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Looking to eat healthier in the new year? Dietician Julia Zumpano joins the Butts and Guts podcast once again, this time to share tips for staying on track with any diet or nutrition goals you have set for 2023. Listen and learn how to better your chances of dieting over a long period of time, the difference between being vegan and vegetarian, and more.

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Eating Healthy in the New Year

Podcast Transcript

Dr. Scott Steele: Butts and Guts, a Cleveland Clinic podcast exploring your digestive and surgical health from end to end.

Dr. Scott Steele: Hi everybody, and welcome to another episode of Butts and Guts. I'm your host, Scott Steele, the Chair of Colorectal Surgery at the Cleveland Clinic here in beautiful Cleveland, Ohio. I'm always excited to have repeat guests on, and super excited to have Julia Zumpano back who is a dietician in Cleveland Clinic's Digestive Disease and Surgery Institute. We're going to talk a little bit about eating healthy in the new year. Julia, welcome back to Butts and Guts.

Julia Zumpano: Thanks for having me.

Dr. Scott Steele: So, there are some people that actually don't listen to all of our episodes, so if you could, just tell us a little bit about yourself. You know, where you're from, where'd you train, and how did it come to the point that you're here at the Cleveland Clinic?

Julia Zumpano: Yeah, so I am from originally born out of the country in Northern Macedonia. Spent most of my life in Summit County in Akron, Ohio and completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Akron and completed my internship at the Cleveland Clinic, and I've been here ever since.

Dr. Scott Steele: That's fantastic. So today we're going to talk a little bit about eating healthy in the new year. Now, throughout time, we always have people that are like, "Okay, I'm just going to start this new," blank. Whether it's diet, or a workout schedule, or anything, quit smoking, quit drinking, do whatever it is. It's always - they kind of point to that new year, and they're coming off a time that's very difficult, right, the holidays and everything. So, to start, is there a diet out there that you would recommend for someone who has set that goal and a realistic goal to eat healthier in the new year?

Julia Zumpano: I don't typically recommend a specific diet. I really just try to clean up their current diet. Sometimes that individual might be looking for something more extreme to get them really back on track. That's where we might look at really eliminating a whole slew of things that are not helping that person stay on track. So, thinking normal things, like processed foods, and sugar, and fast food, and packaged foods, and really looking towards a whole-foods diet. So, I think that's really where I gear people towards, especially since we're coming off a season of so much indulgence, and overeating, and typically very ladened in fat, sugar, and carbs.

Dr. Scott Steele: So, there are people out there that are listening that have never dieted before. As you said, there's a lot of different plans that are out there. How important is it to stick to the plan, and maybe part B to that question, how much time should you give yourself to realize this is working or not working?

Julia Zumpano: Changing your eating habits affects so many things. It affects your environment, it taps into your behavior, and so many things influence your eating habits. So, I do think it's important to give yourself a transition period, and set realistic goals, attainable dietary goals. And then giving yourself at least a month. I like to say at least a month because you're going to give yourself a week of transition, and maybe the next three weeks that you're really kind of following it strictly, as strictly as you possibly can.

Dr. Scott Steele: So, a little bit about me. I'm from Northern Wisconsin and I grew up a pretty big meat eater. I've always been that way. About a year ago my daughter comes home and tells me that she's a vegetarian. I must confess, Julia, that I actually didn't even know exactly what that all entailed. So, I see these things, and people get confused by the terms "vegetarian" and "vegan," and so can you give us a little bit about what does it mean to be a vegetarian or a vegan? What does that all involve?

Julia Zumpano: Sure. So, vegans and vegetarians both have one thing in common, and they both do not eat meat. Some vegetarians will allow other forms of animal products into their diet. So, some eat fish, which is known as a pescatarian. Some will eat dairy, some will eat eggs, and then other vegetarians won't eat any of those things: no fish, no dairy, no eggs. So that comes along with personal preference and choice as to what type of vegetarian you choose to be.

Vegans on the other hand, omit all of those ingredients. So no eggs, no fish, no meat, and no dairy. And in some cases, they go as extreme as not eating any honey or anything that comes from animal products or animals.

Dr. Scott Steele: So maybe some tips in terms of if you're going to do this, or even if you know it's right for you. We have people all the time, they're like, "Yeah, I heard about this and I really need to make life changes," and they go to the extreme and they're going to do that. Not that the vegan or the vegetarian is extreme, but they make a big jump from what they're traditionally doing. What are some tips if it was either one of those two, for example?

Julia Zumpano: So, if you're going extreme?

Dr. Scott Steele: Yeah.

Julia Zumpano: Again, I would try to take it one step at a time. Look at what your extreme goal is and see if that's really something attainable, but maybe taking little baby steps. For instance, if you're trying to eat less meat, I would say abstain from meat maybe three days a week or 50 percent of your week. Then, allow a little bit of flexibility, and then as the time goes on and you get more comfortable eating meatless meals, then begin to take away more and more and more until you're abstained completely from meat. And then maybe taking that next step with same thing, eggs and dairy, if you're choosing to omit all of those things.

So, starting slow ends up leading to better long-term success. If you're looking at this as a very short-term plan, like a one month knock it out of the park and I'm done, then that's a different approach you might want to take. You just kind of want to do an all or nothing knowing that you're only doing it for a short period of time. But if it's something you're really planning for the year, like a New Year's resolution, I would say the slower you do it the more time you have to adjust, and the more likely you are to stick with it long term.

Dr. Scott Steele: Somebody asked me to ask you this, and if you don't know it, that's okay. But they said, "How in the world does an Impossible Burger taste like a real burger? Is it just the spices and the sauces that they put in? Do they add anything? Because they had that and they're like, "I just don't get it."

Julia Zumpano: So yeah, to some people it does taste similar. I can personally taste a difference, but I do think it's the texture and the color. A lot of times the texture and the color can help us envision the real food we're eating so that taste can kind of be enhanced that way. I think that it's designed to specifically do that. I'm sure they've added some smoke flavoring or some seasonings there that enhance that flavor that you're looking for.

Dr. Scott Steele: Fantastic. So truth or myth, determining a consistent eating schedule is just as important of a goal to have when prioritizing what you will be eating. So is it about the schedule?

Julia Zumpano: Yeah, I think that's true. I think being scheduled and being more strategic in the way you're eating will certainly help you lead to better outcomes in the end. And of course, what you're eating is extremely important, as well. But if you're eating everything one hour before a bed, that's not an ideal situation. So, I think both are equally as important.

Dr. Scott Steele: I know that there's different goals out there. And some people just want to get healthier, some people want to lower their cholesterol or reduce high blood pressure, and for others it's weight loss. So, is exercising mandated in each of those goals? Is the exercise a little more important, or how does that all fit together?

Julia Zumpano: In my opinion, I think exercise is essential. I think it's very important in so many ways. It builds lean muscle mass, it increases your metabolic rate, enhances your mood, it helps sleep, and all of those things help you lose weight. So, I think any kind of movement is essential when it comes to any overall health goal.

Dr. Scott Steele: Now, when we talk about getting people to quit smoking, we always say that it's very difficult for them to have another smoker in the home. What about diet? Is it possible? I can tell you my wife feels like she's cooking two complete different meals, right, one for me and then one for my daughter and everything. So, can you talk a little bit about accountability or a partner while going through this process?

Julia Zumpano: I really, really encourage partnership. I think it really helps, especially if that partner is in your home because you're consuming most of your meals with them. Socially, you're most of the time with them, so I think a family member, a close friend, even a colleague, someone you see on a daily regular basis is key to having when you're really looking at maximizing the success of your health goals, or your diet goals, or nutrition goals, whatever it may be. Because really that partner, when you're going to a party or going out to eat, you are going to pair together to make the best choice. You're going to work together and maybe share a meal, or research a restaurant you can go to, or go to a party and bring a dish that both of you can share. It just makes the whole situation easier and a lot more fun, so I highly recommend partnerships.

Dr. Scott Steele: Let's talk about something that you just touched on, and that is eating out. Is it possible to diet and eat out? We have a lot of people who live a fast-paced life, or they're single and they don't have time to cook, or don't want to cook, or have that ability to get, you know, I see advertisements for all these meal plans all the time, whether it is. But can you eat out and still go through a pretty good diet?

Julia Zumpano: I do think you can. The only caveat is that you have to be okay with being restricted. When you eat out, there's a ton of unhealthy choices, and there may be two or three healthy choices. So you have to be okay with going straight to the healthy choices, choosing one that you like, and being okay with not always being able to have so many vast choices. So, I think just having that restrictive thought process in mind to begin with and knowing that like, "This is a choice I'm making. I really want to take my health to the next level, but I'm going to eat out a lot."

And even if it's fast food, or takeout, or quick, think about if you drive through a gas station and that's what you have. You may have one or two healthy choices and the rest are very unhealthy. So, you have to just be okay with having a lot of limited choices, and then getting good at understanding the places you can go that may give you more variety, and seeking those places out.

Dr. Scott Steele: So, what are some tips that you have for helping people follow through with their nutrition goals over a little bit of a longer period of time? I think all of us can check the box of saying, what are your New Year's goals, or any of that stuff. But, to really make it stick and stay, what are your tips?

Julia Zumpano: We touched on one of them - that's a buddy system. I think that's key. Having a partner, a buddy, or some form of accountability, whether it be a tracking device, a logging device, an app, something of that sort, even a notebook where you write down what you're eating. So, I think a buddy system, a tracking device, and then check in. So reevaluating the goals you set. Maybe the first month you were gung-ho, you did great, but then you're kind of falling off. So before you get to that full fall-off period of time, catching that with reevaluating your goals and saying, "I did great this month. These were the challenges. This is how I'm going to modify my goal for the next couple months or the next month."

Go month by month or quarterly, whatever it may be, and be okay with modifications. Also, I always say my 100 percent is 80 percent. No one can ever do anything at 100 percent all the time. So as long as you're following something at 80 percent, I consider that 100 percent because there's 80 percent of life that happens and human nature that happens, and we have to build that in. So don't expect 100 percent. Expect 80 percent, but really give your all in that 80 percent.

Dr. Scott Steele: Yeah, that's fantastic advice. So now it's time for our quick hitters, and since Julia was with us before, we got another set of questions for her. So, if I were to grab your cell phone right now and find your little music selection, whatever your chosen app is, and hit play, what would be playing?

Julia Zumpano: KALEO.

Dr. Scott Steele: Okay. Wow. I'll have to look that one up. I'm not sure what that one is. Is that with a CH, or a K?

Julia Zumpano: K.

Dr. Scott Steele: K. Okay, we'll look at that. What type of music is that?

Julia Zumpano: It's kind of like alternative rock.

Dr. Scott Steele: Okay. Good. So number two, even though you are a dietician I'm going to just make a huge assumption here, I may be wrong, but what's your favorite ice cream?

Julia Zumpano: Oh, definitely chocolate peanut butter.

Dr. Scott Steele: Fantastic. I'm right there with you, bar none there. Then number three, what is your go-to on a rainy day? Is it a book, a movie, curl up in bed, sit with the dog or cat? What is your go-to on just a rainy, dreary day?

Julia Zumpano: Probably a movie.

Dr. Scott Steele: Fantastic. Then finally, if you could go back to yourself as you were maybe going into college or coming out of college, and you were to find that person and give yourself a piece of advice, what would that advice be?

Julia Zumpano: Probably to go easy on yourself a little bit more and just, again, like we said, reevaluate goals and live at 80 percent instead of always having to do 100 percent, and live that other 20 percent.

Dr. Scott Steele: Well, that's fantastic. So, can you give us a final take home for a message for our listeners, in terms of eating healthy in the new year?

Julia Zumpano: Well, first of all, the new year and the holidays are such a magical great time of year. So focus on enjoyment with the people you love, and the traditions you like to instill during this time, and make food and eating a part of that. But don't focus so much on the overeating, but focus more on the social aspect of it and the joy that you find in others during that time.

Dr. Scott Steele: Well, that's fantastic, and as we hope as we go into the new year, we're going to be bringing Julia back to talk a little bit more about some dietary recommendations from the Cleveland Clinic directly as we talk about her work in terms of the Cleveland Clinic Diet. More to follow on that. So, to learn more about nutrition therapy at Cleveland Clinic, please visit That's You can also call (216) 444-3046. That's (216) 444-3046. Julia, thanks for joining us on Butts and Guts.

Julia Zumpano: Thanks for having me.

Dr. Scott Steele: That wraps things up here at Cleveland Clinic. Until next time, thanks for listening to Butts and Guts.

Butts & Guts

Butts & Guts

A Cleveland Clinic podcast exploring your digestive and surgical health from end to end. You’ll learn how to have the best digestive health possible from your gall bladder to your liver and more from our host, Colorectal Surgery Chairman Scott Steele, MD.
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