According to statistics, approximately one in three Americans resolved to change their habits or better themselves in some way in the month of January. Improving one’s health — and, in particular, one’s diet — is a very popular resolution.
Staying true to one’s new resolve is the hard part. While millions make resolutions and vows to change, millions — as many as 80 percent, according to U.S. News and World Report — also break them or give them up by February. And a “new and improved” diet can be one of the first to go.
The reasons vary. Eating healthier can be costlier than first imagined. People can see a healthier diet as something temporary rather than a lifestyle change, that when a person gets to a desired weight or size, they might consciously or unconsciously revert to old habits. Or they’ve done little or nothing to understand and cope with the challenges involved in sustaining the motivation and new self-discipline needed to change.
The weight can come right back — or even more than there was before — and discouragement is staring back at you in the mirror.
Doctors and dietitians agree: you must give yourself time to not only change your diet but change your habits. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Seven-, 14- and 21-day diet plans can be unrealistic for one seeking lasting, permanent results.
You should first consult with a doctor and/or dietitian to help plan out manageable and sustainable goals. But here are some tips about what and how you eat:
Increase your amounts of fruits and vegetables. Try to add one more of each to every meal. Store cut-up raw veggies in the front of the fridge and fruit on the counter where you’ll see it. Keep healthy dips on hand, like hummus, peanut butter, and low-fat yogurt. Load extra fruits and vegetables in your sandwiches, pizzas, salads, soups, and omelets.
Keep a journal or track what you eat. A food journal can help you pay attention to what you eat and how you feel. You may be surprised by your habits. You can write it out by hand or download an app for your phone or tablet. You don’t have to track meals every day. Just do it one day a week or for a few days. That’ll give you an idea of what and how you eat.
Cut down on the intake of sugar. Give up one sugary soda a day: that can eliminate about 8 teaspoons of sugar. Choose water or unsweetened tea instead. Choose fresh fruit or fruit canned in water or juice, not syrup. Opt for unsweetened cereals.
Cut back on consumption of fast foods. This can seem difficult, in part because advertisements for hamburgers, hot dogs, fries, milkshakes, candies, chips and other highly sugared or salted foods are everywhere. But you can combat the urge to constantly give in to your junk-food urges. Travel different routes where you don’t have to pass drive-through places. Keep fruit or nuts with you to tide you over until you get home or to work.
You should also consider …
Eating at home more often. Plan every day so restaurants aren’t your only option. Use a slow cooker so you have a hot, healthy meal ready and waiting when you get home at night. Cook more than you need, and freeze half. You’ll have meals you can take out and heat up when you need them.
But if you go out to eat….
Eat smart at restaurants. Order off the children’s menu or ask for smaller portion sizes. Don’t get so hungry that you overeat when you get there. Munch a healthy snack before you go. Start with a clear (not creamy) soup or a salad. Divide your meal in half and take the uneaten part home. Or split an entrée with a friend. It’s all right to tell the waiter not to bring bread or tortilla chips to your table.
Drink more water. It can fill you up as well as cleanse the system.
Work in one more healthy snack a day. Rather than cookies or chips, go for a small handful of nuts or trail mix, or low-fat yogurt instead. Find fresh fruit in season. Oranges are good because they take time to peel and eat. Try pretzels or a few whole-wheat crackers with low-fat cheese. Only snack when you’re really hungry — not just bored or stressed. And keep it to one serving.
Avoid mindless eating. Too often you eat not because you’re hungry. Don’t sit in front of the TV or computer when you eat. When you multitask you’re more likely to overeat. Stop when you feel satisfied — but before you feel full. It’s OK to leave food on your plate.
Get support. This can be very important because it’s easier to stay motivated with folks on your side. Ask a buddy or family member to eat healthy with you. Hold each other accountable. Don’t try to go healthy while your family eats what they want. If you’re all in it together and one of you is tempted to slip, the rest will be there for support. Or go high tech and download an app or find a website to keep you on track.