As a nutrition professional, the question that I get asked most often by military spouses is “What do you eat as a registered dietitian (RD)?” I think people hope for some secret sauce or some magical food from the depths of the Amazon rainforest and they are often disappointed, or even shocked, when my answer is “Whatever I want.” In a world full of diet tribes and influencers, it can be hard to accept the truth that nutrition doesn’t have to be complicated. Nutrition can, in fact, be really simple. Here are my five ways to eat like an RD:
BUILD A BALANCED PLATE
A balanced plate doesn’t refer to calories or weight, but rather to creating a well-rounded plate. Here are the four food groups that you should aim to have present at every meal: carbohydrates (including fruits and starchy vegetables), healthy fats, lean proteins, and colors (primarily non-starchy vegetables). For example, don’t just have an apple for a snack, have half an apple (carbohydrate), a hard-boiled egg (protein), carrots (color), and hummus (fat). Or for breakfast instead of having cereal you can have avocado toast (carb and fat) with some eggs and spinach (protein and color). Too much work? Throw some frozen fruit (carb), ground flax seed (fat), protein powder (protein), and spinach (color) in with a liquid base and you have yourself a quick and balanced smoothie! Each time you eat, aim for all four groups on your plate to create balance.
HYDRATE, HYDRATE, HYDRATE
Aim to drink more water and less of everything else. Enough said.
EAT WITH INTENTION
When I say that I eat whatever I want, it’s true. But the thing is, what I WANT is to live a long and healthy life with my husband. I want to feel sexy in every outfit, or no outfit at all. I want to go on adventures and see the world wherever his career may take me. What I want is a long life of health and complete independence, so most often the foods that I choose are the foods that I know will get me there. The research is clear that a diet rich in plants and whole foods increases longevity and decreases the risk for disease and obesity.
FOLLOW THE 80/20 RULE
While I mentioned above that I eat with the intention of maintaining a healthy body, sometimes I eat with other intentions as well. When we PCSed to England I would eat chicken nuggets and Kraft mac and cheese at least three times a month because it reminded me of home, and I missed home. When I travel to a new country, I try local dishes regardless of what food groups are included because I want to learn more about the place I’m visiting. Perfection is unrealistic and unsustainable, so save yourself from the idea of diet perfection right now. What is sustainable is 80/20. Eighty percent of the time eat with the intention of health, mobility, body composition, and longevity. Twenty percent of the time eat for any other reason. Out of a seven-day week that leaves about one and a half days (or about four meals per week) to eat for any other reason. To be clear, 20 percent doesn’t mean it has to be something crazy or even unhealthy, it just means that you have the space if you want to use it guilt-free.
EAT UNTIL YOU ARE AN EIGHT OUT OF TEN
The phrase “hara hachi bu” is commonly said before meals in Japan and it means “eat until you are 80 percent full.” If hunger and satiety were on a scale, with zero being famished and ten being Thanksgiving full, you should strive to be between three and eight. Never wait to eat until you are too hungry because then you might overeat and only eat until you are satisfied (which is different than full).
With these five steps you can change the way you eat and, in turn, change your life. Remember that eating like an RD doesn’t have to be complicated so keep it simple and start enjoying nutrition!
Stacy Rae is the CEO and founder of Stacy Rae Wellness, a virtual one-stop shop that teaches and empowers busy women to build a lifestyle that promotes weight loss, wellness, and improved performance. Stacy worked as the registered dietitian at Cannon Air Force Base before meeting her husband and beginning her journey as an Air Force spouse. She has a B.S. in Exercise Science and an M.S. in Sports Nutrition from Florida State University, as well as her Registered Dietitian (RD) and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) certifications.