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HEALTHY LIVING: How to maintain ‘SMART’ lifestyle
Q&A with Piedmont Newton Hospital dietitian Megan Jaimes-Arias
Megan Jaimes-Arias - photo by Special to The Covington News

COVINGTON, Ga. — To help readers maintain a healthy lifestyle, The Covington News recently reached out to Megan Jaimes-Arias, RDN, LD, for professional guidance. 

Arias is a dietitian at Piedmont Newton Hospital where she has served for four years. She earned her bachelor’s degrees in Biology and Dietetics at the University of Georgia as well as an internship at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina.

Q: What are some common things that people can do to maintain a healthy lifestyle? 

MJA: It’s the same stuff that people don’t want to hear. Eat healthy, exercise and make good choices. 

Q: What diet do you recommend to someone who wants to lose weight? 

MJA: I think we all know someone who’s dieted and been unsuccessful. There’ve been people who have been successful in the short term, reach their goal and go off their diet. Then, they do what? They gain all their weight back. 

So, we want to create more of a lifestyle change than just a diet change. Instead of going on some low carb or no carb diet, step back and look and see what kind of patterns you have in your daily life. Then, set some goals on how to improve on that. 

We’re all about setting S.M.A.R.T. goals. Things that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time bound. So, being very specific so that we set ourselves up for success instead of having overarching goals. Like saying, “I’m going to go on a low carb diet,” without having any specifics to what that means. 

Q: What are some common myths about losing weight? 

MJA: Getting hung up on “I want to lose 15 pounds by my vacation.” Then thinking, I can just cut out all of these things and I’ll lose weight. Sometimes that’s true, but it’s not going to be that long term. So, when we get into patterns of weight loss, weight gain and those “yo-yo” diets, then that’s when we’re not able to achieve that sustained weight loss and improvements in our health long term. 

I think a lot of people cut out a lot of things over a short period of time to lose weight, and that’s true. But it’s not going to have the lasting health effects that most of us are looking for when we want to lose weight. 

Q: There are healthy ways to lose weight, but then there are unhealthy ways to lose weight. What are some common unhealthy ways that you’ve seen people try and lose weight and how can they avoid those unhealthy ways? 

MJA: Most of the time, diets that eliminate an entire food group is usually an unhealthy way to lose weight. You’re going to be missing out on some nutrients if you’re eliminating, say all carbohydrates. 

Skipping meals is also not a healthy way to lose weight. Typically, when you skip meals, you start eating more at the meals you are eating. So, say you only eat one meal a day, by the time you get to dinner, you’re probably going to eat a lot more than you would have if you had eaten all throughout the day. And when we get really hungry, we tend to make bad choices. 

Another one is you can’t lose weight just by exercise or just by diet. They have to really work together. There’s no quick switch, easy way out. If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. 

Q: Veganism has become more well-known in recent years. How would you assist someone who is a vegan in losing weight? Is there anything different for that type of person? 

MJA: I think as veganism has become more popular in today’s culture, there are more products being made to fit in that lifestyle. So, some of those, they do add more fat to them. Just because it says it’s vegan doesn’t necessarily mean it is healthy. It just goes back to the basics of reading nutrition labels and looking to see what’s in those foods. 

You really have to balance a vegan diet, because you do miss out on some key nutrients. They can be replaced, but you have to be more thoughtful on how you put your meals together and what you’re eating throughout the day to make sure you’re getting enough protein, calcium, B-vitamins and other things that we don’t get when we take animal products out of our diet. 

But I think mostly, a lot of the products that they come out with that are meat replacements, they want it to taste good. When they’re trying to sell a food product, if it doesn’t taste or look good, then you’re not going to buy it. Sometimes they add more sugar or fat to not make it a healthy choice even though you think, “oh, it’s vegan, it’s healthy.” 

Just being mindful of those types of choices. 

Q: A popular diet that has become well known has been the Keto diet. What are your thoughts on the Keto diet and its effects on maintaining a healthy lifestyle? 

MJA: It is a very restrictive diet. The biggest concerns I have with it are that sometimes people use it as a way to put bacon and butter on everything. That has a lot of cardiovascular risks that we’re taking upon. 

Another thing is, it’s not making long-term changes in our lifestyle and our diet. It’s something that’s not sustainable. You can’t be on that the rest of your life. 

It makes it difficult in our social life, too. Eating is a whole aspect of all of our lives. So, if we can’t go out to dinner with our friends because we’re on the Keto diet, that isolates us from those social aspects, too. 

I don’t think it’s something we can really sustain. I’m not a big fan of the Keto diet. I think that it puts us in this very restrictive diet lifestyle. 

Q: A lot of scams scour the internet nowadays. What are some of the best programs that you would recommend for people to avoid those scams?

MJA: There are so many self-proclaimed nutritionists out there. You have to really be careful and look for sources and information about these people. Just because they’ve been successful in losing weight or they’re a bodybuilder, doesn’t make them a nutrition expert. 

Looking for registered dietitians when you’re looking for nutrition information is helpful. Just because it’s on the internet doesn’t mean it’s true. 

Something I always tend to look for is, are they selling you something? Are they trying to sell you a whole plethora of nutrition supplements? Are they trying to sell you pre-packaged meals? Usually, there’s some gimmick there. If their program works, then you wouldn’t need to continue to buy whatever they sell. 

As far as nutrition programs, I feel like when a lot of patients come to me, they’ve been through a lot of them. Maybe they’ve had some success, but ultimately failed in the end. [Those programs] can be successful but, again, it’s still teaching you to be reliant on the program instead of teaching you how to make those healthy choices on your own. 

I think working with a registered dietitian when you’re able to is helpful and looking for information on dietitians can be helpful, too. 

Q: Each year, people make new year’s resolutions to lose weight. But, for the most part, those resolutions seem to fade as we progress through the year. If someone came to you discouraged about their new year’s resolution, what advice would you give to help them keep pushing for that goal? 

MJA: So many of us make these resolutions of, “I’m going to lose 25 pounds,” and don’t have any plan on how to get there. So, we start off January 1 and we’re like “I’m just going to eat salad.” Then, all you eat is salad for a week and you’re like, “okay, this has gotten old.” Then you go back to what you were doing before and kind of let it go. 

Instead, I like to make these S.M.A.R.T. goals. So, let’s sit down and specifically say, “this is where I’d like to be,” but what is something that’s going to set me up for success? 

You’re not going to lose 20 pounds in a week. You might like to, but it’s not going to happen that way. Healthy weight loss is going to one to two pounds a week. It’ll be slow and steady. That’s the kind of weight loss that’s going to be sustained. 

We know people who have lost 20 pounds in a week, but usually they’ve gained back 30 pounds in two months. 

So, getting back to setting goals that are realistic, then let’s talk about what you’re doing right now. 

I usually set three goals with people and we’ll set those goals for about six to eight weeks. Once we’re being successful with those and there are actual changed habits, then we might add some more. 

Are you drinking a lot of sugary drinks? Then that’s a way to cut out some calories. Just saying specifically, “I usually drink five cokes a day. So, I’m going to try and cut back to drinking two cokes a day.” If you really love coke and every time you turn around you’re going to want a coke, you probably can’t just cut them out cold turkey. So, try to set a specific goal that you can be successful at and it also sets you up to make those good choices again and again instead of saying, “Man, I drank a coke. Now I can’t check this off my list. So, I might as well go back to drinking all the cokes I was before.” 

Also, if you’re not exercising at all, it’s unrealistic to say, “starting tomorrow, I’m going to exercise for two hours for four days a week.” It’s just not going to happen. And, if you say, “I hate walking on the treadmill,” then find something you enjoy doing. And, if you’re not exercising at all, maybe 15 minutes twice a week is where you need to start. Start small then build it. 

As much as we’re all living in an instant gratification world, it’s not something that’s going to happen overnight. Not if we want to make those lasting changes.