Long-lasting change doesn’t happen overnight, but Jan. 1 can launch lifestyles that will last a lifetime. “Instead of jumping on the latest and greatest fad diet, try setting anywhere from one to three realistic goals for yourself this year,” says Stephanie Hart, a dietitian with CoxHealth. “Once those goals become habits, set new goals to build your healthier lifestyle and achieve a healthy weight you can maintain.”
Here are eight of Hart’s top tips:
- Avoid or limit drinks like soda, sweet tea, juice, and sports drinks. Drinking just 12 ounces of a sugary drink can cause a weight gain of 15 pounds in a year. Instead, try unsweet tea, fresh-fruit infused water, or even carbonated water.
- Don’t skip meals. Aim for at least three meals each day and have a balanced snack planned ahead of time for when you’re hungry.
- Choose more fresh, whole ingredients. A food that does not require an ingredient list – such as fresh produce – is as “whole” as you can get. Try shopping at a local farmer’s market to get foods that are at their peak freshness and highest quality. For dishes with ingredients, try choosing ones with shorter ingredient lists. If you can’t pronounce the ingredient, or your great-grandma wouldn’t recognize the food, it probably shouldn’t become a staple in your house.
- Try the 80-20 rule. 80 percent of the time, try to make higher quality, less processed food choices – and then, more processed foods and sweets can still sneak in for the other 20 percent. This will help keep you from feeling deprived and as if you are on a diet.
- Avoid dieting. Diets which deprive fail in 95 to 98 percent of cases because bodies, brain, and day-to-day environment all fight against them. Research shows that depriving yourself of a food actually increases hunger and cravings for the particular food. Instead, give in once in a while, but watch your portion – and enjoy it!
- Practice mindful eating. This means being in the moment when you eat, avoiding distractions, eating slower, and enjoying every bite. The slower you eat, the sooner your brain will register that you are full. You will also enjoy your food more. The first four bites of food are the most pleasurable: Beyond that, we’re just eating to be eating, or eating mindlessly.
- Aim for 30 minutes of activity per day. This doesn’t have to be done consecutively: It can even be 10 minutes three times a day. A lot of people have great success with aids that track their movement – such as pedometers – and help them set new step goals for themselves. And remember that seemingly little things, like parking farther from the building or taking the stairs, can make a big difference!
- Reward with life, not food. When you meet milestones, don’t turn to food to celebrate. That helps stop the mental connection between reward and the addictive, emotional aspects of eating.