Learning from Shanna Stewart, RD

We all have days when we eat our vegetables and go to the gym... and then there are those days when all we do is eat cake in our pajamas. It's called balance, right? Well, not exactly. Ms. Shanna Stewart is a registered dietitian in Kansas City. Her blog, entitled Wellness for the Win, features simple and healthy recipes as well as some personal articles about her own journey towards fitness. I was intrigued by her story, and reached out to ask her some questions about healthy living. Here are her responses:

If someone were to make the switch to living a healthy life, what would be the first step you recommend? (What are some tips you have for people starting out?)

"More than anything, I would encourage people to take baby steps. Everyone is so desperate to lose weight or make several drastic lifestyle changes at once and that is just not realistic for most people. We are all different, so it's hard to make a blanket statement about one thing people should do; but I would encourage everyone to sit down and take a look at their diet and lifestyle habits, and identify one area in which they know they could improve. Could you include more fruits and vegetables in your diet? Drink less soda and more water? Incorporate exercise a few more times a week? Cook at home more often, rather than driving through fast food? Find one thing you could improve upon, set a goal, and work towards that. Once you achieve one small goal, set another and go from there.

When we have unrealistic expectations of ourselves and then fail to meet them, we quickly become discouraged and quit. Setting realistic goals is the key to success."

How can people become and stay motivated throughout their journey to becoming healthier?

"From my personal experience working with patients, clients and even talking with family and friends, I have learned that accountability is such an important component in regards to motivation. If people have someone to report back to or experience their health journey with, it becomes that much easier for them to stick with it. If you don't have someone encouraging you to keep going on the days when you want to give up, or meet you at the gym at 6AM every day, often times it just doesn't happen. Having a solid support system definitely makes a huge difference. For some this can be a spouse, a best friend, or even a new buddy you made at your gym. Find someone who has similar goals, and push each other to be better every day."


As a dietitian, what are some misconceptions you see people have about nutrition?

"It's hard to narrow down an answer to that question, because there are SO many out there. These days, everyone is a self-proclaimed 'health expert', so it's hard for people to sift through all the information and know what is truly accurate and going to work for them. Which brings me to my next point. Not everything works the same for different people. Just because your friend followed that fad diet and lost 25 pounds, does not necessarily mean that will be the case for you. That's why I never endorse any specific 'diets', because just the word diet sets people up for failure. When people say they are on a diet, there is almost always a negative connotation that comes with that. Diet typically equals restriction.

Everyone has this mentality of 'I can't have this or that.' Instead, I like to encourage my clients to make some simple healthy lifestyle changes that they can really stick with for the long-term; that is how sustainable weight loss and good health happens. If you follow a healthy, balanced diet most of the time and exercise often, there is no reason you can't treat yourself occasionally. It's all about balance and moderation.

The misconception that gets on my nerves the most is that fruit is unhealthy for you, simply because it contains sugar! Yes, it does in fact have naturally-occurring sugars; but it also has a lot of other beneficial nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, water, antioxidants, and most importantly, fiber! You can't get those things from a bag of Skittles, unfortunately. Don't cut out fruit in an attempt to reduce sugar in your diet. Just make sure you're balancing out your diet with plenty of other healthy foods too, including lean sources of protein, healthy fats, whole grains, fruits and especially veggies! :)"

What advice would you give to someone who wants to eat healthy but has limited time to cook and plan?

"I would say that you have to make time. We are all busy and rushing from one thing to another in today's society; however, if your health is a priority to you, you will find a way to make healthy meals and workouts happen. Most of us have at least a couple free hours on the weekends that we could make a trip to the grocery store and do a little bit of meal prep, even if that just means cutting up some vegetables or making a batch of whole wheat muffins to eat as a grab and go breakfast all week. If you're always on-the-go, make sure you come prepared with healthy snacks. There are tons of healthy options that are completely portable, such as fresh fruit, cheese sticks, mixed nuts, etc.

Other ways to ensure you can eat healthy meals if you didn't have time to make it to the store: keep your frozen fruit and veggie supply stocked all the time. Bam! Fruit smoothie, or fruit on your oatmeal for breakfast. And there are so many meals you can whip up in no time using frozen veggies. If you have some oatmeal, brown rice or quinoa in the pantry, you can have a healthy meal in no time! Planning ahead and being prepared truly is key when it comes to living a healthy lifestyle. At first it can be an adjustment, but eventually, it becomes habit."


Any final thoughts?

"My end goal is to show people that a healthy lifestyle does not have to be a boring, or torturous lifestyle. You don't have to kill yourself on the treadmill for an hour every day, or eat chicken and broccoli for every meal to be 'healthy'. Find a type of exercise that you enjoy, someone to do it with, and go do it. Next, find some healthy recipes that are also incredibly delicious -- my Instagram account is proof that they do exist -- and eat them! Make it a point to include color on your plate at every meal; but always remember to allow yourself to rest and splurge on dessert when you need it. Life is short and no one is expected to be perfect all the time."


At KOMA, we are always striving for happier and healthier versions of ourselves, and experts like Ms. Stewart can help us along our journey. By taking small steps, achieving one goal at a time, and supporting each other through the process, we can all work together to live life the black belt way.