New year advice
New year advice
Dance News Health & Fitness Nutrition

Nutrition for the New Year: Small Changes = Big Impact

  • May 17, 2016
  • by Emily C. Harrison MS, RD, LD

The dancer’s dietitian shares her top ways to get to a healthy weight without going hungry.

Too often people start off the New Year with plans for big, sweeping changes. Big goals are great; however, real lasting change can be more effectively tackled by making small changes overtime. Little changes add up, leading to big results that are easier to sustain.

Pledge to eat breakfast

Meal timing matters in metabolism! Jump-start your metabolism by eating breakfast within one hour of waking. You are coming off an overnight fast. Eating a healthy breakfast sends an important message to your body’s metabolism. Breakfast eaters have lower body weight and body fat percentage. In a weight loss study, big breakfast eaters were shown to have lost more weight and inches from their waist than those who didn’t eat breakfast and got more of their calories at night1. Another study reported that participants burned more fat and had increased satiety when they ate a low glycemic index breakfast pre-exercise2. The body needs carbohydrate in the system to burn fat, and carbs increase athletic performance so the morning is the best time to eat whole grains. Don’t use your busy schedule as an excuse. Get up five minutes earlier and eat!

Pledge to choose beverages thoughtfully

Just 100 extra calories per day can potentially lead to 10 pounds of weight gain in a year. In the U.S., people on average get an additional 155 empty calories per day from sweetened beverages including soda, coffee drinks, energy drinks and sugar-laced smoothies3. A popular coffee chain’s Egg Nog Latte has 460 calories and 21 grams of fat. It is nice to have an occasional warm winter treat. A quick check discovered that the regular Hot Chocolate has 120 calories less than the White Hot Chocolate at this same coffee shop4. Brewed coffee doesn’t have any calories. Check the nutrition facts for your favorite beverages and watch portions. Beverages with added protein can be a very high calorie (and expensive) way to get protein. At a national chain, even the “lean” smoothies have 300 calories. The high protein smoothies have between 400-800 calories with 30-40 grams of powdered protein. The muscle building response to protein intake is shown to be good up to 20 grams per meal/ snack, but protein is not used for muscle building at the 30-40 gram range. Excess protein at higher levels is burned for energy or stored as fat5. Distribute protein from real food throughout the day and drink lots of water, not sugary beverages.

Pledge to join the Meatless Monday movement

This global movement started in 2003 and has grown to become a hip, star-studded thing to do6. But don’t go meatless on Mondays just to be cool. Even if you aren’t ready to become a flag waving vegan, avoiding meat and dairy even just once a week is one of those small changes with big impact. Eat more plant-based foods because non-meat eaters’ weight and Body Mass Index are significantly lower than meat eaters. They have an easier time with weight management. Non-meat eaters have lower levels of C-reactive protein, which is a measure of inflammation and a factor in chronic disease. They have the lowest risk for heart disease which is the number one killer of women in the U.S. They have significantly lower risk for cancer and diabetes. Groundbreaking research by Dr. Neal Barnard has shown that plant-based eating is better for the brain, and has a memory protective effect. Choosing plant-based foods is also one of the best ways to save the planet. Greenhouse gas emissions for a vegan diet are 41.7 percent lower than a typical meat laden Western diet7. Don’t worry, non-meat eaters still get plenty of protein from beans, nuts, seeds, vegetables and grains. Plant-based recipes are delicious, filling, low cost and easy to prepare.

Make your health a priority this New Year by pledging to fuel your body with food that doesn’t come from a box, a powder, a bar or passed through a car window. Pledge to get a new cookbook and take a moment to scroll the recipes on the Meatless Monday’s website. Yes, it takes a little planning, and a little extra time, but it is possible. We all lead busy lives in this hectic modern world.  “Those who think they have no time for healthy eating, will sooner or later have to find time for illness”8.  You are worth it.

Produced by Dance Informa.

Emily Cook Harrison MS, RD, LD 
Emily is a registered dietitian and holds both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in nutrition from Georgia State University. Her master’s thesis research was on elite level ballet dancers and nutrition and she has experience providing nutrition services for weight management, sports nutrition, disordered eating, disease prevention, and food allergies. Emily was a professional dancer for eleven years with the Atlanta Ballet and several other companies. She is a dance educator and the mother of two young children. She now runs the Centre for Dance Nutrition and Healthy Lifestyles. She can be reached at


1. Masheb RM, Grilo CM. High Caloric intake at breakfast vs. dinner differentially influences weight loss of overweight and obese women. Obesity. 2013 Dec; 21(12):2504-12.
2.Stevenson EJ, Astbury NM, Simpson EJ, Taylor MA, Macdonald IA. Fat oxidation during exercise and satiety during recovery are increased following a low-glycemic index breakfast in sedentary women. J. Nutr. 139: 890–897, 2009
3. Trends in sugar-sweetened beverage consumption among youth and adults in the United States: 1999-2010.
4. Starbucks’ menu items:
5. Tipton, KD. Protein Nutrition and Exercise: What’s the Latest? SCAN’S Pulse. Spring 2011. Vol.30,No2.
6. The Meatless Monday Movement:
7. Palmer S. Go Plant Based for Health. Environmental Nutrition Newsletter. Vol.36, iss12. Dec 2013.
8. Quote attributed to Edward Stanley and is modified from its original.

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