When I wrote about eating healthy for the holidays, I suggested that now is not the time for extreme diets. In fact, I'm not sure there's ever a good time for extreme diets — even as part of a new year's resolution. We dietitians always get an influx of new weight loss patients in January and February. And that's great. What's more depressing, however, is that enthusiasm and results will often taper off as the year progresses.
This year, instead of opting for the latest fad diet or setting unrealistic goals, spend some time thinking about goals you really can achieve, like these:
Practice mindful eating
Mindful eating is less about what you eat, and more about how you eat. So set some basic goals to start eating more consciously. There are many different facets to mindful eating, so be sure to pick goals that work for you. And don't overwhelm yourself with too many changes at once. Try setting out a specific timetable for shifting your habits.
Week One: Start keeping a food diary. Week Two: Commit to eating together as a family at least four times a week. Week Three: No more TV while you eat. And so forth.
By the end of the first month, you should find that you're not only eating more healthily, you'll be enjoying your food more too.
Aim for realistic weight loss
While it may help sell magazines, diets that claim to help you lose 10 pounds a week may actually be doing us all a disservice. Not only can such extreme weight loss be dangerous unless properly planned, but when the big numbers fail to materialize, many people get discouraged and give up. I counsel most of my clients to aim for something attainable — say 1 or 2 pounds a week — and to track their success so they are motivated to keep going.
Eat more fruits and vegetables
Our culture likes to focus on weight, when our ultimate goal should be overall health. One of the surest ways to improve your well-being is to eat more fruits and vegetables. Not only will a diet rich in fruits and veggies help you lose weight, boost your immune system, and give you the essential nutrients you need, it may also make you happier and more attractive too. So if you're not doing this already, consider setting a goal of eating a minimum of two portions of fruits and vegetables with every meal.
Get some exercise
Healthy eating is great, but unless it's accompanied by a routine of physical exercise, the results are going to be limited. Like weight loss, we tend to go overboard when we set our fitness goals. Instead of planning to run a marathon, or sign up for your next "Tough Mudder," consider simply committing to walking to the store three times a week, or setting up a casual tennis match with a friend. Again, gradually introducing more exercise is probably a better idea than going all out, so set yourself a schedule of steadily increasing exertion — and then stick to it.
Get rid of the junk food
Having suggested that the enthusiasm of new resolutions is hard to sustain, that initial burst of motivation can still be harnessed to increase your chances of success. Before January rolls around, start thinking about what foods tend to be your healthy eating downfall. In fact, make a list. Whether it's ice cream or cookies or chocolate chips, be honest with yourself — and then clear out the pantry of these temptations.
Jenni Grover MS RD LDN is a registered dietitian and co-founder of Realistic Nutrition Partners in Durham, North Carolina. She specializes in child, maternal and prenatal nutrition, with a focus on whole foods.