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Experts: Plan ahead to live healthier in 2017

If you plan to make the obligatory New Year's resolution to lose weight in 2017, don't wait until Jan. 1 or 2 to suddenly and dramatically change your eating habits, especially if the house is still full of sweet holiday treats and high-calorie leftovers.

It takes planning, organization and a bit of soul searching to change your eating habits and achieve your weight-loss goals. The good news is you can start right now by making some small changes that will help you begin the transition to a healthier lifestyle.

We've asked several experts to offer their best advice so you will be set to kick off your personal health overhaul whenever you're ready and be on your way to a new you in 2017.

Kristi King

Senior registered dietitian at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston. Spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

King doesn't leave good nutrition to chance. Her motto for success: "Be prepared. Make a plan. Think about each meal and each snack, and you will be more likely to stick to your plan."

Don't try to make too many changes at once, King adds. Instead, take small steps toward your goal and make one dietary change every week or two. For example, start by eating at least one piece of fruit a day. The next week add a salad before dinner every night. The week after that, switch to a high-fiber cereal or sandwich bread, and so on.

Lauri Wright

Registered dietitian, faculty member and program director in the department of nutrition and dietetics at the University of North Florida. Spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Wright says the start of a new year is a great time to embark on a healthier lifestyle. But she, too, says planning now for a January start is essential. She advises that you begin by lining up a nutrition expert, fitness trainer and a personal support network.

"Tell friends and family members about your plans" to eat healthier and lose weight, Wright said. "Studies show people are more successful when they are accountable to others."

And she cautions against going on extreme programs that aren't sustainable over time, such as those that severely restrict calories or label certain foods or categories of foods off limits.

Dianna Thomas

Registered dietitian at St. Anthony's Hospital in St. Petersburg. Certified in advanced diabetes management.

She recommends starting by weighing yourself today. Find out where you are right now and work to maintain that weight — try not to gain — through the rest of the holiday season. She advises clients to write about their feelings and emotions in a journal rather than looking to food and alcohol for solace or rewards. Then start writing down the steps you will take to lose weight, the reasons for doing it and everything you need to do to prepare for your healthier lifestyle.

"Make an appointment with your doctor for a checkup and to have your blood work done," Thomas advises. Find out if you'll need to take a multivitamin because you're cutting calories or whether you need to adjust your diet to lower cholesterol or blood pressure, too.

"That gives you a way to gauge your progress and may even motivate you to stick to your plan even more," she said.

Isabel Maples

Registered dietitian based in Haymarket, Va. Does private nutrition counseling and works with Optum, a division of UnitedHealthcare. Spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Maples doesn't think it's a good idea to deprive yourself of holiday treats, but recommends you watch the portion size and be selective.

"Only have the ones that scream holiday to you or that you can only get once a year," she said. The others you can have later, as you reach your health goals for 2017.

She also reminds clients not to skip meals and to include a healthy snack if there's going to be five hours or more between meals. "So, if you have lunch at noon and won't have dinner until 7 or 8 at night, you should plan to have a midafternoon snack or minimeal," Maples said.

A small apple and a cheese stick is a good option. So is half a turkey sandwich or a piece of fruit and some almonds. Then lighten up on dinner to account for those calories. And don't rely on willpower to keep your hunger in check for long stretches.

"Like a muscle, willpower gets tired when you rely on it too much," Maples said. "It helps to eat enough nutritious calories throughout the day so you don't have to fight hunger constantly."

Dr. Denise Edwards

Assistant professor of internal medicine and pediatrics at the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine. Medical director of the Healthy Weight Clinic based at Tampa General Hospital, working with children, teens and adults.

Edwards favors changing the way you think about losing weight so it doesn't become taking on a whole lot of changes all at once.

She also cautions against thinking you have to be "good," or eat all the right foods and avoid the high-calorie ones, all the time. That's more like being on a diet, she says, which usually means being restrictive and relying on willpower to be successful. Eventually your willpower is going to run out.

She also doesn't like the idea of waiting until a certain day to overhaul the way you eat. Instead, make one small change at a time over weeks or months so you begin to adopt a series of healthy habits that build on each other and create a weight change.

"Instead of saying, 'I'm going to lose weight,' it becomes, 'I'm going to eat more servings of vegetables each day' or 'I'm going to pack my lunch twice per week,' " Edwards said. "I like to think of weight as a side effect of our habits. Work on adopting healthy habits, not on your weight."

More tips from our experts

Eat less Make a real effort to eat smaller portions and/or skip having seconds. "Only have seconds of (nonstarchy) vegetables or fruit," King says. "Switch to a salad plate rather than a dinner plate," adds Wright.

Eat at home Limit drive-through and takeout meals to a couple of times a week. Homemade meals are almost always lower in calories "and tend to include more healthy choices," Maples says, "so you get more nutrients while cutting calories." Make one day a week meal prep day, Wright suggests. Make several healthy meals, soups or casseroles that only need reheating for lunch or dinner. Make one big batch of brown rice or quinoa for the week.

Clear out your pantry Restock it with such healthy staples as: low-sodium cooking stock, beans, tomatoes and soups; water-packed tuna and salmon; high-fiber cereals, corn tortillas, whole-grain sandwich breads or wraps; whole-grain pastas; grains such as oats, quinoa and brown rice; walnuts, almonds and seeds; dark chocolate with at least 70 percent cacao; and olive oil and nut oils. "Remember that popcorn is also a whole grain," Maples says. (Air-pop or cook it in very little oil.) "Frozen vegetables, without sauces, and frozen fruits are also good to have on hand."

Limit yourself Just one holiday treat per day or party. Share it so you only have a bite or two. After the holidays, have high-calorie desserts only once a week or not at all. Instead, satisfy your sweet tooth with a small square of dark chocolate or a juicy peach, pear or mango.

Don't fall back on exercise "It's very difficult to work off extra calories through exercise," Edwards says. Instead, she says, exercise because it reduces stress, helps you sleep more soundly, improves your mood and builds muscle. Then get back to your plan for healthier eating.

Limit alcohol Keep it to one or two drinks only at social functions and only if you have a safe ride home. Drink a full glass of water between every alcoholic drink. Avoid cocktails made with high-calorie mixers. Don't drink several alcoholic beverages every night after work. That's a lot of empty calories usually followed by a regular meal. Try this for portion control: Pour yourself a glass of wine, then pour that into a measuring cup. Half a cup, or 4 ounces of wine, is about 100 calories. How much are you really drinking? "Mark a wine glass with nail polish so you know where 4 ounces is," Thomas recommends. Remember also that alcohol decreases your resolve to eat healthier foods and limit portions, Wright says.

Include others Let family members and friends know that you're trying to revamp your lifestyle and need their support. Ask them to get together for walking, biking or volunteering, rather than for lunch or drinks.

Take advantage of apps There are many that can help with weight loss, tracking nutrition and exercise. Many offer encouragement and daily tips to keep you motivated. They also provide accountability, which can be a motivator.

Ask and you shall receive If someone asks what to get you for a gift, tell them a couple of sessions with a registered dietitian., the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics' website, is a good place to start. BayCare also has registered dietitians who can provide nutrition, fitness and weight-management counseling: For information about USF's Healthy Weight Clinic, visit

Contact Irene Maher at

Healthful gift giving

• Fruit basket

• Kitchen food scale

• Workout clothes

• Palm-sized water bottle that straps to your hand

• Plants, including fresh herbs

• Sessions with a personal trainer

• High-energy music for walking or running

• Clip-on lights for nighttime exercise

• Exercise or dance DVDs

• A basketball, football, soccer ball or volleyball

• Set of special containers for taking lunches to work

• Reusable, insulated lunch bag

• Aged balsamic vinegar

• Coffee and teas

• Piano, dance or gymnastics lessons

• 4- to 6-ounce wine glass

• Healthy eating cookbook

• Help with healthy cooking or meal prep

• Babysitting so the recipient can get some exercise or do healthy food shopping

Experts: Plan ahead to live healthier in 2017 12/22/16 [Last modified: Thursday, December 22, 2016 5:43pm]
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