As you welcome the New Year, consider ditching the diet and instead focusing on changes you can stick with and sustain—with the key word being sustain! It is possible to meet your healthy eating goals without deprivation.
You can set an example for your children with balanced behavior around food, being (or becoming) active, making healthy choices, and having a positive attitude about body weight.
In raising two little boys in this diet-crazy world and in maintaining my own weight, I have adopted two concepts that bring me clarity: 1) Food is fuel, and 2) It’s all about balance.
With respect to “food is fuel”: Sure, it’s nice to like the way food tastes and, yes, food provides elements of joy and comfort. Yet, in the most basic sense, food is simply fuel—or calories—for our bodies.
With “fuel” in mind, it’s easier to eat more of foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains and yogurt, and to eat less of sources of low-quality calories—cakes, cookies, chips and other treats.
The concept of “balance” is equally important. You don’t have to avoid certain foods or drinks entirely; it’s all about the frequency and amount. For example, our little guys sometimes when we are out to eat have a soda as a special treat. It is a rare occasion, not an everyday or every-week routine. Or we make a fun, sugary dessert when we have friends over—again, the key is it isn’t an everyday routine.
With this in mind, here are some tips to help you reach your goals in 2021:
Set goals that are realistic and specific. For example, rather than setting a general goal “to exercise more,” set a more precise one like: “At least five days a week I’m going to walk or run for at least 20 minutes.” Or instead of saying “I’m going to drink more water,” try “Every day I will bring a water bottle with me on errands and to work and will drink it and refill it at least three times.”
Always strive to be better. When you focus on trying to do your best, each change builds on the previous one. Over time, your small efforts can add up to big results. I used to love to put sugar in my coffee, and although each teaspoon of sugar only has about 16 calories, that is 16 extra calories a day that I didn’t need! Consider this an opportunity to make a better choice, start retraining your taste buds and cut one teaspoon of sugar from your coffee every day. That one little change can yield big results: over the course it’s a savings of 7.6 cups of sugar. Then that little change becomes routine, and it can pave the way to another great change.
Focus on more veggies and fruit. When you focus on the concept of food as fuel, it helps shift the emphasis to what you can and should be eating more of.
At breakfast: Add sliced banana to cereal, or have a yogurt and frozen fruit smoothie, or top a slice of whole grain toast with smashed avocado, or sauté eggs with peppers and onions.
At lunch: Serve fruit and vegetable sides like sliced cucumbers, olives, fresh fruit salad, fruit cups, applesauce, side salads made with leafy greens, baby carrots, apple, banana, orange or strawberries.
At dinner: Include plenty of fruit and vegetables like salad, vegetable soup, sliced apples, vegetable noodles, cauliflower “rice,” applesauce, sautéed or roasted vegetables, mashed potatoes or cauliflower, fresh berries, or raw veggies and hummus dip.
Make a plan and stock up. As Benjamin Franklin said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” Take a look at your schedule and make a food plan, asking yourself: What are you going to have for meals? What can you make ahead on a night or day when you have more time? Then start to put your plan into action with a shopping list of what you need to make it happen.
If you are really strapped for time (I use options like these from time to time), consider grocery store ready-to-eat foods that you can quickly reheat. Or if you love to cook yet get stuck in a rut, try a meal-delivery service like HelloFresh or Blue Apron, which delivers ingredients to your door.
Break out of your comfort zone. We can get in a tiresome routine with foods; trying different foods or recipes is a way to challenge yourself and your palate to learn to like new things.
There is a phrase that I use sometimes in our house, which may seem harsh but is an important reminder: “It is OK if you don’t like it, but your body needs it!”
This brings me back to the point that food is a source of necessary nutrients (in addition to calories). Yes, it is great to enjoy the foods we eat. But even if you don’t love vegetables, your body still needs the vitamins and minerals they deliver. Finding ones that you do like the most is crucial for you to thrive. You can do it!