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  • Writer's pictureMelissa Mathes


Updated: Apr 24, 2020

Avoid the 30-day Challenges, 2 Week Weight Loss Schemes, Detox’s or Cleanses. All of these options miss the WHOLE picture, which is optimal overall health.  This encompasses a healthy weight and maintaining it, decreasing risk of chronic diseases, obesity and cancers, high quality of life, and longevity. 

Key aspects to achieving a healthy lifestyle: Nutrition, Exercise, Mental health and Sleep, not necessarily in that order.

Nutrition: Overwhelming evidence from studies like the Adventist Health 2 study, PREDIMED, and studies from Harvard and Tufts point towards plant based diets like the Mediterranean, vegetarian/vegan, pescatarian, and DASH, across the board, a 30% decrease in mortality rate.  In addition, there was a significant decreased risk for chronic diseases (cardiovascular, diabetes, hypertension) obesity and cancers, hence the decrease in mortality rate.  These diets are innately high in fiber (since they are plant based), which is highly beneficial in many ways.  Fiber promotes a sense of satiety, slows down sugars into the blood stream, and removes cholesterol, toxins in the GI tract, and anti-nutrients like oxalates and phytates. Additionally, fiber exercises the smooth muscle along your gastrointestinal tract, and most importantly fuels the probiotics in your microbiome located mostly in your colon.  This microbiome is 75% of your immune system, your first defense against the environment.  Fiber is KING, truly a super food!  Not to mention plant derived foods are high in phytochemicals which have multiple benefits; anti-oxidants which combat free radicals that damage cells, to decreasing inflammation in the body.  They have a multitude of other beneficial functions. 


Here are some tips that will inherently fill you up with healthy fiber and displace unhealthy food choices.  Thus stimulating weight loss, or maintaining current weight.

First you should avoid/limit-refined carbohydrates, added sugars, saturated and trans fats.


6 non-starchy vegetable servings/day 

  1. Meet this goal by having 1 serving at breakfast (throw in smoothies, or 6-8oz. green juice) 2 servings at lunch, 1 serving as a snack between lunch and dinner, and 2-3 servings at dinner.

    1. Choose orange, dark leafy greens, red, white, and purple.  Vary the types daily!  Get a variety, to get a wide range of needed nutrients.

    2. Serving size=  1 cup raw OR ½ cup cooked OR 2 cups raw greens

    3. Non-starchy vegetables:  all vegetables EXCEPT; all potatoes, peas, corn (technically a grain), squashes (spaghetti, acorn, butternut, delicata, pumpkin, and kombocha. 

      1. Starchy vegetables: are VERY healthy for you, and usually have a decent amount of protein per serving.  Enjoy a variety of these, but count them in the grains/starchy food group.

4 fruit servings/day

  1. Meet this goal by consuming 1 serving at breakfast, a serving between breakfast and lunch, 1 at lunch and 1 as a dessert.

  2. Serving size = 1 tennis ball sized piece of fruit OR 1 cup raw chopped OR ¼ cup of dried  OR 5” banana OR 1 handful of berries

  3. Whole fruits are filled with vitamins, minerals, give and phytochemicals.  Yes fruit is high in sugar, but naturally occurring sugar, doesn’t effect insulin in the same way. Additionally, even if you are diabetic, fruit isn’t harmful for you, just make sure you manage how much you consume and adjust your insulin accordingly.

Include whole grains and starchy vegetables, fill ¼ of your plate (more if you are an athlete).  Choose quality intact grains; see my article on Whole Grains Explained on Total Nutrition Counseling Facebook page.

Choose plant proteins, often. Meatless dinners 2-3 times per week.  Legumes, pulses or dry peas 1 serving/day = ½ cup.  Wild caught fish 2-3 times per week if you consume lean proteins.

  1. Red meats like beef, bison, pork and lamb  1 serving /week at the most.

Incorporate plant fats; olives, avocados, nuts, nut butters, seeds, seed butters, oils (olive, avocado, walnut, flax, canola).  All fats are concentrated, so take it easy on these.

Dairy products or Dairy Alternatives, 2-3 servings/day, 1 serving=1 cup/day


  • Find an exercise you enjoy, this will keep you motivated.  Workout with a friend to help keep you accountable.

  • Shoot for 250+ minutes/week. This will promote active weight loss/maintenance and overall health according to the Academy of Physical Therapy Education.  This should be moderate to vigorous activity.

  • Incorporate at least 2 days of strength training, ideally 3. 

  • Stretch often to avoid injury and improve overall motion and mechanics. 

  • Avoid sitting longer than ½ hour at a time, get up and stretch for at least 3 minutes or walk around, if feasible.  Commutes to and from work, can increase your sitting time.  Take extra efforts to get in more activity, walk the stairs, park farther away, these little steps make a difference. 

  • Use a fit bit to monitor your success.

  • Avoid sedentary practices, when you can.  Do some floor exercises or stretching while binge watching your favorite series. Meet your friends for a walk or a hike vs. coffee or lunch. 

Mental Health:

  • Stress is a huge factor in decreasing overall health.  There is a brain gut axis that affects how your body functions when you have chronic stress.  This has everything to do with how you respond to stress.  Neurohormones  like, dopamine, epinephrine(adrenaline)  norepinephrine and cortisol, are stimulated by chronic stress and if this is continuous, it can create health issues.

  • Try methods to help your daily stressors.  Yoga, breathing techniques, meditation, walking your dog.  Whatever helps you relax and are able to wipe away the stress.

  • Ultimately this isn’t my scope of care, the best solution is to seek out a licensed therapist, like a MFT, or a PsyD credentials. to help deal with your stress, anxiety or depression. 


  • Think of sleep as your daily recovery, lack of sleep increases the risk of chronic health problems including diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity

  • Insufficient sleep affects your hunger hormones (Ghrelin, lepitin and PPY to name a few), in a negative way.  Working against your body’s ability to lose or maintain weight.  Essentially your body  has a misconception of insufficient energy availability.

  • Sleep deprivation increases diabetes risk, by decreasing insulin sensitivity and production.


  • Figure out how much sleep you do get, and aim to increase it.  Use a fit bit or sleep  tracker to monitor your progress. 

  • Aim for 7 hours per night, suggested by top Harvard sleep specialist and professor Dr. Czeisler.

  • Exercise, avoiding caffeine past noon (it can stay in your system up to 8 hours) and practice good sleep hygiene.

    • Sleep hygiene, is essentially a regime.

      • Go to bed and wake up around the same time daily

      • Avoid meals close to bedtime and alcohol

      • Keep your bedroom cool, dark and without TV, computer or phone use.

      • Avoid looking at your phone or any screen ½ hour prior to sleep.  The back light disrupts melatonin production.

      • Relax, read, take a bath or listen to calming music before bed.  Maybe try an oil diffuser with aromatherapy oils for sleep.

      • If you don’t fall asleep with in 20 minutes, get out of bed and do something relaxing until you feel sleepy.

These lifestyle choices are yours to make.  You can choose to impact your health, weight and well being.  Do it in 2020 and for a lifetime.

Melissa A. Mathes, MPH, RDN, CSSD

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