A cookie here. A cocktail there. Those extra holiday calories can really add up.
There’s no time like New Year’s Day to remind us of how far out of whack our food habits can get. But there’s also no time like New Year’s Day to make a new commitment to healthy eating and weight loss.
Unfortunately, that’s not always as easy as it sounds, says Ian Hunter, a clinical dietitian for the Well Being Center at Excela Health.
“The reality is that it is not that easy — what starts as a sprint towards a ‘healthier you’ in January often times slows to a walk, to a crawl, and then ceases altogether come March,” Hunter says. “So this year why not approach it differently and adopt the changes slowly, so that your diet is something that you are proud of this time next year?”
One of the first things to do is to banish the term “diet” and the related concept of “willpower,” he says. Both can seem daunting and carry negative and restrictive connotations that won’t help you succeed.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Choose My Plate is a helpful tool, illustrating how much of each food group should be eaten at one meal, says Javon Thorpe, owner and head trainer of Flexwork Fitness.
Thorpe also recommends choosing “foods that come right from the earth” instead of canned or other processed products whenever possible.
Hunter suggests adopting these five rules to govern eating habits:
1. Break old habits and establish new ones — a little at a time. “Pick one or two things and work on changing until they become habit. This could be something like eating a piece of fruit with lunch or choosing to drink water instead of a soda,” Hunter says.
And don’t be impatient.
“A study performed at University College London suggests that the average time to form a habit was 66 days and some may even take up to 254 days,” he says. “You did not form the habits you have now overnight, so you shouldn’t expect to form new ones overnight either.”
2. Be mindful of your eating habits — Our lives are hectic and we’re often preoccupied, so much so that we don’t even pay attention to how much we’re eating.
“Over time many of us have become out of touch with what it feels like to be truly full, so make an effort to think about the food you are eating, notice your hunger/fullness cues, eat accordingly and enjoy it,” Hunter says.
3. Make a shopping list — Planning ahead makes most things in life easier. A trip to the grocery store is no different, Hunter says.
Making a list and sticking to it helps shoppers avoid the purchase of unnecessary — and often unhealthy — extra items.
4. Celebrate small victories — Sticking to that shopping list or not eating that extra slice of pizza is a small victory, so treat it as such, Hunter says.
“In five, 10, 15 years, you will not care how long it took to adopt a healthier diet, you will simply be happy that you did,” he says. “You will need to celebrate the small victories to keep you on track.”
Just don’t do it with cake.
5. Ditch the fad diets — “If it sounds too good to be true it probably is,” Hunter says. “There is no one magic pill or diet that will solve all of your problems.”
While the ideal diet should include mostly whole grains, lean meats, fruits and vegetables, the most important thing is that it should be sustainable. Pick foods you enjoy, and don’t feel guilty about an occasional treat.
“One dessert isn’t going to throw you off track, just like … one healthy meal isn’t going to make you lose weight,” Hunter says.
Shirley McMarlin is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Shirley at 724-836-5750, [email protected] or via Twitter @shirley_trib.