Ellie Krieger wants you to get off the diet roller coaster and make healthy changes you can sustain for life

If youve ever watched Ellie Krieger on TVs Healthy Appetite or flipped through one of her popular cookbooks, you might think she has it all figured out. But she insists thats not the case. I have my demons, too! she says, laughing. I try not to drink too much coffee or too much wine.

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Still, when she looks at the big picture of her lifelong health habits, Ellie says, she can definitely see a pattern: I eat French fries occasionally but I mostly eat really wellIm very consistent, and for me that has paid off.

Its that reasonable approach to eating that Ellie detailed in her first book, 2005s Small Changes, Big Results, now available in an updated version. We talked to the registered dietitian about revisiting the book after 8 years, what she thinks of nutrition fads like coconut oil and Paleoand the one recipe she refuses to lighten up.

Spry: Why have you made the concept of small changes the cornerstone of your approach to health?

Ellie Krieger: Sometimes the idea of changing can be paralyzing for people because it feels very overwhelming. So the idea is that by doing it incrementally, you feel like you can harness it. Its amazing how powerful that can be. Its very important not to think all or nothing, which is what a lot of diets do. But all or nothing keeps us on a diet roller coaster. So instead, think, How can I make this better? What steps can I take to improve from where I was? The secret is that once you make one change, it triggers other changes. So you may be consciously making one change a week, but youre unconsciously probably making more.

Spry: In revising and updating Small Changes, Big Results, what was the biggest change you made to the text?

EK: What was interesting to me was that people were buying the book still, but I was reading it and noticed I told people to grab their Walkman! And in a lot of the recipes I had used Greek yogurt, but at that timein 2005you couldnt buy it in the store, so I gave instructions for how to make your own. The reason why I revised it was really just to update it, because so much has changed in our world, in terms of what food is accessible to us, as well as technologically, with smartphones and apps. I also wanted to address issues that were looking at now that we may not have been then, like coconut oil and agave.

What I find even more compelling is that I re-researched everything, and with all of that, the basic nutrition plan didnt change. I find that very encouraging when I talk about long-term. Because I think a lot of people think, Oh, scientists are just going to change their minds tomorrow anyway! But in fact, its held truethe basic parameters of eating more whole foods like vegetables and whole grains, eating less sweetener, eating leaner meats and fish and incorporating vegetable proteins, looking at the meal pattern you eat and trying to be consistent. The core of that has remained tried and true. So 10 years from now its probably still going to be true.

Spry: How do you recommend people approach nutrition fads like coconut oil and agave?

EK: Its one thing to try somethingwhy not? Taste it or work it into a recipe here and there. But dont make any drastic changes in the pattern of your eatingswitching all your oils from canola or olive to only coconut oil, for instanceuntil we have a very complete understanding of the science. And right now we dont.

Spry: When you were revising the book, was there anything that you addedmaybe something you cook a lot more with now than you did back then?

EK: Definitely quinoa. No one had really heard of it back then, and Id say thats a staple on my shelf now.

Spry: Youve said you love to experiment in the kitchen. How can that help sustain a healthy eating plan?

EK: I think people get very stuck in a rut in terms of what they think is possible when theyre eating healthy. When they think, Were going to eat healthy for the New Year, most people just end up eating a lot of plain salad with grilled chicken on top, and after a while its boring. People dont realize the wealth of options that are beyond that. I have four cookbooks and each of them have upwards of 100 recipes, so I feel like there are so many things you can do.

Spry: Thats kind of the opposite of what seems to be the trend in diets lately, which is more narrow and restrictivelike Paleo. What do you think of those types of plans?

EK: Heres the thing: People need some sort of plan, and very often people arent on any kind of plan. Theyre just eating haphazardly and eating a lot of processed foods. A lot of these diets put people on a plan, so theyre paying attention to what theyre eating, and most likely theyre eating a lot more vegetables. So for the short term, theyll probably lose weight and they may be eating better than they would otherwise. But heres the clincher: How long can you live like that? Thats the big question I always ask. And if you cant, then you need to figure out whats next. Anyone can lose weight, really. But most people who are looking at the New Year, theyve probably lost weight X times before and gained it back. So what I encourage people to do is to say, How is this time going to be different? And I think one way to make it different is to think of it as more of a long-term life change. To say that you can never eat a grain again is unnecessary and most likely unsustainableand potentially unhealthy, depending on the rest of the balance. So why do that? If you start to think long-term instead of short-term, the equation changes. The whole premise of something like Paleo is sort of silly to me, because if were going to say we should be living like the caveman days, we should be living outside while were at it! You cant give half the argument, you know what Im saying?

Spry: Exactly! Were so much more naturally sedentary now. Given that, what kind of advice can you give people about staying active?

EK: Im a nutritionist, but I really see health as a three-legged stool. You really need to eat well, in a big-picture kind of way, you need to be active in your life, and you need to look at your other lifestyle factors like stress, your connections with other people, sleep and other factors. Activity is critical, and the benefits of being active in your life are overwhelming, in terms of it improving how you feel about yourself, how you feel about your body, reductions for risk of disease, how your brain functionsthe list is ridiculously long. So my philosophy is, again, to do something that feels sustainable to you. It doesnt have to be the thing that burns the most fat. Just something that you like to do, that you can weave into your life in a regular way and make a commitment to.

Spry: What are your stress-busters?

EK: Taking a walk outside. Sometimes Ill literally step outside for 10 minutes if Im freaking out at my desk, and just get some perspective! The activity hugely helps. Thats an example of how it all weaves togetherif youre exercising, thats like killing two birds with one stone. The other thing is keeping perspective. I may have a deadline, but its not a life or death situation. Its going to work out. One of the things I do is mindfulness or breathing exercises. Tap into your breathing and think about where you are for two minutes can make a difference in your life and stress level.

Spry: Do you have any recipes that you dont even try to lighten up?

EK: My aunts butter cookies during the holidaysIm not changing that recipe one iota! Theyre basically butter, sugar and a teeny bit of flour. So I have a couple throughout the holiday seasonbut thats a once-a-year thing.

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