The Villages Daily Sun

New Year, New You — A worthy resolution

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Posted: Monday, January 1, 2018 8:00 am

With the holidays behind them, millions of people have shifted their focus from trimming trees to trimming their waistlines.

Revamping your eating habits for the new year goes beyond dropping dress sizes, though. It may be the key to improving your overall health in 2018. 

The federal Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion estimates 117 million Americans have a preventable chronic disease, and many of those are linked to poor diet and inactivity.

“We know that when people eat well, their risk of developing chronic illnesses reduces.  If they already have chronic conditions, they’re more manageable when they adhere to a healthy diet,” said Kristen Curtis, registered dietitian with The Villages Health.

Laura Grossman formed a plan for 2017 after realizing the danger her approach to loving food posed to her health.

 She had watched the reading on the scale climb to the heaviest weight of her life. And her biggest fear, developing diabetes, was close to fruition.

“I became pre-diabetic, but I’m not a sugar eater,” Grossman said.

She learned how to position her body in photos just right, hiding behind others. She was unhappy with the way she looked and felt.

“Now I’m out front. I’m proud,” said Grossman, of the Village of Largo.

She spent 2017 transforming her lifestyle, beginning with her diet.

Six months later, she was no longer prediabetic. Today, she is 38 pounds lighter.

Though adjusting takes time, Grossman said making the effort is worth it.

“I don’t think of this as a diet,” she said. “I think of it as my life.”

The diet dilemma

In 2017, headlines proclaimed that eating chocolate for breakfast is good for your health, referencing a Syracuse University study that associated eating chocolate with better brain function.

But chomping on raw kale? That could damage your thyroid, sabotaging metabolic health, a different study out of Oregon State University concluded.

Such seemingly contradictory dietary advice confuses many consumers.

Eighty percent of Americans think advice about what to eat is conflicting, according to a 2017 survey by the International Food Information Council Foundation, a nonprofit and nonpartisan education group.

Older adults are less confused and more likely to implement health eating habits, the survey found.

While 61 percent of younger adults reported doubting the health of their food choices, only 47 percent of those 50 and older shared their confusion.

Recently, some have even turned to genetic testing kits to develop a diet plan based on their DNA.

Citing the position of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Curtis said to save your money.  

“There isn’t valid research to support or prove benefits or accuracy,” she said.

Nailing The Basics

Though studies may reach differing conclusions about certain foods, simple dietary principles can benefit many, Curtis said.

“Making choices from all five food groups while aiming to consume less saturated fat, sodium and added sugars are basic guidelines for most people,” she said. 

Every five years, the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and of Health and Human Services are required by law to release updated dietary guidelines.

Little has changed since the first issuance in 1980: Eat a variety of foods and limit sugar and sodium intake.

But more than two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese today, according to the National Institutes of Health. 

Statistics show the majority of the population does not follow the federal guidelines, at least when it comes to eating fruits and vegetables.

Daily consumption of 1 1/2 to 2 cups of fruit and 2 to 3 cups of vegetables is recommended.

Only 12.2 percent of people met fruit intake recommendations and 9.3 percent met those set for vegetables in 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found.

Curtis said a USDA website,, is a good starting point. It offers serving suggestions for fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy, as well as oils, based on age and sex.

The feature emphasizes variety, portion control and balance, Curtis said.

Success lies in viewing food choices as a lifestyle, not a diet, she said.

“Personally, I hate the word ‘diet’ altogether,” Curtis said. “If you have to think about being on a diet for the rest of your life in order to reach your goals, that doesn’t seem like a positive way of thinking.”

Lifestyle diets, such as the Mediterranean and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, have the most research backing them, she said.

To see results, it’s often best to start small.

“Making small changes to your diet is actually the preferred method of initiating change,” Curtis said. “When you set out with a realistic and achievable goal, you’re more likely to sustain the changes you’ve made long term.”

Avoiding A Trendy Diet

While fad diets may yield quick results, they can be difficult to maintain.

Any that promote cutting out a compound or food group completely should be avoided, Curtis advised. 

“Oftentimes, carbohydrates get the bad name, but they absolutely should not be eliminated from the diet,” she said, noting that whole grains, vegetables and fruits are all sources of carbs.  

“Eliminating an entire food group means you’re missing out on the key nutrients that a balanced meal plan offers,” Curtis said.

Before consulting with The Villages Health on her diet, Grossman thought she’d have to give up cheese. She was pleasantly surprised to learn the sacrifice wasn’t necessary.

“They never told us not to eat anything,” she said.  “They always said everything has to be eaten in a balanced fashion.”

Still, Grossman continued struggling to lose weight early on until Curtis suggested she catalog her daily caloric intake.

“I thought that was silly,” Grossman said.

That is, until she added up the numbers.

Based on Grossman’s physical characteristics and activity level, she was shooting for 1,200 calories per day.

Calculations showed her intake was twice that. And 60 percent of her calories came from fat.

“I was stunned,” Grossman said.

By starting to understand the components of her dinner plate, she was able to turn her diet around.

“It was just a matter of understanding food,” Grossman said.

By upping her fiber intake, limiting portions and starting to eat breakfast, she saw results.

Grossman, who said she doesn’t care for fruit, also has started incorporating her least-favorite food group into her eating, with the help of a dark chocolate coating.

Health For Aging Bodies

Grossman had not always struggled with her weight.

“When I was in high school, my father would say, ‘If you hit 100 pounds, I’ll give you $10,’” she recalled. “I couldn’t get to it.”

Grossman gained some weight while working a desk job for a nonprofit based in Long Island, New York.

But she said she really started to pack on the pounds after retiring and moving to The Villages in 2007.

“I love food,” Grossman said. “Food is my thing.”

As we get older, bodies show signs of deterioration, as metabolism slows, muscle mass decreases and bones lose density.

Those who consume too few calories are even more at risk for muscle loss, Curtis said.

“If you restrict calories too severely, you’re basically sabotaging your metabolism and your body starts to break down lean muscle to reserve energy stores,” she said.

This can lead to frailty and loss of balance.

“What is clear, with aging you see changes in the body that lead to functional decline,” said Dr. Stephen Anton, associate professor at the University of Florida. “You want to think about ways to target those conditions.”

Combining healthy eating with regular exercise may help to slow this down, research shows.

“I believe that many chronic disease conditions are related to lifestyle,” Anton said.

A recent study led by UF researchers found that just seven minutes of daily exercise helped to hold off major disability in seniors. 

The CDC recommends two hours and 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week, in addition to two days of muscle training.

For years, Grossman said she participated in zero physical activity.

She now exercises Curves three times a week and walks 8,000 steps each day.

Grossman recently walked in her first 5K.

She remembers her first time weighing in without an obese body-mass-index reading.

“I never thought I would be so excited to be overweight,” Grossman said with a laugh.

At holiday parties this season, others have commented on her weight loss, she said. But she tells them she is most happy to be no longer at risk for diabetes.

Grossman plans to keep up with her new lifestyle throughout 2018, and she encouraged others to do the same, even if that means asking for help.

“The best advice that I could give anybody is to do it for yourself,” she said.  “The motivation has to come from in your heart.”

Ciara Varone is a staff writer with The Villages Daily Sun. She can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5395, or