Everyone I know is recovering from December. Too much of too many good things left us with that morning-after feeling. New Year's resolutions followed, as did 24/7 ads for diets and gym memberships. Now what?
Since I'm a physician and healthy food blogger, people always engage me on this topic in January. When my most exercise-averse friends announced last week that they had bought a recumbent bike, I didn't say what I was thinking: "Good start. But unless it fits into a larger plan of action, that bike won't take you where you want to go." If I had said it, and they'd asked what I had in mind, I would have shared this six-point strategy:
Snacks are now a "full eating event" that account for more than 25 percent of Americans' calories. If yours are healthy, you're 25 percent of the way to a healthy diet. It takes no more time to eat a protein bar or a low-fat yogurt than a bag of chips and a sugary drink. Even if you're busy, it's all about choosing right and making the most of the time you have.
While you're doing your laundry, you can prepare a week's worth of healthy snacks. The best options combine protein and whole grains. Whip up a batch of protein-rich Oatmeal Spice Breakfast Cookies. They're perfect for a pre- or post-workout boost or a mid-night snack. Just bake, wrap, refrigerate, and feel good about yourself all week.
Stock up on low-sugar low-fat yogurt, low-fat cheese, fruit, cut vegetables, and nuts. Nuts are high in calories, but they contain healthy fats, fiber, and protein. A handful can keep the hunger demons at bay and prevent you from overeating at dinner. If you brown-bag your lunch (better for your body, your wallet, and the planet), make a sandwich and a half with lean protein on whole grain bread. That extra half will make a perfect snack in the late afternoon when your energy dips. Use one of those frozen gel packs to keep it cool.
If you skip breakfast, your body goes into starvation mode and your metabolism slows down to conserve energy -- which affects both physical and mental performance. By 10 a.m., you're so hungry that you'll eat whatever junk comes within range, or you'll wait until lunch and overeat to make up for your down-energy state and caloric depletion.
To keep you in sync until lunch, your breakfast should include protein. That doesn't mean you have to give up muffins and pancakes; but they should either contain or accompany some sort of lean protein. Egg whites, protein powder, tofu, cottage cheese, low-fat yogurt (Greek or regular) are all good. Get up five to 30 minutes early and eat. If a five-minute breakfast is your max, make a smoothie, defrost a muffin, or toss into the toaster an Apple Cinnamon Pancake left over from Sunday brunch. You'll actually feel less tired, not more. Now you're 50 percent of the way there.
Make Meals Count
Of course you're pressed for time, but in 30 minutes or less even time-pressed cooks can prepare something healthy and delicious. What do I mean by healthy? Lean proteins, good-for-you-fats, whole grains, beans, fruits, and veggies. If you live with other people, divide and conquer the shopping, prep-work, cooking, and cleaning. If you live alone, prep the night before. However you do it, make dinner worth eating. There's nothing like boring food to undo even the sincerest resolution. You need bold flavors, like the ones in Grilled Shrimp with Smoky Barbecue Rub.
Move to Lose
It's almost impossible to achieve a healthier body without exercise. Even 30 minutes three times a week can make a difference. Cardio workouts rev up your metabolism so you burn more calories. Strength training replaces fat with muscle, which makes you look leaner even at the same body weight. It also adds a metabolic bonus because muscle burns more calories than fat. Exercise gives you more energy during the day and helps you sleep better at night. Try partnering with someone else for support and motivation.
None of these recommendations is radical or new, but each makes a distinct contribution. Follow them, and you'll get much more mileage out of that new bike in your basement.
The following recipes are excerpted from Trufflehead, a new healthy cooking app for iPhone and iPad.
Apple Cinnamon Pancakes
Time: < 30 minutes
Per serving: 268 calories, 3 g total fat, 1 g saturated fat, 1 mg cholesterol, 40 g total carbohydrate, 6 g dietary fiber, 22 g protein, 677 mg sodium.
Oatmeal Spice Breakfast Cookies
Time: < 30 minutes
Per serving: 241 calories, 5 g total fat, 1 g saturated fat, 11 mg cholesterol, 32 g total carbohydrate, 5 g dietary fiber, 18 g protein, 614 mg sodium.
Grilled Shrimp with Smoky Barbecue Rub
Time: < 30 minutes