Good Taste: Is eating healthy your New Year’s Resolution? Tips to make it work

Sausage filled with mozzarella at Tisbury Farm Market.
Photo by Ralph Stewart

Sausage filled with mozzarella at Tisbury Farm Market.

In a 2008 report by National Public Radio, Clinical Psychologist John Norcross estimated that 50 percent of adults make a New Year’s Resolution. Some reports have that number at 63 percent, and most experts agree that of these resolutions the most common have to do with improving one’s well-being: increase exercise, develop better eating habits, stop smoking/drinking, ease off caffeine.

Dr. Norcross claimed that a large majority of well-intentioned resolutions, believe it or not, are kept. That’s an inspiring thought. Some people create a goal for the New Year and maintain it. But if your experience with resolutions is that they wane by Martin Luther King Day and all but disappear by Valentine’s Day, here are some ideas for high-impact, simple resolutions and tips to help you keep them.

Plan ahead. If you haven’t made some preparations for a resolution by the time you’re reading this article, you probably want to pick another date, like February 1, and use the weeks in between to prepare.

Be concise with your goal. If you want to eat better, focus on something specific like “eat less take out,” which can also translate to something even more definitive like, “cook at home at least three nights per week.” For the record, eating at a friend’s house can be considered eating at home, and you can make it fun and festive. Cook a different cuisine every week, or watch a favorite TV show after dinner. A meal at home is almost always going to be healthier than a meal out, and at home you’ll always know exactly what you’re eating — never mind the money you’ll save. Then, when you do treat yourself to a dinner out, you can feel good about enjoying it, guilt-free. If you need to sharpen your cooking skills or add new dishes to your repertoire check out the Tisbury Farm Market’s cooking demos on Saturdays from 11 am to 1 pm. Call 508-693-2223 for more information.

See the bigger picture. Dr. Norcross encourages us to think of resolutions as a marathon rather than a 100-yard dash. Weight loss goals are tricky because simply hoping to be 20 pounds lighter by bathing suit season says nothing of an actual lifestyle change, which is what we’re really going for, isn’t it?

Mark Bittman is the The New York Times Magazine’s food columnist and author of the well-known “How to Cook Everything” cookbooks. In an article published last week, just in time for the new year, he pointed out that while “those last five pounds really don’t matter, either cosmetically or medically,” most of us do need to eat better.

Food guru Michael Pollan’s mantra, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants” makes for a great resolution, and focusing on just one of these three simple statements will be beneficial, making you more aware of what you eat and why. In a time of fad diets and extreme restriction, it’s refreshingly accessible and simple, though it does require some thought.

The first suggestion, “Eat food,” is bigger than it sounds. By “food” Mr. Pollan means whole, fresh foods as opposed to “edible, food-like substances” i.e.: Cheetos, Twinkies, etc. “Not Too Much” is a pretty clear-cut notion. Watch your portions, train your brain and belly to be satisfied on less. And if you’re eating “mostly plants” you are presumably eating less meat, which is the gist of the aforementioned article by Mark Bittman titled, “No Meat, No Dairy, No Problem.”

Mr. Bittman is not suggesting that you eschew animal products altogether, and neither am I. I enjoy and appreciate meat, (beef tenderloin for Christmas, duck for New Year’s Eve, and fried chicken to go with the good-luck black eyed peas and collard greens on New Year’s Day). But I don’t doubt that eating less of it is a good thing to do, both health-wise and environmentally.

Mr. Bittman points out that we eat some vegan dishes without the intention of being vegan, peanut butter and jelly, rice and beans, fruit salad. In his article he is simply suggesting incorporating more of those dishes while nixing the idea that an animal protein is not only essential but also the centerpiece of a complete meal. He calls it “semi-veganism” and insists that it’s not a resolution, but a path toward better health.

Be realistic. While going 100 percent vegan might be a set-up for failure (and ultimately unhealthy), committing to vegan meals once a week is not so grandiose a goal that you’re likely to give it up. On the same day every week, say Wednesday, you might leave the meat out of the pasta sauce, substitute black bean burgers for hamburgers, and let beans be the protein on your plate.

Find a buddy. Talking about your goals rather than keeping them a secret make success more likely. Whether it’s a friend, partner, spouse, sibling, or co-worker doesn’t matter, just as long as it’s someone who supports you, even better if they have the same goal and you can embark on it together.

If you’re motivated to take a more ambitious leap into 2012, there are cleanses for just about every body type, from juice fasts to short-term raw food diets. Joshua Rosenthal is the founder and director of the nutrition school I went to in New York City, the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. He fasted every day for 12 hours, from 8 pm to 8 am, which for the most part, you’ll note, is conveniently the time when many of us are asleep.

After the decadent holiday meals I listed above, I felt that a New Year cleanse was in order, in addition to cleaning my closet and hard drive. I’ve never done it before, but I was sure I’d do best with a gentle approach. Along with my good friend and nutritional counselor, Sarah Waldman, I’m working on a 21-day gentle cleanse that involves eliminating certain foods and focusing on others – not forever – just for three weeks, to give the system a chance to cleanse itself. I’ve done stranger things for the promise of glowing skin and more energy. Check out her website for more information at sarahwaldmanwellness.com.

Laura Denman is a Vineyard-based certified health counselor as well as a registered dietician with a Master’s degree in nutrition. Ms. Denman is a busy mother of three small children and she is dedicated to helping you reach your wellness potential. She offers health coaching and guided cleanses. While weight loss is often a side effect of Ms. Denman’s Standard Process 21-day cleanse, she stresses that it is not the point. “Sometimes the body needs help to detoxify,” she said. “And sometimes you don’t know how bad you feel until you feel better.” You can reach Ms. Denman at 508-212-4950 or learn more on her website, abundantlifenutrition.com.

Don’t be too hard on yourself. Remember, life is a work-in-progress, a lifelong quest for improved behavior.