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Nutrition Q&A

Helpful answers to your basic nutrition and wellness questions

By Allison Linville

Have you wondered how you could change your diet to positively impact your health and wellness? What would a dietitian or wellness coach tell you if you asked basic questions about food, diet and wellness? Do other people struggle with diet and lifestyle changes? Are there any answers or resources that might connect with you?

North Valley Hospital recently asked dietitians and wellness coaches that work at North Valley Hospital and The Summit Medical Fitness Center some basic questions about nutrition, health and wellness to provide expert tips and simple guidance in addition to resources for anyone who would like to make diet or lifestyle changes.

The expert panel interviewed for this article includes Carrie Archibald, registered dietitian at North Valley Hospital; Teckla Putnam, wellness coach/personal trainer and wellness liaison for North Valley Hospital employees; and Tara Maurice, registered dietitian at The Summit Medical Fitness Center.

These nutrition and wellness professionals are passionate about their role as “coaches” for nutrition, diet and wellness. We asked them what they wish people knew about food and nutrition, what is their favorite thing about healthy eating and wellness, and what aspects of nutrition are the hardest to figure out. Read below for the answers to these common questions.

What is your favorite thing about nutrition?

Tara Maurice: My favorite aspect is the culinary side. One of my creative outlets is cooking and I enjoy making colorful, delicious, fresh, healthy food for me and my family. I also enjoy teaching culinary principles. A whole foods lifestyle involves meal planning and cooking; it starts in the kitchen.

Teckla Putnam: My favorite thing about nutrition is that after all the attempts to achieve perfect packaged food, simple is best. No matter what we engineer, it never replaces the benefits of veggies and fruits that have been given the time, sunshine and attention they need to be health inducing.

Carrie Archibald: How good it can feel to eat healthy! A diet with lots of fruits, veggies and whole grains can provide the fiber, energy, vitamins and minerals the body needs to function at its best. I love to hear from clients who have changed from eating a diet of highly processed foods or skipping meals altogether to eating more fruits, veggies and grains, and how it has impacted the way they feel and how much more energy they have to get through the day.

What do you wish everyone knew about healthy eating?

Tara: I wish everyone knew that nutrition doesn’t have to be hard! I love our One2One Weight Management Program as it focuses on a balanced lifestyle. There are as many different eating patterns as there are people. The main thing is to be intuitive to what your body needs. As long as food is viewed as nourishment and something to enjoy, then it may take the stress out of “what to eat.”

Teckla: I wish everyone knew the statement, “eat food, mostly plants, not too much,” from Michael Pollan’s book “Food Rules.”

Carrie: Fad diets and quick fixes don’t work! Fad diets are a short-term fix that can hurt the body’s metabolism in the long term. Most are restricted in calories and cut out a food group which in turn cuts out a major source of vitamins and minerals the body needs. Eating consistently throughout the day – no skipping meals – can keep energy levels up and help prevent bingeing or overeating later on. Also – all fruits and veggies are super foods! Especially when we eat a wide variety of colors each day. Each color represents different antioxidants and phytonutrients that provide us with protective health benefits to help ward off diseases from cardiovascular disease to cancer.

What is the hardest thing to understand about nutrition?

Tara: That there’s no prescription for exactly what to eat. There are guidelines supported by science, and then you also have to find what works for you.

Teckla: I think the hardest thing to understand and accept is that things change. Accepting new information is difficult when we have made a routine out of choosing wisely and then finding out it may not have been the best thing…this can be very frustrating. For instance, there is confusion about fat and the different types. The “fat free era” has come to an end and we know that fat is not “bad,” but the messaging we received became part of a belief system that is difficult to undo.

Carrie: That it takes time to make changes and results won’t happen overnight. Also, it is important to take in enough calories to support the body’s metabolism. Not taking in enough energy (calories) can result in a lower metabolic rate and then it is more difficult to see results.

What challenges do you face in working with people on nutrition?

Tara: One of the most challenging things is people’s preconceived opinions, patterns or thoughts regarding food. It can be hard to change that. Food can be linked with memories, emotions and ideals. An example may be someone who has always eaten low fat and needs to lose weight but is scared of eating any fat. Changing habits is not always easy. Another challenge is the “how many calories should I eat to lose weight?” question. Most people are not eating enough to support their basal metabolism. I enjoy helping people learn how to eat MORE of the good food!

Teckla: I am challenged by the “just tell me the best diet” approach. Every person and metabolism is different. Once people trust that whole real food is the answer, it is awesome to watch the changes in mood, energy, inflammation, stamina and overall well-being.

Carrie: One of the biggest challenges is moving clients away from the “diet mentality” and labeling foods as “good” or “bad.” If the bulk of our diet contains fresh fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean meats, fish and a calcium source (three servings a day!), then there is room for small treats (a glass of wine, a piece of chocolate, etc.). I see a lot of shame around eating, which is difficult to overcome. For many people, issues around food and body image become ingrained when we are young. When we learn to listen to and trust our body and fuel it properly, we can develop a whole new healthy relationship with food.

Get support

North Valley Hospital dietitians and other resources through the Kalispell Regional Healthcare System are here to help community members overcome obstacles related to eating and wellness. Whitefish has a One2One Weight Management Program and also a Diabetes Prevention Program available. Also, through The Summit Medical Fitness Center in Kalispell, there is a wide variety of classes and wellness coaching for people who are interested in making healthy lifestyle changes.

For more information about any of these programs, please refer to the following resources:

First published in Montana Woman magazine, September 2017