Did you know that March is National Nutrition Month?
Everyone seems to have nutrition on the mind these days, with last month's National Eating Disorders Awareness Week; the FDA's recent proposal to change food labels for the first time in 20 years; and the American Diabetes Association's recent unveiling of new nutritional guidelines.
And btw: today's extra special as it's the 7th annual Registered Dietician Nutritionist Day. So make sure to thank (or give hugs to) whomever's on your health care team helping you navigate nutrition.
Of course, no one needs to tell us in the Diabetes Community how important nutrition is -- our whole world of D-management rises and falls with the food choices we make.
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Since our intern Cait Patterson is not only living with type 1 diabetes and celiac disease, but also studying Community Health Education in college, she's very engaged in this topic. By her own admission: she gets kind of nerdy when it comes to nutrition, so we thought this would be a perfect time to let Cait take the reins and share her perspective.
Our blogging plate here at the 'Mine is all yours, Cait... Bon appetit, everyone!
Special to the 'Mine by Cait Patterson
It's my favorite time of the year. Major League Baseball is starting soon, snow is finally starting to melt and as a soon-to-be Community Health Educator, I get to bug everyone about his or her nutrition during National Nutrition Month.
National Nutrition Month was originally National Nutrition Week, but after realizing the increased interest, the week extended to include all of March in 1980. This month aims to promote good nutrition and educate the public about healthy habits. Another big component in National Nutrition Month is the MyPlate campaign, which gives consumers a visual guide of balanced meals.
Therefore, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and their National Nutrition Month has given me license to nag people about nutrition any opportunity I get during March.
I use the typical catch phrases like "stay hydrated," "eat five vegetables a day," and "stay away from empty calories." Which is a fantastic idea, but the issue is that these slogans don't tell a person how to do such healthy behaviors. That's what I am going to school to discover. While my friends in nursing or pre-doctoral degrees are learning about what their patients can do to lower their risk for chronic conditions, my role as a health educator is to teach the community about how they can lower their risk.
Educating about the "how" in healthy behavior is where my friends think I'm obnoxious. "Get a thin crust pizza and add some veggies." "Did you have breakfast this morning? You can grab a protein bar on your way to class." "If you're craving sweets late at night, try chocolate-dipped strawberries, so you get a serving of fruit with a little bit of your craving." "Study outside so you get your Vitamin D!"
And every time I offer my all-star advice, I get the same eye-roll and response, "Yes, Dr. Patterson." (Which I refuse to correct because even though I won't be a doctor, the name has a nice ring to it.)
This year's theme for National Nutrition month is "Enjoy the Taste of Eating Right." And rightfully so -- you should enjoy what you eat. Being healthy should be routine, but not a chore.
Enjoying the taste of good nutrition is a good opportunity to try using "S.M.A.R.T. goals." S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound. It is important to include all five of these aspects when setting goals, especially for nutrition and diet.
For example, I've personally set three S.M.A.R.T. goals for this month:
- I want to drink between 50-70 ounces of water a day, which I will measure with the water consumption tracking app, Waterlogged.
- Switch my afternoon snack for a piece of fruit once a day -- which I'll accomplish by buying apples and oranges before the week begins, and not buying chips or other unhealthy snack foods.
- I want to remember to take my multi-vitamin everyday; which I will do by putting the pill bottle in the cup holder in my car so I remember to take it on my way to class every morning and by setting a reminder on my cell phone to take the vitamin the same time each day.
I plan on successfully enacting these goals by March 31, and hopefully by then these habits will become part of my routine. Another important aspect of setting goals is creating rewards or incentives for accomplishing them. This is a good motivating factor to encourage behavior change. For me, the only thing keeping me eating fruit in the afternoon instead of diving into a bag of potato chips is my incentive of treating myself to a manicure at the end of March. It's little incentives like this that can be used as positive reminders to keep a person on track.
My personal theory as a health educator is to be conscious of your health decisions. Everyone is aware that kale is better for you than sugar, but being conscious of health choices at the moment when you open your mouth to eat is what promotes health behavior change.
Being conscious is the hardest part for me personally. My priorities are school, work, managing diabetes, my leadership positions in two different Greek organizations on campus... and managing my diet and meeting my nutritional needs are very far down the list. That's why I've started thinking of managing my diet like I would about finishing my homework. My responsibilities to my health are of equal priority to my responsibilities to my other commitments, right?
That's what the campaign about enjoying your nutrition aims to accomplish. Healthy eating is something that needs to be taken seriously, but also needs to be viewed as an easy and enjoyable part of life. The taste of good, nutritious foods is something worth a little extra effort.
So, as I finish up this article and run to a meeting with my sorority sisters with an XL 20 oz. coffee in hand, I get the remarks: "Moderation and portion control, huh?" I can tell you that even health educators don't always make the healthiest of decisions. Just remember that one unhealthy meal won't make you overweight, just like one nutritious meal won't make you healthy. So every once in a while, feel free just to get the damn Venti.
Thanks for the insights, Cait! We can't wait to hear more about what Health Educators are learning these days about how to get folks to make healthier choices in the real, busy world in which we all live.