Big plans for a new you

Local dietician offers customized care for health and wellness

HEALTHY CHOICES Dietitians help educate patients on best practices for meal planning, grocery shopping and dining out. Photo: John Valenti

The new year brings mixed emotions when it comes to taking control of weight challenges or creating a healthier lifestyle. Every January, many eagerly reset their new year’s weight loss resolution with good intentions by joining a gym, eating right and perhaps picking up the latest diet trend cookbook.

But, these changes are often short-lived, and many well-intended resolution-makers regress into eating familiar comfort foods and inactivity due to stress, long commutes, sugary workplace temptations, inclement weather, schedule time constraints and lack of preparedness.

A handful may even adopt a couple of new healthy habits, but few create a long-term plan and stick with it to achieve weight goal success.

According to registered dietician nutritionist Tarah Venn, RDN, a plan helps people to measure their success, which she says is both encouraging and comforting.

“The more small accomplishments one makes, the more likely they are the make great achievements,” says Venn. “Knowing that you can succeed is empowering, and setting measurable goals helps us to recognize that.”

Dieticians help educate patients on meal planning, healthy grocery shopping on a budget including how to read labels, or dining out without ruining your eating plan. They have tools and tips to help clients resist temptations, avoid late night binging and help them to develop mindful eating habits.

HEALTHIER LIFESTYLE Registered dietician Tarah Venn helps clients develop new habits that combine long-term plans with ongoing virtual support. Photo: John Valenti

A graduate of Cornell and San Francisco State University, Venn offers virtual nutritional coaching services, developing customized, scientifically based nutrition plans for clients.

Diet and nutrition can be complex. Throw in the hustle and bustle of daily life, work routines and the preferences of other eaters in the home, and one can feel doomed from the start.

“I think the most important first step in tackling diverse family food preferences is to open up a conversation about your intentions,” Venn says. “Once everything is out in the open, you can begin the process of strategy and compromise.”

But how to maintain long-term normal range weight management?

Meeting regularly with a dietician will help people stay on course with support and accountability. According to a June 2018 article at diets are often a bust because “they have an endpoint and are not real lifestyle change.”

For clients of Venn who are coached and regularly monitored, weight loss can be a successful and meaningful endeavor.

Melanie Shaw, who became a client of Venn’s after experiencing alarming weight gain, felt more successful knowing that Venn was in her corner able to regularly look in on her progress and connect with weekly meetings.

“I found the virtual interaction to be helpful, actually,” says Shaw. “It allowed Tarah to view my information on a daily basis as I tracked my diet and exercise, and to respond with an ‘attagirl’ or advice right away.”

Shaw says online formats haven’t always worked for her.

“Something about the lack of accountability, and a feeling of remoteness from the person I was working with,” she says. “I never felt that with Tarah. I knew that she was monitoring my progress, and she made sure I felt supported.”

But the biggest change Shaw says she experienced is her approach to dieting.

“I was always big into the various restrictive diets—low carb, no carb, no carb/high fat, low carb/low fat, low calorie, very low calorie and so on,” says Shaw. “Tarah helped me to ease out of the mentality of restriction and into one of healthy, mindful eating with an emphasis on giving your body the nutrition it needs.”
With Venn’s help, Shaw says she was able to bring her weight back down, and begin and maintain a new exercise routine as well.

“I’m healthier than I’ve been in a long time, and I have a good base of knowledge to apply to my diet going forward,” she says.

Having the collaborative assistance of a professional can ensure success and safety.

Following the latest diet trends—such as Whole 30, paleo, ketogenic, intermittent fasting, alkaline, raw foods and veganism—without consulting a physician and a dietician or delving in the research to support each plan’s dietary claims can have dire consequences for those with certain medical conditions.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC), which defines obesity as having a BMI of 30 or greater, has been calling obesity an epidemic since 1999 and published an October 2017 data brief “Prevalence of Obesity Among Adults and Youth: United States, 2015–2016,” concluding, “The prevalence of obesity was 39.8 percent among adults and 18.5 percent among youth in the United States.”

The brief revealed people between ages 40-59 are at the greatest risk, particularly people of color.

“Hispanic adults (47 percent) and non-Hispanic black adults (46.8 percent) had a higher prevalence of obesity than non-Hispanic white adults (37.9 percent).”

With obesity rates continuing to rise, specialized care like Venn’s can offer people the help they need to navigate the waters of nutrition in the new year.

Creating a plan with little dietary knowledge or expertise can be daunting and potentially dangerous, especially if one has an existing or underlying medical condition.

To complicate matters, even medical doctors disagree on the benefits of certain perceived health foods.

“Although medical doctors are without a doubt the experts in their field, medical school provides very little nutrition education,” explains Venn. “Registered dieticians have extensive training in this topic.”

Coconut oil, for instance, has been both lauded as a healthy panacea and villainized as a “pure poison.”

“Coconut oil is a saturated fat and it behaves as one in the body,” says Venn. “As with all saturated fats, it is important to consume coconut oil in moderation.”

Nutritionists are not regulated and Venn says anyone can call themselves a nutritionist. Registered dieticians, on the other hand, have a degree and medical training with hundreds of hours of clinical training and work alongside physicians to improve patient health.

Venn, who has been keeping a food journal for the last 15 years recommends a paper food journal or online app like Myfitnesspal. The benefits of an online journal come in easily being able to track food, water intake and exercise as well as weight loss progress.

The app, Venn says, can scan prepackaged food barcodes, which automatically update the day’s intake and even includes a database with fast food nutritional information.

Another client of Venn’s, Carly Mariani, says the meetings combined with the tracking and the app—which she says is HIPAA-compliant—helped hold her accountable.

“I could speak safely without having my information jeopardized,” she says. “It was through the health app we were able to have those conversations.”

Many dieticians suggest apps that offer group challenges and social member feeds based on activity interest. Users can share their progress on the group feed and once they “friend” someone they can compete alongside them virtually in challenges.

Rule of thumb is that it’s important to discuss weight loss goals with a physician prior to embarking on any plan.

While some insurances may have coverage for dietician counseling by doctor referral as part of its services, those working out of pocket many be able to work with successfully with dieticians on a sliding scale fee.

Lastly, reducing stress is critical in weight loss. The stress hormone cortisol promotes body fat, making it harder to lose weight. The strong desire to make 2019 the year to successfully lose weight and live a healthier lifestyle requires commitment, a customized dietician plan, lower stress levels, support and accountability.

“I find that meditation and mindfulness can be very beneficial to some clients, and do suggest it if appropriate,” says Venn.

Learn more about Tarah Venn, RDN or contact her at [email protected].

Mary Bartholomew
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