After you've recycled the Champagne bottles and gotten rid of that lingering headache, a realization might sink in: It’s January 2016. Before you go scrambling for the CrossFit sessions and the quinoa, take a deep breath and think about making changes that will last longer than six weeks. Here, expert advice from dietitians and nutritionists on how to make small, realistic (repeat: realistic) tweaks that will truly change your life.
1. More Water, Fewer Problems
Getting as many hydrating liquids into your diet is important, but be wary of the sugar content. Kombucha, coconut water and yerba mate products can have hidden amounts of sugar, regardless of the health benefits touted on the bottle. Get smart about your liquids: Have that morning coffee, but then opt for water the rest of the day. A reusable water bottle with a straw is a great tool to get more water into your diet; even the slightest burden like opening a cap or flipping the lid can distract you from drinking more.
2. Try the Protein Flip
“You don't have to give up meat, but try to use it as more of a flavor-booster than as the star of the plate. Not only are plants just downright tasty, but eating plant-based proteins is associated with a lower risk of disease. And they have a smaller carbon footprint, too. Give the protein flip a try: Move meat to the edges of the plate and let the fruits, veggies, beans and whole grains take center stage.”—Sidney Fry, MS, RD, nutrition editor, Cooking Light
3. Even Healthy Foods Can Be Calorie-Packed
“Just because something is healthy doesn't mean it's calorie-free, and at the end of the day, taking in too many calories above and beyond what you burn can lead to weight gain. There are nine calories for every gram of fat (only four for protein and carbs), so even though something like olive oil is healthy, having too much may not be good for your waist. Consider healthy fats as spreads by using guacamole spread on toast with an egg, or hummus in place of mayo. You'll still get the benefits, but save on the calories.”—Kristin Kirkpatrick, manager of wellness nutrition services, Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute.
4. Serving Size, Say What?
If the amount of servings listed on a product label looks suspiciously high (are there really four servings in that energy bar?!), make sure to multiply the calorie amount on the label. Better yer, skip the product altogether. Consumers also tend to look at the fat content on a label, but don't ignore those pesky sugar and sodium counts too.
5. Ditch the Guilt
"Life is so much more fun with chocolate, cheesecake, eggplant parm, or whatever your can’t-live-without goodie is. (Mine is all of the above.) I’m betting that people will start learning how to make healthful versions of their beloved comfort foods with simple tweaks to drive down calories, saturated fat, sugar and salt. This way, they get to lose weight, boost energy and enhance their health while eating the very same foods they love—mac and cheese included!"—Joy Bauer, author of From Junk Food to Joy Food (Hay House, February 2016)
6. Read Up on Diet Crazes
Going paleo or gluten-free may sound like a solve-your-problems diet adjustment, but you'll probably soon discover that it's not. Neither is cutting out, say, carbs or dairy altogether. Instead, find out what foods make you feel best, consult reliable sources like your doctor or nutritionist, and tailor your diet to what makes you feel great instead of subscribing to popular (and painful!) fads.
7. Use Salad Plates for Meals
“Portioning out meals can seem like downright deprivation when your appropriate portions are set on top of standard [i.e. large] American plates. Trick your eyes into thinking less actually is more by filling up a smaller 8-inch salad plate. Feel free to reserve a separate bowl for non-starchy veggies that fill you up with volume, not calories. Even though your plate is smaller, still aim to keep bright colors in (with fresh veggies) and bland colors out (avoid unhealthy grains like white rice or bread), and make sure to always include a protein.”—Kristin Kirkpatrick, manager of wellness nutrition services, Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute.
8. Filter Your Water
“Unfortunately, the list of chemicals that are banned in drinking water has not been majorly updated since the 1980s, which means rocket fuel additives and dry cleaning solvent can still legally flow from our tap under The Clean Water Act. Forget expensive cleanses and a dry January; limiting your toxic burden can be as simple as buying a filter for your tap. Home filters are better for your wallet, and better for the planet. It's a one-time change and will ensure that you stay hydrated.”—Phoebe Lapine, gluten-free chef and blogger at FeedMePhoebe.com
9. Expand Your Palate
“We often get stuck making the same meals week after week, and frequently resort to picking up fast food or pizza on the way home just because 'it’s easier.' But is it? In the time you spend ordering and picking up food several times a week, you could spend a few minutes on the weekend looking for a new recipe to try and going to the grocery store to pick up some healthy ingredients. By trying just one new recipe each week, you will soon have a whole new recipe book of your own. Get your kids involved in cooking, and maybe they can make you dinner once a week!” Carmen Roberts, MS, RD, LDN, clinical dietitian specialist, Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center
10. Admit You're a Human Being
Instead of starting yet another January with a big to-do list for the year (yawn), start by admitting that you're only human, and that simply making an active choice to be healthy is a brave, important decision. It’s not going to take x amount of days or less, and no matter what the commercials tell you, it doesn’t involve a magic diet or exercise solution. It’s going to take making a commitment every single day (that's not as scary as it sounds!), and eating things that make you feel like the awesome and incredible human you are. And yes, that probably includes the occasional piece of chocolate cake or order of chili-cheese fries. Go for it.
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