The New Year can be an exciting new start. It gives us the chance to think about all the things we want to change. But New Year’s resolutions can also cause dread or fear, especially if you’ve tried those same resolutions before and felt that you somehow failed at them.This year, instead of trying major (and unattainable) resolutions when it comes to what you eat, let’s try a different approach. Start slow, make lasting changes, and remember there is no finish line. Look at some of the options below; choose a place to start, and start having more energy and feeling better today.
• Set small, realistic, and measurable goals. Let’s say you are not exercising, and you set a goal to exercise five days this week. You try it for a week, and exercise three times. While you made a lot of progress, your unreachable goal set you up to fail. Instead, set a small, attainable, and measurable goal, like walking twice a week for 15 minutes. Slowly increase it by one day every week until you are exercising five or six times a week.
• Aim for three meals a day. Research studies — and my work with clients — shows that people who eat three meals a day better control their weight and blood sugar. It helps you not overeat and gives you sustained energy and level blood sugar. If you normally skip breakfast, aim for breakfast twice weekly. Then slowly work your way up to eating it every day. After a few weeks, you will start to wake up hungry.
• Fill half your plate with fruits and veggies. They are loaded with fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, and are low in calories. Plus, when you have a big salad on your plate, there is less room to load up on pasta or mashed potatoes.
• Eat more whole grains. Packed with fiber, whole grains will help you feel full longer and help control your blood sugar. Slowly swap your white carbs for whole-grain varieties.
• Eat your calories, don’t drink them. A big Starbucks holiday coffee drink has about the same amount of calories and fat as a small hamburger. Liquid calories, while tasty, aren’t filling, and are loaded with extra sugar and fat. Try aiming for water, herbal tea, or unsweetened iced tea or coffee, or try adding a squeeze of lemon, lime, cucumber, or mint, or a packet of True Lemon, to your water.
• Write down what you eat. Awareness is key — you learn what opportunities there are for you to change. Recording your food keeps you accountable, and helps you remember all the extras we tend to forget, such as the handful of nuts or chips, or the extra piece of chocolate, which all add up. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Try a piece of paper, the notes section on your phone, or one of the many available apps.
• Organize your home and workspace. You can’t eat what is not there, so clean out the fridge and cabinets of holiday “extras.” Put all leftover snack foods out of sight, and leave a fruit bowl on the counter. Move the fruits and veggies out of the “rotter” (what I call the refrigerator drawers in many houses) and onto the top shelf where you can see them. Last, make healthy snacks convenient by keeping them in your desk, purse, or car.
• Eat out less. Even healthy restaurant choices have more calories than you would eat at home. If the breadbasket is tempting, ask the wait staff to remove it. Start with a small salad; choose plain or grilled chicken or fish with lots of veggies. Skip dessert, and watch what you drink. Sharing a meal is another way to eat less, and allows you to enjoy time with friends. Last, limit eating out to once or twice a week. You can buy lots of fresh fruits and veggies with all the savings.
• Exercise most days of the week. A few years ago, I worked with a client who hadn’t exercised in more than a decade and would rather clean her sock drawer than take a walk. We started slow — one minute a day — and then added a minute a week. Seven months later she was walking 30 minutes a day and loving it. Start small, do something you like, get some music, exercise with a friend, sign up for a class, or work with a trainer. This has to last forever — going big your first day and hurting yourself will set you back.
• Be wary of fad diets. Amazon.com currently has 142,624 diet books available. Some work in the short term for some people, because they make big changes and help you focus on what you are eating. However, most people can’t keep a fad diet going long-term, which is why they are called fads. If you plan to use them as a jumpstart for making changes, make sure you have a good transition plan back to regular foods.
Remember, aim for progress, not perfection. Start small, make a few changes at a time, and ask for professional help if you need it.
Josh Levy writes often for The Times. He and his wife, Prudence Athearn-Levy, own Vineyard Nutrition; vineyardnutrition.com.