the macaroni. Once the liquids come to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, partially cover and cook for about 10 minutes, at which point the pasta should be nearly done.

Discard the bay leaf, then stir in the Swiss chard leaves. Cook for 5 minutes, then taste and season with more salt and/or pepper, as needed.

Serve hot.

Nutrition per serving: 290 calories, 14 g protein, 45 g carbohydrates, 6 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 370 mg sodium, 10 g dietary fiber, 11 g sugar

From nutritionist and cookbook author Ellie Krieger.