Diets take planning, patience, creativity

Special diets such as plant-based, lactose-restricted or gluten-free have become more common as individuals opt for a change in what they are eating not only for personal or religious beliefs but also now for reasons associated with health and food allergies. If not yourself, everyone seems to have a friend or a family member who is following a special or restricted diet.

Like anything new, change takes some getting used to. Whether you are eliminating meat, fish or dairy from your diet to follow a plant –based program or switching to a gluten-free diet and eliminating grains such as wheat, barley and rye, you may initially feel deprived and restricted. However with proper planning and a lot of patience and creativity, you can enjoy food, maintain your health and feel your best.

“Try to stay positive and focus on all the foods that you can eat,” suggests Kelly Franckowiak, a dietitian with Kaiser Permanente of Georgia. “At stores and in restaurants, there are so many more fun, healthy and delicious food choices to satisfy the unique needs and taste buds for a variety of palettes.”

Franckowiak agrees that planning is critical to success when making big changes to accommodate a special diet. Meal planning is essential and an easy way to prepare for the week ahead. Cooking and eating at home are also good habits and will help the planning process as it provides leftovers for the next day or a lunch to bring to the office. While more restaurants are catering to special diets, especially food allergies, eating out remains problematic with limited transparency about the ingredients and spices used in preparing an entrée ordered off the menu.

“A balanced diet is extremely important especially on a restricted meal plan,” says Franckowiak. “For vegetarians or plant-based eaters, protein sources are always top of mind. If you are following a gluten-free regimen, approved carbohydrate sources are needed for energy.”

And what happens when regular, physical exercise is added to the mix? What about energy levels and avoiding injury and muscle soreness when following a special diet? If you have joined the Zumba craze or rediscovered yoga or have decided to lace up for your first 5K run or walk, the addition of physical exercise to your daily routine can impact what you should be eating and how you are achieving balance in your diet.

“It is possible to train for a big race and run or walk with success - even when following a vegetarian or gluten-free diet,” says Jeff Galloway, Olympic runner and founder of the Kaiser Permanente Corporate Run/Walk & Fitness Program. “The key is to eat a reloading meal within 30 minutes of crossing the finish line or completing any workout – a 100 or 200 calorie snack composed of 80 percent simple carbohydrates and 20 percent protein.”

According to research, Galloway adds, people who start running or exercising tend to improve their diet because regular exercise activates brain circuits. These circuits not only supply a better quality of energy needed for exertion but also provide long-term benefits, including increased productivity and a more positive attitude.

“Patience is definitely a virtue when it comes to following a special diet,” continues Franckowiak. “So have fun with it – explore the cookbook section in your library, visit the specialty food section in your grocery store, or try out a new restaurant that promotes a gluten-free menu. Your diligence will reap rewards.”

The Kaiser Permanente Corporate Run/Walk & Fitness Program is Atlanta’s only workplace-organized training program culminating in a 5K run and walk through downtown Atlanta on September 12. www.kpcorporaterunwalk.com

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