MyThoughts about MyPlate

Today, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, along with First Lady Michelle Obama and Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, unveiled the new icon replacing the food pyramid, which first debuted in 1992. These icons are designed to translate the complex Dietary Guidelines into a simple, “how-to” guide for following a healthier diet. The most recent pyramid, unveiled in 2005 as MyPyramid, was widely panned by health professionals as too complex and not user-friendly.

The new icon is called MyPlate, and is a simplified version of the recommendations laid out in the Dietary Guidelines. I applaud the USDA and Obama administration for choosing a straightforward design which applies more directly to the act of eating. But I am concerned that the icon has been oversimplified. That said, here are “MyThoughts” about MyPlate:

Likes –

  • The name: ChooseMyPlate. “Choose” implies empowerment, and that the responsibility for eating healthfully (and making behavior changes) ultimately resides with the individual.  “My” is a carryover from MyPyramid, which were actually 12 individualized pyramids based on age, sex and activity level. The “my” is a nod toward one’s individual dietary needs:  while the elements of every person’s plate would be the same, a toddler’s plate would look different from an adult male’s plate.
  • It can apply both to a single meal as well as an overall diet, and just by a quick glance you get the main message of: make half of what you eat fruits and vegetables – slightly more veggies than fruits. I also like how exact measurements have been left off the icon…that the different food groups are really more or less relative to one another.
  • The “Milk” group is back to being categorized as “Dairy,” which is a little more accurate about the foods you’d find in the group, such as yogurt and cheese. Calcium-fortified soymilk is also in this group, and while technically not a dairy product it is often a dairy substitute.
  • The plate design makes it easier to visualize what to put on your plate at a meal. Many RDs, myself included, use a plate technique with clients to educate about portion and food groups. HOWEVER, many people are still eating meals on the go – in the car, in a carry-out bag or in some other convenient form – such as a sandwich. Using a plate approach still requires some imagination for translating the actual food one is eating into these categories.
  • While there was a lot of discussion about physical activity no longer represented on the icon, I’m OK with that. This is meant to be a representation of how people should eat – other behaviors such as physical activity and practicing food safety principles can be a separate conversation.

Dislikes –

  • Dairy appears to be an afterthought, and not a main component in one’s diet. Also, its shape is different from the others, making it difficult to envision how much dairy relative to other food groups a person should eat.
  • “Protein” is ambiguous to the average American. Why they chose to do away with the more descriptive “Meat and Beans” group is beyond me. Protein is a macronutrient, whereas fruits, vegetables, grains and dairy are all foods. I’m glad they didn’t rename the grains group “Carbohydrates”!
  • Fats have been excluded. Will this icon send an inadvertent message that fats don’t belong in our diets? The fat-free craze of the 1980s was a diet disaster and should not be repeated. People are still learning that certain fats do deserve a place in our diets, such as oils, seeds and nuts.
  • Non-plateable foods such as soups, cereals and mixed dishes will be hard to translate into the new plate model. Consumers will need to “deconstruct” their foods to see how it fits into their daily needs.
  • The plate represents an ideal – as it should – but it excludes other foods people eat, including items addressed in the dietary guidelines such as foods with added sugar and alcohol. Granted, MyPyramid also didn’t address these foods in the icon, either. While such foods/drinks should be limited and need not be a part of a person’s everyday diet, we cannot simply ignore these foods and pretend they don’t exist, particularly if we’re going with an icon we hope people will apply to their everyday dinner plates.

In general, I think the new icon is a good starting point to help consumers think about what they eat in a single eating occasion and as a whole. But it should not exist in isolation. Registered dietitians still need to translate what the icon means and apply it to individuals to help them meet their healthy eating goals.

If you’re interested in starting a healthy eating plan, let’s make an appointment! I work with individuals and families on adopting healthier lifestyles, weight loss and general wellness. Check out my website at or contact me for more information.

Everyone’s a critic

I was recently approached by a writer for to serve as the nutrition expert, analyzing a food diary submitted by a reader. Happily, I agreed.

I was even happier when I received the food diary the following day. Although it’s a little nerve-wracking to analyze the diet of someone I have never met and know nothing about their motivation for completing this task, their goals and so on, this diarist provided me very detailed information not only of the foods she ate, but of her mood, preferences, and other things going on in her life at the time. Plus, she provided six days’ worth of information, which is like a goldmine (typically, we ask for 1-3 days, preferably one weekday and one weekend). I spent a fair amount of time looking at what she had written about the foods she ate and preparing my analysis and write-up.

Both the diary and my write-up appeared in their entirety on the blog the day after I completed my task, along with a headline and intro. As soon as I saw the live article, I began anticipating the criticism (yes, I’m my own worst critic). The headline alone highlighted a potential landmine that I didn’t address – the diarist’s affinity for cookies and snack food. In my notes I had a few other critiques that I consciously chose not to address and hoped I wouldn’t get raked over the coals in comments.

Why didn’t I just address everything?

Well, mostly because I recognize that this diarist is human. No one, not even registered dietitians, have perfect diets. There’s always room for improvement, things we can do better, and ways we can live healthier.

Also, it’s my philosophy that it’s easier to do more of the things you’re already doing well than to stop doing things or making changes (like, in this diarist’s case, eliminate her beloved oatmeal chocolate chip cookies). Yes, many of us want to be told to do this and don’t do that, but when it comes right down to actually doing things, once you tell us to stop we want that thing so much more. I’d much rather have someone tell me, “keep doing that, you’re doing great!” than otherwise. Wouldn’t you?

Finally, there’s only so many changes a person can do at once. As a nutrition coach (I hesitate to use the Washingtonian’s term “expert”), I prioritize my recommendations and offer just a couple for people to work on at a time. Faced with too many goals, it’s easy to just throw your hands up and say “forget it!” Better to focus on small steps – the big change will come.

The downside of engaging in this Washingtonian critique is that I don’t have the opportunity to interact with this individual and see if my advice worked for her, or to fine-tune my advice based on her preferences, available time, cooking skills and other variables that inevitably come up in counseling sessions. Maybe she’ll contact me, maybe not – but at the very least I do hope I provided some food for thought not just for her, but for the readers of the blog as well. I’m looking forward to any comments.

My nutrition counseling practice, Enlighten Nutrition, provides individualized nutrition counseling for residents in Northern Virginia – including analyzing people’s diets and coming up with eating plans to help them meet their goals. I also work with businesses and organizations on their nutrition communications and health professional outreach programs.

Happy National RD Day!

Today was National Registered Dietitians Day – a day to celebrate and honor the dietetic professionals working hard to elevate the importance of healthy living, food enjoyment and achieving one’s potential.

Many folks think of us nutritionists, but the fact is anyone can call themselves a nutritionist – a registered dietitian is someone who has an advanced degree in nutrition and/or food science, completed a dietetic internship and passed a rigorous exam. We’re also required to keep up with the latest nutrition information by completing a set number of continuing education units every five years.

I’m passionate about my line of work and love what I do. I’m also honored to be listed among my esteemed peers as bloggers who are working diligently this month and all year long to provide information about healthy eating, healthy living and achieving one’s greatest potential. Check out my fellow bloggers’ sites as well for some great nutrition info (thank you, Janet Helm, for putting this list together):

To help celebrate RD Day and National Nutrition Month, I’m offering 50% off an introductory meeting for all new nutrition counseling clients. Please contact me at for details and to schedule an appointment. And please visit my website at

Write it down

Today’s tip seems simple enough, but it’s surprisingly hard for me to do sometimes. Before you start something new – like a new lifestyle goal or wellness plan, a first step is to assess the situation. Only then can you identify changes that you need to make, attainable yet challenging goals to set, and so on.

One of the first things I do with my clients is find out what they eat on a given day. It’s even better when they can provide me with a food log, having written down what they’ve eaten, when they’ve eaten it, and how they felt at the time (starving, bored, stressed). Of course, logs with that much information are the ideal, but the simple act of jotting down food can have valuable results.

For one, seeing what you’re eating gives you and me a lot of information. Maybe you’re eating too much processed food, or not enough unsaturated fats. Perhaps you don’t eat until lunchtime, and by then you’re ravenous and load up food. Or maybe you find that, no matter what, you can’t help yourself from raiding the vending machine in the mid-afternoon for a little pick me up.

If weight loss is your goal, there’s even some evidence that the simple act of writing down the foods you eat can help with cutting calories. Do you really want to write down the handful of M&Ms you grabbed from the snack room after lunch…and again 10 minutes later?

Keeping a food log need not be a chore – just 1-3 days’ worth is enough to identify eating habits and patterns, and can give you a sense of how you can improve your diet or habits. Try it and see.

What’s Your Nutrition Resolution?


National Nutrition Month(R) starts today. And while perhaps the people most excited about National Nutrition Month are dietitians and health professionals such as myself, it’s as good a time as any to reassess your health and put renewed focus on your wellness goals.

The American Dietetic Association created National Nutrition Month as a way to increase attention on developing or maintaining a healthy lifestyle. This year’s theme is “Eat Right…With Color,” emphasizing the importance of increasing one’s palate with a palette of food colors.

I’m totally on board with the idea of challenging ourselves with eating a rainbow of foods as a way to increase dietary variety and nutrients. However, I feel that as a goal it might be too limiting, and I’d rather challenge my clients and friends to focus on goals that best meet their current needs. Assessing what’s working – and not working – for you and you only, and making small steps to change your behavior in order to meet your goals, is the best way to achieve success. So, maybe you do need to eat more purple or orange foods. Or, maybe you eat a lot of different colors, but your downfall is the 3 p.m. vending machine raid. Wherever you are today in your wellness journey, take an assessment, think about a change, and make one – just one – goal. At least for today.

To help you, each day this month I’ll blog about a particular goal to consider. Some may resonate with you…some may not. For today, and to set us up this month, I want you to think about a single goal you want to focus on this week. Make it challenging, but achievable. By the end of the month, you may have 5, or 30, small goals to focus on this month and into the next month. Or some ideas that you can save until you feel good about your new habit and are ready to move onto the next goal.

My goal? To seek out the furthest parking space to park my car, forcing me to walk further to my destination. Now that the weather is getting nicer, I want to take advantage of ice-free streets and every minute of sunshine I can get, so giving me just an extra minute or two of parking lot-walks will help me get in some exercise – and some fresh air. I’ll try it for a week, see how I like it…and then either make it a habit or take on a new goal.

What’s yours?


I’m so glad you found my new blog! You can learn a bit about me in the “About Me” tab, but in a nutshell I’m a communications consultant and registered dietitian in the D.C. metro area, serving patients in Northern Virginia and business clients all over the country (technology is a wonderful thing!). I work with clients of all types, particularly those with a focus on eating more healthfully and with a goal of losing weight. I also specialize in prenatal and postnatal nutrition, early childhood nutrition (those picky toddler years!), and cooking skills for young adults and people living on their own for the first time.

The purpose of my blog is to comment on the latest food and nutrition news, review products that clients most often ask me about – or that I come across myself and feel they are worth mentioning, or general musings on nutrition, health, fitness and pregnancy.

I welcome your comments and hope to learn more about you as you learn a bit about me. Thanks for reading!