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Say ‘Yes’ to a Healthier Lifestyle

August 19, 2014

When it comes to losing weight and improving our health, Americans couldn’t be more enthusiastic. The proof lies in the money spent. Weight loss programs and gym memberships in this country are a $65 billion-a-year industry. And yet, one-third of American adults are obese and another third are overweight. What are we doing wrong?


This is the introduction to a series of articles to help you and your family “get it right” when it comes to adopting healthier practices for a lifetime. Everyday life can be complicated and challenging. With each article, you’ll learn thoughtful, practical, simple solutions to help you go from desire to reality—to lose weight and be healthier for life. 


Lifestyle, not diet

“The amount of money spent every year on weight loss and fitness shows people really want to get it right,” observed registered dietitian Kimberlee Alvari, director of Food and Nutrition Services at Washington Hospital. “And yet, our lack of success means dieting is not the answer.”


The answer, according to Alvari, is to “rewire” your thinking—to go back to the basics and stop subtracting things from your life and feeling deprived. Get away from “diet denial” and become motivated to eat healthier and to move.


“Instead of asking ‘what do I have to take away?’ say ‘what can I add?” recommended Alvari. “We need to add in healthy ways of eating and living a healthy lifestyle, and we need to start simple.”


She suggests going to, the online resource from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that helps you make healthier food choices for yourself and your family., which emphasizes fruits, vegetables, grains, protein foods and dairy groups, is also available in Spanish.


According to, you should fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables, with the other half being grains and protein. And here’s a key—your plate should measure 9 inches, not 12 inches.


“When you fill a 12-inch plate instead of a 9-inch plate, you are picking up an extra 500 calories,” reported Alvari. “And, just 100 additional calories each time you eat can cause you to put on about a pound a month. So, it’s important to do something as simple as committing to the right size plate.”


Another basic is to focus on color. Stay away from a drab plate of food with lots of browns and whites recommends you spice it up by adding bright colored fruits and vegetables, which have far more nutrients.


Some people claim eating fresher and healthier is expensive, but Alvari disputes that.


“Fresh, local, in-season produce is best, but you can also build a healthy diet on canned and frozen fruits and vegetables,” she said. “The upside is it’s still better than low-cost, fast foods that are laden with calories and sodium. I’ve never seen a hungry or overweight person who was eating plenty of canned and frozen fruits and vegetables.”


If you are limited to canned vegetables because of cost and you’re concerned about sodium content, Alvari recommends rinsing the vegetables in water before serving. Another suggestion: eat smaller amounts of meat and spend the money you save on fresh fruits and vegetables. Studies show most Americans eat more meat than is necessary for good health.


Move it

“Considering what this country spends on gym memberships, it’s amazing that studies report 60 percent to 70 percent of Americans are not getting enough activity to support good health,” commented Alvari. “We’re still not moving enough. And yet, moving is one of the simplest things we can do.”


As part of a healthy lifestyle, experts recommend one hour of movement a day. This represents only 4 percent of your day and, even better, you can divide the time up into smaller increments, such as 30-, 15- or 10-minute segments. The important thing is to make it part of your everyday routine.


“As only 4 percent of your day, moving should be the smallest and easiest part of your commitment to a healthy lifestyle. The trouble is, people tend to put it off, but later becomes never,” said Alvari. “Just remember that after age 30, your metabolism goes down by 5 points every decade. So, as moving may become more difficult, it also becomes even more important for better health.”


When it comes to moving, choose activities you like. It can be as simple as walking—as long as you do it regularly.


As people age, the lifestyle benefits of regular activity continue to grow. Those who are active have a better memory, sleep better, experience less stress, and tend to have a larger social circle. Some studies have shown that regular activity can be just as effective as antidepressant medication in combatting certain forms of depression.


Stay positive

“To adopt a healthy lifestyle for the long term, keeping it simple and focus on the positive,” advised Alvari. “Words like ‘diet,’ ‘exercise’ and ‘workout’ create a mindset of deprivation and avoidance. Find the healthy things you enjoy eating and doing and add them to your daily routine. If you do, you will have a greater chance of living a longer, healthier lifetime.”


Learn more

Watch for our next article on healthy eating for back-to-school, with tips and information from Food and Nutrition Services at Washington Hospital,