It’s the beginning of the New Year and people are talking resolutions. I personally don’t love the word resolution, which is literally defined as a firm decision to do or not to do something, because it implies the constant use of willpower and even though it addresses WHAT you want to change, it never addresses HOW you are going to change. In my book, that is a recipe for failure, and no one wants to start off the year like that! So instead, I want to talk about habits. A habit is an acquired, almost involuntary, behavior pattern. Once you instill some healthy habits into your daily routine, you can reach your goals A LOT easier.
The habits mentioned below help me tremendously. Depending on your goals, your list may look a little different and that’s great! Just remember that in order to build a new habit or break an unhealthy habit, it takes time, about two months more or less, so be patient. The first step is to build awareness of those habits so you know what you need to change. Then you can plan appropriately to make that habit stick.
1. Analyze your plate. I found that by analyzing my plate, I would ensure I had all the essential nutrients I needed and avoided those excess calories. Here’s a quick how-to:
- You want to make sure your plate has A) enough non-starchy veggies (about half the plate or bowl); B) A good source of protein - veggie or animal-based; C) A fistful or less of a whole grain carb; and D) A thumbs worth of a healthy fat. If you constantly analyze what you are eating, you’ll see what you are lacking or overindulging in and be able to positively revamp your plate.
2. Don’t forget, that we eat with our eyes too. One of the most common resolutions is to lose weight. With that goal comes the inevitable portion shrinkage, which can be extremely depressing. Use nutrient dense, low-calorie foods to your advantage to make your plate LOOK like it has more than it really does. Add bulk to your plate by including non-starchy veggies to your salad, think layers of zucchini and squash instead of pasta, more veggies and beans instead of potatoes or grains, and drinking naturally low-calorie drinks. Satiate your eyes as well as your stomach.
3. Fix it at the next meal. Accidents happen, and so do cupcakes, happy hour cocktails and skipping the gym. The goal is not to expect perfection, but to avoid berating yourself when slip-ups happen. Feelings of guilt can quickly spiral into a complete shutdown of your healthy lifestyle changes. My advice is to savor the treat and then hit the reset button. Don’t let one slice of pizza lead to the whole pie. By forgiving yourself for your occasional indiscretions and moving on with your healthy living plan, you can vastly increase your chances for permanent success. You can always fix it at the next meal!
4. Read labels. The food industry isn’t as forthcoming as it should be, but they have provided us with the nutrition facts label. Use it! If you learn that your favorite box of cookies has 10 servings in the box and each serving is 340 calories, you may be inclined to have only one portion at time (not three!) or switch indulgences all together. I cannot stress how important it is to read ingredients. If sugar is mentioned in five different ways, it is a clear indicator that the food you are eating is low quality. When it comes to reading food labels, knowledge is definitely power.
5. Be consistent. Like my colleague and friend, Matt Sauerhoff from the LIV Method, stated in his last newsletter, “Consistency is the secret to success. In order to be successful you must realize that it is the small steps taken everyday that add up over a lifetime!” Small changes to your diet and exercise routine have a large impact on your health. Nixing that daily bagel for two pieces of whole wheat bread not only saves you an average of 160 calories a day, but it also eliminates that sugar crash that comes after having too many carbs at once. Walking those extra 15 minutes to the next subway stop burns a few more calories, but it also improves your circulation, energy, and blood sugars for the rest of the day. If you STAY CONSISTENT and build these small changes over time, you will create new long-lasting, healthy habits for life!
6. Hydrate and Sleep. Making dietary changes is hard enough, but when you don’t properly hydrate or get enough sleep it becomes even harder. We are made up mostly of water, we need water for all functions in our body, water improves our skin, bowels, headspace, cravings, appetite, and cleansing power. We also need about 7-9 hours of sleep nightly (or at least quality rest) to help our body rest, our hormones to balance, and, most recent research states, for our weight to stabilize. Two words: hydrate + sleep.
7. Be a little kinder than is necessary. I recently read the book Wonder by R.J. Palacio, and among the many valuable lessons in the book, this simple one was the most impactful. Be kinder to others but also to yourself. The results you want will come in time, but enjoying the process will only make it that much sweeter.
Happy, healthy 2015!!!
Written by Alanna Cabrero, MS, RDN, CDN. Edited by Tamara Cabrero.