Losing weight has to be one of the most common New Year's resolutions. For most people that usually means resolving to eat differently, better. No more cheese fries! No more croissant breakfast sandwiches! Vegetables, fruit and grains instead of steak, beer and chips. But swearing off foods you love and trying to incorporate the ones you should like can backfire. No wonder it's your New Year's resolution every year — it doesn't always work.
I've heard that a lot from people throughout my more than 30 years as a health reporter. They turned to me for suggestions on how to eat a more healthy diet — what worked for me in my seemingly never-ending quest to lose weight and what experts recommended. The best advice, then and now, remains the same.
Set specific, achievable goals, changes that really fit your lifestyle and personality. And adopt just a few of them at a time. Instead of pledging to lose 100 pounds in the new year, tame your sweet tooth. Need a daily chocolate fix? Instead of eating several mini chocolate bars through out the day, have a few chocolate chips when the chocolate craving hits and schedule a slice of chocolate cake once or twice a month, so you don't feel deprived. Eat in restaurants every day? Reduce the number of those high-calorie and fast-food meals by resolving to pack a brown bag lunch once or twice a week and walk the mall for a half-hour. Be sure to wave at your friends in the restaurant as you pass by burning calories.
"You have to figure out what is a reasonable change that you can realistically maintain long-term," said Dianna Thomas, a registered dietitian for St. Anthony's Hospital and BayCare Health Systems. "Set measurable, small goals. That's how you get positive outcomes."
What's the best way to decide on your dietary goals for the new year? Start by taking stock of what and how much you eat now. For several days (a week would be ideal), keep a list of everything you eat, noting roughly what time you ate and what the portion size was. Your food diary may look something like this:
• Large latte (full fat or skim milk?) in the morning
• Fries and a burger (with cheese, bacon, mayo, avocado?) for lunch
• Chips and a soda from vending machine at work around 4 p.m.
• At home after work, 2 glasses of wine (about a cup, 8 ounce total)
• Nibbled on nuts and leftover pizza while getting dinner ready
• Leftover chicken (leg and thigh, with skin) and rice (about a cup) for dinner
• Ice cream (2 scoops, caramel sauce) before bed
Try to be accurate and honest, especially with portion sizes. The experience will produce a clearer picture of what and when you eat, areas where with a little thought and preparation you could make better choices and areas that need immediate attention, like that afternoon snack from the vending machine. It's clearly not enough to keep you from grazing while you put dinner together, so change that first. Bring peanut butter and wheat crackers to work; make snack bags of almonds or walnuts mixed with Craisins to eat in the car on the way home; don't drink alcohol while you cook or prep dinner. Those small changes alone can result in hundreds of calories saved and possibly a few pounds lost.
As Thomas recommends, make sure your changes are measurable and review them after a few weeks. Are they working for you; has anything improved? Do they fit your lifestyle, your schedule, your needs? Be prepared to make adjustments and to fine-tune your goals before giving up in frustration and abandoning them.
Contact Irene Maher at [email protected]