The Garden City Telegram

Dieting a matter ofChanging lifestyles

Becky Malewitz/TelegramRegistered and licensed dietitian Penny Johnson in her office at St. Catherine Hospital.
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Attainable goals, portion control important when dieting.


Over the years, the word "diet" has gotten a bad rep.

For those looking to shed a few pounds, "diet" may be a four-letter word meaning goodbye carbs and hello lettuce.

"I hate the word diet," said Penny Johnson, St. Catherine Hospital's registered and licensed dietitian.

"I hate it. People come in and say 'I'm on a diet. I can't have this and this and this.' We're all on a diet. A normal food schedule is considered a diet, and the word diet makes you automatically think it's something very restrictive, something negative. Everything I eat is on my diet. We just have to make our diets more healthy."

Johnson, who has a master's degree in nutrition from Oklahoma University Health and Sciences Center, says that there is no magic formula that will make someone lose 50 pounds overnight, but with education and practicing gradual lifestyle changes, it's easier to attain goals over time.

"Smaller goals, no fad diets, things that are attainable — they are better options for (individuals looking) for a lifestyle change opposed to a diet," she said.

As for simple guidelines for weight loss and healthier eating, Johnson says she doesn't favor one food over another. Instead, she encourages patients to try the variety of healthy options available.

"I stick with the basics. I'm not a big one for all of a sudden blueberries are the magic food or something like that. I stick with the whole grains and high fiber, an assortment of fruits and vegetables," she said. "Variety is necessary in a healthy diet, so I pick the best things out of every food group."

Another key to weight loss and healthy eating is understanding portion control.

"Obviously, we have an issue with restaurant foods and fast foods that people eat too often, but even if people ate in restaurants a good amount of time and they monitored their portions, they could still fit that into a healthy diet," Johnson said.

"It's the going into restaurants and they give you these giant plates and huge portions, and you finish that and you get it in your head that's an OK portion size to have at home. Then you start eating double and triple the size of things you should be eating."

Johnson's solution: Indulge in what you like, just don't overindulge.

"I like to tell people you can have the foods that you like in moderation. You can have the lasagna that you want every now and then if you want. You don't need three servings of it at once, so I think portion control is probably the biggest problem everybody has," she said.

For individuals needing specific advice, Johnson says there isn't one magic thing that will make everybody healthier, but more likely than not there is something lacking in many diets.

"If I could just push one thing to my patients, it's usually fiber. Fiber's awesome. It helps your heart, it helps your gut, it makes you feel fuller longer. We just don't get enough of it," she said.

Last but not least, Johnson says to mix up the look of your plate to ensure a healthy meal.

"Eat colorfully. You don't want all of your food to be the same color," she said.

"Most people have yellow food: corn, bread, cheese all on the same plate. Focusing on the variety of colors helps you get the variety of nutrients you need from all the different foods."