When it's resolution time, the first thing on your list may be to lose weight and eat more healthfully. But how exactly do you go about doing that -- and how do you keep yourself from becoming a resolution dropout before long?
To draw up a list of the absolute best diet and nutrition resolutions, I consulted weight loss experts around the country. Here are their suggestions for some tried-and-true -- and very doable -- behavior changes that will help you lose weight.
1. Stack the odds in your favor. We all have our own particular strengths and weaknesses. Katherine Tallmadge, MA, RD, advises playing up your strengths and making a plan to avoid getting sidetracked by your weaknesses. Don't simply wish you could do better this time -- take concrete steps to ensure that you do, says Tallmadge, author of Diet Simple. For example:
- If you reach for high-calorie foods because they're convenient, make sure you have healthy alternatives available. Go grocery shopping at least weekly to stock up on wholesome foods. Keep a list so you have enough for the week.
- If you're a social eater, plan non-food events with your friends. Take walks, go sightseeing, go to a movie or take a hike.
2. Get the rest you need. Susan Moores, MS, RD, a nutrition consultant from St. Paul, Minn., is excited about recent research on the hormonal effects that sleep deprivation can have on appetite. Hers is a resolution you don't see often -- and one most people will welcome hearing.
3. Give yourself permission to be human. Anne Fletcher, MS, RD, author of the Thin for Life books, suggests a resolution that allows you to slip up without going into a slide. People who lose weight and keep it off know how to pick themselves up after they slip. Gained some weight on vacation? No problem. Just get right back into healthy eating and exercise to lose the extra pounds.
4. List the eating and exercise habits you'd like to change, and select one to work on. Don't try to change a second habit until the first one has become a habit, says Boston-based nutrition consultant Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD. A list of habits is easier to tackle than sweeping resolutions, she says. "Resolutions imply major changes that appear doable and seem downright insurmountable by two to three weeks out, largely because most people are not ready to make a change but think they should because of the New Year," says Ward, author of Healthy Foods, Healthy Kids.
5. Choose brightly colored fruits and vegetables plus the brown of whole grains. Your diet should look like a rainbow with a complement of brown, says Connie Diekman, MEd, RD, director of university nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis and the voice of the syndicated radio show Eating Right Minute.
6. Practice low-calorie evening relaxation traditions. Instead of an after-work cocktail, drink a "virgin Mary" in a wine glass after a long day, suggests Dawn Jackson, RD, a weight-loss dietitian at Northwestern Memorial Hospital Wellness Institute in Chicago. Or unwind with a hot cup of herbal or no-calorie flavored tea instead of reaching for sweets.
7. Aim for lighter forkfuls. Another suggestion from Jackson: Putting less on each fork will help you eat more slowly. This, in turn, helps you enjoy your food more -- and, ultimately, to eat less.
8. Eat when you're eating. Try not to multitask (reading, watching television, answering emails, driving) while you eat, says Jackson. Instead, sit at a table and enjoy what you are eating.
9. Escape food cravings. When cravings strike, Christine Palumbo, MBA, RD, an Allure magazine columnist, suggests trying one of the following tricks:
- Chew intensely flavored gum.
- Brush your teeth.
- Drink a large glass of water or sugar-free soda, or a cup of tea.
- Take a brisk, 5-minute walk.
- Wait 20-30 minutes. If the craving persists, satisfy it with a small portion.
10. Stop eating before you're stuffed. The time to stop eating is when you reach "5" on a hunger scale of 1-10, where 1 is famished and 10 stuffed to the gills, suggests Ellie Krieger, MS, RD, host of Food Network’s Healthy Appetite and author of Small Changes, Big Results. Pushing your plate away at a 5 is a natural way to control portions without measuring, and it helps you cue into your body's needs.
12 More Little Changes
To add to the experts' list, I have a list of small, sustainable resolutions that -- along with the above suggestions -- should help you reach your weight loss goals:
1. Switch from higher-fat to lower-fat products. Instead of cream, use milk in your coffee.
2. No eating after 8 p.m., except when you go out for dinner or when it's a calorie-controlled healthy snack.
3. Get some kind of physical activity each day, even if it's only for 20-30 minutes. No excuses.
4. Eat at least five servings a day of fruits and vegetables.
5. Start each day with a nourishing breakfast.
6. Eat only from a plate, not the bag or container.
7. Pack healthy snacks when you are on the go.
8. Watch one hour less of television each day.
9. Get a dog for companionship and to help you get daily activity.
10. Add strength training to your fitness routine at least two days a week.
11. Journal your meals at least once a day.
12. Allow yourself occasional treats, in moderation, so deprivation does not lead to a binge.
Making Them Stick
You've heard from the pros; now it's up to you. Make your own personal best list of resolutions that will help you lose weight and improve your health. Keep the list with you, as a screen saver on your computer or posted in a highly visible spot. It will serve as a motivator to help you make healthful changes each day.
Some other ways to make sure you stay with the program:
- Reward yourself. To reinforce your success, build in a reward system. Make a commitment that, for example, you get to the gym five times a week, you will treat yourself. The best treats are not food-related. Celebrate your success with a manicure, a trip to see a hot new movie, or whatever feels special to you.
- Control your surroundings. Spend time with people who support and encourage you. Stock your house with nutritious foods and throw out the empty-calorie temptations. Avoid buffets, and choose restaurants that offer healthy options.
- Seek support. Finding an exercise pal or an online diet buddy, especially one with goals similar to yours, is one of the best ways to ensure success. It's easier to get out of bed on those cold mornings when you know someone is counting on you to exercise with them. And buddies are lifesavers when you need someone to talk you off the ledge. One suggestion: Buy your buddy a pedometer, and work together to meet 10,000 steps a day.
When You Backslide
No matter how committed you are, you will occasionally overeat. Simply accept that these things happen, and get right back on track. Remember that losing weight is more like a slow and steady marathon than a sprint. Good luck!
Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, is director of nutrition for WebMD. Her opinions and conclusions are her own.