The New Year is upon us, and along with it come those resolutions. There is room for improvement in all our lives, right? As many as 70% of Americans will resolve to eat healthier in 2022. Others will set a goal to exercise regularly. And, of course, many will seek to lose weight.
Eating healthier is a lifestyle change; it’s as simple as that. There is no such thing as magic. There are no pills to melt fat away and no diets to trick your body into burning calories more efficiently. We have to change our habits and our thinking around food. Here are some recommendations to get you on the right track.
• Eat a variety of foods. Your plate should be half filled with fruits and vegetables. Choose lean proteins, whole grains, and don’t forget low-fat dairy products to fulfill your calcium needs. Eliminate fast food, junk food, and snacks after the evening meal. Save dessert for a once-a-week treat.
• Calories in, Calories out. If weight loss is your goal, you simply have to burn more calories than you consume. Keep it simple. A healthy weight loss calorie level for women is 1500-1800 calories per day; for men, 1800-2000 calories a day. These levels vary according to age, weight, and physical activity.
• Create a food plan. When you have a plan, you are less likely to grab something unhealthy when hunger pangs hit. Plan your meals ahead of time and write them down. Pack a lunch for work, and plan healthy snacks. A good snack consists of protein and carbohydrates, such as an apple with one oz. of cheese or one tablespoon of peanut butter, a low-sugar Greek yogurt, or ¼ cup nuts with raisins. Keep snacks to 100-200 calories each, and have 1-2 per day.
• Don’t get too hungry. This is perhaps the most important guideline. Many diets fail because they are too restrictive in calories or eliminate an entire food group. In this case, you may feel deprived, overcompensate, and find yourself bingeing on a pint of ice cream or a family-size bag of chips. You may feel like you have failed, making it difficult to get back on track.
• Journal. Record your food intake; it helps to see it in black and white. Journaling can also help you get in touch with your feelings when you eat out of emotion instead of physical hunger.
• Set realistic goals. A realistic goal for weight loss is one pound per week. The diets that claim you will lose 5-7 pounds the first week do this by depleting glycogen stores in your body. Glycogen is an intermediate energy source made up of carbohydrates. When these storage fuels are depleted, water is released with them. Hence, the rapid weight loss.
• Find emotional support. Have a buddy system or join a weight loss support group like TOPS (Take Off Pounds Sensibly). Those who join a support group have greater success rates than those who go it alone.
• Finally, be patient. Habits are hard to change, and it takes time. If you follow the new health plan as best you can (not perfectly) for 30 days, you will be well on your way. By this time, you will start to see results, which will motivate you to keep up the good work.
I wish you all a happy, healthy New Year!
Leanne McCrate, RD, LD, CNSC, is an award-winning dietitian based in Missouri.