So we’re several days into the new year, and you’re feeling your resolve to eat well, exercise and maintain a healthy weight beginning to waver. It’s make-or-break time for those well-intentioned New Year’s resolutions. Should you just cash it in now and beat a hasty retreat to your old ways? By all means, “NO,” say these UC Davis nutritionists. This is the time to shake off that discouragement and try a different approach to healthy living, they say. Here are their tips to make those New Year’s resolutions work for you:
1. Remember, you’re in control so take small steps
You have likely heard scads of dieting and nutrition tips and even understand the science behind some of them. But to successfully put this knowledge into action and achieve better nutrition or weight management, we all need to remind ourselves: “I can control this; I can take little steps to feel better.” Who cares if a few weeks have passed since Jan. 1? If you want to feel better, start now! Small steps are the secret — along with small portions. Don’t avoid every morsel of food you love, rather enjoy less of it. Also, find an activity you really enjoy and start off doing it slowly. You’ll find the more you do it, the more enjoyable it becomes. After all, the food and the activities are about enjoyment!
2. Personal tracking for long-term lifestyle changes
2016 is going to be the year of personal tracking, whether through activity trackers like Fitbit or smartphone apps. Start by setting small, realistic goals. For example, track your average steps per day and plan to increase that amount by 100 steps. Once you’ve met that goal consistently, add another 100 steps and keep doing this until you reach your long-term step goal. Also, you can track your weekly food intake using an app like MyFitnessPal. Do you want to decrease calorie, fiber or water intake? Set a small, attainable goal like decreasing calories by 100 per day, increasing fiber by 5 grams per day, or increasing water by one cup per day. Once you achieve that, set another small, incremental goal. Remember, small goals lead to big, lasting changes. If you want to run a marathon, you’ll be most likely to succeed if you first run a 5K!
3. Prepare to travel and eat dessert first!
Don’t let travel or a busy life scuttle your healthy-eating resolutions. Airline meals can be dreadful, expensive or both, so carry a nonrefrigerated, liquid-meal shake or beverage with you, containing 19 grams of protein and only 200 calories. And bring along packets of your favorite teas. Just add hot water, and you can enjoy sipping a calorie-free beverage from coast to coast, while reading your favorite book or magazine. Do weigh yourself daily, write the number down and text it to a relative or good friend — these are your accountability buddies, who will keep you honest with yourself. If all of that sounds a bit extreme, here’s the good part: if you love desserts like most of us do, eat them FIRST and in small quantities, even in the fanciest restaurants. Secondly, have one luxury day per week when you don’t follow the rules — rather enjoy the fine cuisine in your own home or favorite restaurant. Bon appétit!
4. What — you say eat BIG?
You bet, it’s great to eat “big foods” — high-fiber foods like beans, fruits, veggies and whole grains that fill up your stomach and help you feel fuller longer. Soluble fiber — especially that found in beans and fruits — attracts water and turns to gel during digestion. That slows digestion and stabilizes blood-sugar levels. These foods also provide prebiotics that feed healthy, digestion-related bacteria. So plan to eat at least three cups of veggies and three pieces of whole fruit each day, along with a few servings of fiber-rich carbs such as sweet potatoes, beans and whole grains. Also, when you are enjoying calorie-rich sweets and snacks, try changing your visual cues by eating your chips out of a small bowl rather than the bag, choosing a small spoon to serve yourself, and using a small plate so portion sizes appear bigger and more satisfying. In short, eat big but plate small!
5. Sugar – how sweet it is not!
Let’s be honest, most of us are more likely to overeat candy, cookies and high-sugar sodas than broccoli or oatmeal. We simply like the sweet taste. But recent studies indicate that sugar also activates the brain’s reward centers and reduces stress responses in a way that other foods don’t. Even more troubling, consuming extra sugar in food puts people — even young, fit people — at higher risk for heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. Plus most foods high in added sugar contain little or no nutrients. So STOP drinking sodas or other beverages with added sugar. Each time you drink a 12-ounce soda with sugar, you’re pouring more than 9 teaspoons of sugar down your throat. As you trim down the amount of added sugar in what you consume, you’ll find that you better appreciate the natural sweetness of fruits, and don’t be surprised if you drop a few pounds in the process!
6. De-stress without comfort food
A certain amount of stress is a natural part of everyone’s life, but it can be a major threat to dieting and weight loss success. In part, that’s because stress builds a desire to consume very appetizing, emotionally rewarding (comfort) foods. It’s important to be aware of even moderate stress so that you can respond with strategies other than eating. Such alternatives might include bicycling or running, meditating, reading a good book, playing a musical instrument or some other activity that de-stresses you without eating. Planning stress-relieving alternatives to eating may go a long way toward establishing healthy eating habits and maintaining weight loss. It’s important to realize that the physiological responses that occur during a stressful episode may alter our brains in ways that set us up to overeat, particularly tasty, calorie-dense foods, even after the stress has passed.
Kevin Laugero, nutrition scientist, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Western Human Nutrition Research Center at UC Davis and associate adjunct professor in the UC Davis Department of Nutrition, firstname.lastname@example.org
7. Plan your shopping, dining out and fun activities
Never go grocery shopping when you’re hungry; instead, thoughtfully plan your shopping list to include plenty of healthy foods for meals and snacks. And stick to your list! You can build fabulous salads (go light on dressing), steam or grill vegetables, enjoy fresh fruit or raw veggies for snacks, and combine fresh fruit with low-fat yogurt for a naturally sweet dessert. Plan how to enjoy a meal out, choosing a restaurant with a wide range of healthy options. Consider sharing a dish with a friend or ordering smaller portions. Ask for dressings, cream and sauces on the side so you can opt for smaller amounts. Finally, plan to take part in fun physical activities like cycling, dancing, walking, hiking or playing a sport. If traveling, pack a swimsuit or workout clothes, and if you’re numbers-oriented, try using your phone apps or other devices to count your daily steps. Activity recommendations from health.gov.
8. Timing is everything so slow down and enjoy!
It may sound silly, but it’s important to eat slowly and chew your food well. When you’re done in about 20 minutes, your stomach will have had time to tell your brain that it’s full. Focus on fiber-rich whole grains as well as beans and other legumes. Eat your veggies first — three to five servings daily in a variety of colors, to get the mix of vitamins and minerals you need to maintain proper body weight — and enjoy fresh fruits — two to three servings daily — before any high-calorie desserts. After that, just drink, sleep and be merry! No, seriously, you should daily drink at least eight, 8-ounce glasses of water; get seven to nine hours of sleep to help balance body hormones and support muscle recovery; and take part in whatever physical activity burns fat, builds muscles and makes you happy. Now, go and confidently enjoy the rest of this Happy New Year!