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Brittnee's healthy MyPlate challenge

Focused on Health - April 2013

by Adelina Espat

Take on this challenge in the Healthy Bites series. Brittnee MacIntyre did it. And, so can you!

You have so many food choices. No wonder it’s difficult to decide what goes on your plate.

healthy challengeLuckily, there’s a food guide to help – it’s called MyPlate. Developed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), MyPlate is a colorful reminder of the essential foods that make up a healthy plate.

“I use the MyPlate icon when talking to people about nutrition and cancer prevention,” says Mary Ellen Herndon, a wellness dietitian at MD Anderson and the Healthy Bites challenge coach. “I like that it encourages people to fill most of their plate with cancer-fighting plant foods, like vegetables, fruits and grains.”

Load up on fruits and vegetables

Follow the MyPlate steps below for a perfectly balanced meal.

  1. Fill 1/2 of your plate with fruits and vegetables.
  2. Fill 1/4 of your plate with whole grains, like brown rice and quinoa.
  3. Use the rest of your plate for lean protein, like fish, nuts, eggs or chicken.
  4. Add a yogurt or milk for a side serving of dairy if you like. 

“Just remember to watch your calories at each meal,” Mary Ellen says. “Maintaining a healthy weight can help reduce your cancer risks. So, most men should limit their meals to 500 calories and most women should aim for 400 calories.”

READ ALSO: MyPlate healthy food guides

Meet Brittnee, our Healthy Bites challenge champ

With a two-year-old, an infant and a 14-hour workday, Brittnee MacIntyre has struggled with eating healthy, balanced meals.

myplate brittnee“If I am busy with my babies or just too tired at the end of a long day, it’s really tempting to open the pantry and reach for packaged foods instead of fresh stuff that requires more preparation,” Brittnee says.

Making healthy choices at work isn’t any easier for Brittnee. Her co-workers bring doughnuts, cake, pizza and other treats several times a week.

But Brittnee — a clinical nurse at MD Anderson — knows she needs to start eating healthier. “In nursing school, we learned that food is like medicine. It affects everything in your body,” she says.

Brittnee has a family history of several cancers and wants to do whatever she can to lower her cancer risks. So, Brittnee made changes to her diet. She started tracking the food she eats, and packed her lunch and snacks when possible. A few months later, she even joined a gym.

Within eight months, she lost 36 pounds. But when Brittnee’s weight plateaued, she knew she needed to make more changes and joined the Healthy Bites challenge.

Brittnee takes the MyPlate challenge

healthy vegetables“I want to eat at least two servings of non-starchy vegetables per day. I love fruit and potatoes, but I struggle with vegetables,” Brittnee says.

“To help Brittnee reach this goal, I challenged her to make two out of three meals each day follow the MyPlate icon,” Mary Ellen says.

READ ALSO: Making your food a MyPlate masterpiece

What worked for Brittnee

“What I enjoyed most about this challenge is that it allowed me to stay focused,” Brittnee says. “I had wanted something to help guide my decisions, so this was good for me.”

Brittnee offers this advice:

  • Get creative with vegetables: “To make vegetables more appealing, I tried different cooking methods. I found that vegetables are delicious when you roast them in the oven.”
  • Plan ahead: “I made a list of meals and snacks for the week. Then, I found ways to add in more vegetables or make whole grain swaps. After just a few weeks, I learned what worked and it got easier to make the right choices.”
  • Prepare to-go items: “I also found it easier and less expensive to eat healthy if I packed my lunch. I'd bring a bag of vegetables and a boiled egg with me when running errands, and it’d keep me out of the fast-food line.”
  • Reward yourself: “One way I avoided the donuts in my break room was to keep little treats in my bag, like a little square of dark chocolate. I didn’t feel deprived because I had a treat for later.”

READ ALSO: MyPlate: Easy-to-make recipes

“Taking this challenge has benefited everyone in my family – we’re all eating better,” Brittnee says. “I’ve lost some weight. And, even my husband has lost a little weight without even trying!”

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© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center