With every change in season or major holiday, I find more people interested in working with me on their diet both one on one in my clinic and in a group format in my Food for Fuel program. Transitions in seasons of life and outdoors ignite our desire to make changes within.

While I love to harness this energy, I also know the stats that go along with diets, and they’re pretty dismal. A quick literature review or Google search will show you the grim news - most diets don’t work. In fact, it is often touted that dieting can ultimately lead to gaining even more weight! How can this be?

Food is a whole-person approach

As a physician who specializes in integrative lifestyle medicine, I could let this be extremely discouraging or I could use this to fuel my purpose. I choose the latter. One of the key factors in helping my patients heal is helping them change their diet! How can I balance the fact that most diets fail with the need to help my patients with their diet?

I am someone who doesn’t give up easily when I’m trying to solve a problem AND a person who LOVES food on every level. That’s why, it has become my personal mission with my patients to help them navigate the realm of food and dieting. After years of medical training, both traditional and integrative, years of clinical practice, and plenty of time studying food and diets, I feel empowered to share my food expertise with the public.

The food message I preach is SIMPLE: Combine a diet that helps calm inflammation with a diet that helps to heal your gut and the magic will happen!

What does “calm inflammation” and “heal your gut” actually mean?!

We are discovering that it’s not all about food. The old “calories in calories out” or “eat less, exercise more” approach to weight loss falls short. We prove this time and time again with every fad diet. The reality is, our ability to lose or gain weight is complex. We are more than what we eat. When working towards a healthier diet and overall lifestyle, we must address systemic inflammation, insulin resistance, hormonal imbalances and more. We must consider how our stress levels may affect our weight at a hormonal level. We must take into account how our own personal story – traumas and all, can lead to patterns of “holding our weight” to protect us.

Most importantly, we need to think about our gut. For decades, we neglected to think about the “garden” that lives in our gut. This garden, our microbiome, is a collection of bacteria, viruses and fungi that are a critical factor in our immunity. It also plays a huge part in how we digest our food, absorb our nutrients and so much more. We are just now scratching the surface on the importance of our personal microbiome and how it relates to our health.

What I am telling you is that diets don’t work AND I know, it can be overwhelming to navigate the world of dieting. (You only need to take a trip to the diet books section at any bookstore, and you’ll see why!) This is why I developed my signature food program, Food for Fuel. These simple tips are exactly how I teach in Food for Fuel. No more piles of diet books, unused meal plans or fad programs. Simply a community-based, doctor-supported approach that helps everyone manage the toughest parts of changing their diet. It’s usually not about how much will power you have or don’t have!

Couple this approach with group support, a good understanding of how our emotional triggers impact what we eat, and you will have real, sustainable change.

10 “Foodie” Success Tips from Dr. Wagner:

1. You have to start somewhere.

Whether you currently live on fast food, eat “clean” but still struggle with a chronic health condition, or feel you carry too much weight, just start somewhere. Make the commitment to start and everything beyond that is a bonus! You don’t have to perfect your diet to win, you need to commit and start. The rest will follow. Just reading this article is a step in the right direction. Trying new healthy alternatives to sodas and sugar drinks (like theSpritzer!) or enjoying my green smoothie recipe in the morning will take you even a step further on your journey. Sign up for my food program and now we are really talking!!! Celebrate your successes and applaud yourself for progress, big and small. Just start somewhere.

2. You don’t have to be a chef to eat clean.

Real food isn’t tricky. When you eat whole, natural foods and plenty of vegetables, you don’t need to have killer culinary skills to eat day-to-day. Don’t get me wrong, I am a foodie to the core and I love dabbling with new recipes and spending hours in my kitchen experimenting with new food ideas. However, I’m the first to admit that, with my busy life, my clean eating consists of the same breakfast (green smoothie and eggs) every morning. I eat leftovers for lunch and finish my day with a simple dinner. Our easiest dinners consist of a healthy, grass-fed/organic serving of meat, a massive salad and some roasted veggies. Similarly, in any food program or dietary change you make, start simple. You can venture into complicated recipes and flavors as you gain confidence in your new style of eating, but this is a bonus, not a pre-requisite!

3. You don’t have to be retired or a stay-at-home mom to eat clean.

One of the biggest roadblocks people have with committing to a healthy lifestyle, especially a healthy diet, is time. They fear that changing their diet or following a program won’t work with their busy lifestyle. I don’t blame them. Many diets come with exhausting meal plans and recipes that only Martha Stewart could perfect. What I have found is that it’s not the time, it’s the organization and preparation. In Food for Fuel, my foodies learn to stock their pantry with a healthy bounty, spend time preparing and prepping their healthy foods to make the rest of the week easier and re-purpose their meals to shorten the time you need to spend in the kitchen. Spend some time growing these skills and the rest will fall into place!

4. If you are following a diet that has you eating something other than food, beware!

Patients come to me all the time after doing a diet that consists of special shakes or pre-packaged meals. They initially lost weight but are now back to their original weight with a few extra pounds to top it off! While meal replacement products may lead to an initial rapid weight loss, they do nothing to teach you how to eat. If you work at changing yourself by utilizing meal replacement products, you are training yourself that if you want to be healthy, you need to use these products. Why not start with real food and get your results the natural way, by eating real food? Learn to love what you eat and the sensory stimulation good food can provide.

5. There is no one-size-fits-all diet.

One of my pet peeves about the diet industry is the polarity of many of the diets. People choose one diet, often whatever’s trending, and throw all their trust into that one diet. If the diet you are reading or attempting claims to be the BEST diet out there, I would walk in the other direction. Find a program, book or provider who teaches you to eat, not to restrict. Then truly listen to your body and you will know which foods work for you and which ones don’t. Find a program that lets you have freedom in choosing, freedom to fail and get back on track and education beyond counting carbs and calories.

6. If you think you can maximize your wellness with food alone, think again!

Many diets in our society fail to address the need for a holistic approach to wellness. Sure, eating a beautifully clean diet is a great step in the right direction, but if you only focus on the food, you are missing the mark on true wellness. I often see patients who are good at daily exercise and eating a clean diet, but their stress level is enough to burn down a house! They may have a lack of healthy relationships or no spiritual connection. This is like feeding your dog premium dog food, but then locking him in his kennel all day away from socialization and sunshine. Enough said.

7. Losing weight should be an afterthought.

The day I decided to eat clean so that I could show my kids a better way with food was the day I started to lose my extra weight. Before that, I struggled from childhood on with 10 – 20 extra pounds. I was always focused on losing that extra weight, and what I found was that the more I focused on losing weight, the more I held on to it! By shifting my focus from lack to abundance, my body shifted too. I went from restricting and withholding, to celebrating healthy real food and how wonderful it made me feel to enjoy it and share it with my loved ones.

8. Learn to Love what you eat.

This marries well with eating meal replacement products. Even if you say things like, “I hate to cook, I hate to shop, or I have no time to make meals,” give yourself a fair trial at learning to work with food and you may just fall in love! The fact is, there are very few people who truly don’t care about food, they simply never learned to love it! Food stimulates our senses with color, flavor, texture, and smell. It joins us in the community of meals. It connects us to our earth. Dig in.

9. Everything in moderation!

While I do recommend that people stay “on plan” for the first 14 days at least of Food for Fuel, I also work with the reality that many will stray from the plan. When we force people to be perfect, we are guaranteeing failure. Be gentle on yourself. Congratulate yourself on taking that first step towards a new life.

10. And Don’t forget about your gut!

When I have patients come to me who eat a very healthy diet, exercise regularly and still suffer from resistant weight loss or other health problems, I always think about their gut (gastrointestinal tract). It is critical to address the bacteria, fungi and viruses that live in our gut (our microbiome) and the level of inflammation in our gut when it comes to health and wellness. Educate yourself on what a “gut healthy” diet looks like. Explore fermented foods, probiotics and prebiotics. Learn which foods may lead to leaky gut or gut inflammation. Heal your gut and you will heal yourself!*

I reiterate - Combine a diet that helps calm inflammation with a diet that helps to heal your gut and the magic will happen.

Whether it’s to lose weight, lower your cholesterol, boost your energy, improve your blood sugars or simply to do the right thing, changing your diet for the better is a must. Let me help you in Food for Fuel!

*If you have followed a clean diet for a while and you are still suffering with chronic health problems, resistant weight loss or gut issues like IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), it’s time to work with a professional. Come see me in clinic.