Nutrition Counseling

Add to Clients’ Lifestyles in the New Year

With the start of a new year brings social pressures and expectations for clients to cut X, Y, and Z out of their lives and adapt a whole slew of new eating patterns and behaviors. While there may be good intentions behind these goals, they’re often unrealistic and can set our clients up for disappointment. What if we worked with clients so they focus on small dietary changes and lifestyle behaviors they can add to their lives?

The following are examples of these healthful additions dietitians can discuss with clients. Of course, it’s important to obtain a detailed history of the individual, listen to what he or she says, and take a personalized approach before making recommendations.

While we know the importance and benefits of sleep, we still have to remind the general public (and sometimes ourselves) about them. With busy and chaotic lifestyles, sleep usually becomes the last thing on the list of priorities. Remind clients that a lack of sleep negatively affects energy levels, exercise motivation, the ability to concentrate, and appetite regulation. Research shows sleep deprivation can increase ghrelin, our hunger hormone, while reducing leptin, the hormone that suppresses appetite.

Fermented Foods and Probiotics
Probiotics are a great addition for clients looking to increase variety in their diets for the new year. Probiotics improve digestive health, manage anxiety, boost mood, and reduce risk of some diseases. While consumers’ first thought may be supplements, remind them there are many food sources of prebiotics and probiotics, too. Snacks such as yogurt and cottage cheese contain plenty of protein, calcium, and vitamin D and are easy portable options. Other options include foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh, miso, kefir, and natto (a Japanese soybean product). 

Many people don’t meet the daily requirements for fiber, which is 25 g for women and 38 g for men. A great counseling strategy is to ask clients what sources of fiber they think they’re already including in their diets and talk about additional sources they can add. You also can discuss the health benefits of fiber, including normalized bowel function, decreased cholesterol, stabilized blood glucose, and improved satiety. Making an effort to add more fiber-rich foods into their diets also may automatically displace some processed foods and added sugars without putting a focus on eliminating those foods. 

Most Americans aren’t eating enough seafood, either. A recent American Heart Association science advisory found that including two servings of fish/week can significantly reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. Seafood is a lean source of protein that contains heart-healthy omega-3s, vitamin D, B vitamins, iodine, and selenium. Suggest some different ways to include seafood, such as buying it frozen for convenience, adding it to poke or buddha bowls (mixed with rice and veggies), or consuming it as a snack (eg, dried jerky, portable tuna and salmon spreads).

Social Connection
While not a dietary change, the importance of social connection to our overall health is significant. There’s a large body of research showing that individuals with the fewest social relationships are more likely to die prematurely. Social connections can support positive health behaviors, such as exercise, consuming nutritionally balanced diets, and promoting adherence to medical regimens. Having a strong social support system also can affect psychological well-being and mental health.

Of course, there are many other things you can discuss with clients, but hopefully these topics will provide a starting point for working with clients in the new year.

— Sarah Schlichter, MPH, RDN, LDN, is a freelance writer, nutrition consultant, recipe developer, and private practice owner in Charlotte, North Carolina. She specializes in intuitive eating and sports nutrition. You can find more of her writing on her blog,

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