It is now a full week into the new year, a time full of promises and hope. Whether you want to lose weight, get in shape, or just be a bit healthier this year, small and simple steps can help you to improve your well being. As a nutritionist, I help people develop healthy habits and make better food choices. I tend to be more of a fan of taking small actionable steps to improve your health than I am of making resolutions which we often never act on.
As 2017 came to an end and 2018 just began, now is a great time to assess our lifestyle, diet, and habits, and consider the tweaks we can take that could improve our health and nutrition. While no one magic pill, food, or exercise can make you healthier, these small and simple steps can certainly help get you there.
Here, I share some of my favorites.
1. Be thankful.
Before you can resolve to be healthier and eat better, it’s so important to get your head in the right place and focus on being positive. The best place to start is by expressing your gratitude for the good in your life. To get you started, jot down 5 things you are grateful for each day.
2. Get fresh air.
Whether you live in a sunny warm climate or it’s cold and cloudy, get outside. While you may not be able to do a full workout outdoors, take a walk around the block and be one with nature. It boosts your mood and helps get you going.
3. Enjoy a berry parfait.
Whether or not it is healthier to eat breakfast first thing in the morning is still a topic of debate. I advocate starting your day with something healthy even if it’s not first thing in the morning. I recommend choosing a healthy protein, whether it’s eggs, yogurt, or nut butter and adding a fresh fruit or a whole grain. If you don’t like to eat a big meal in the morning, make a yogurt parfait—Greek yogurt, your favorite berries, and a sprinkling of walnuts and flax-seeds.
4. Prep in advance.
As a clinician for over 20 years, my most successful clients planned their meals and prepped in advance. A few simple tips: always keep a variety of fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables on hand and stock your pantry with healthy choices including nuts, olive oil, beans, legumes, and whole grains.
5. Try something new.
Whether you decide try a new food (after all, there’s got to be a veggie you haven’t yet tried!), do a different workout, take a class, or travel a different route to work, changing things up gets you out of a rut. It gets you off to a fresh new start and the change is good for your brain too.
6. Be wise about portion size.
Watching your portion size is by far the best way to watch calories without having to actually count them. Aim for approximately 4 ounces fish or poultry (a little larger than deck of cards or your palm). As for a healthy starch such as quinoa or brown rice, you do not need to skip it. Stick with a cup’s worth (your fist) as a side dish. And enjoy fresh fruits and veggies in unlimited portions. No one I know got fat from eating too many carrots or bananas.
7. Move daily.
Being active has been shown to have many health benefits, both physically and mentally. Exercise not only helps you lose weight, it improves your mood and outlook, lowers your heart rate and is good for your bones and your brain. Pick an exercise you enjoy and stick to it. Just don’t forget to breathe!
8. Eat a salad.
Eating salad may be one of the healthiest eating habits you can adopt today. Eating salads are a great way to get in a few servings of fruits and vegetables. They are packed with fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. They also fill you up so you eat less of the wrong stuff. Try mixing up your assortment of fruits and veggies to vary your nutrients.
9. Go fishing.
Fish is among the healthiest foods. It is full of nutrients, including protein and vitamin D. Fatty fish such as salmon is also one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which are incredibly important for brain and heart health. Include fish in your diet at least twice a week.
10. Snack smart.
Enjoying a healthy snack between meals is a great way to prevent you from being hungry and then overeating it later. My favorite snacks include an apple or pear with nut butter, cut up vegetables with hummus, a handful of nuts and berries, or 1/3 avocado with whole grain crackers. And, as I tell my clients eat before you eat! Having a light snack before heading out to dinner will help you eat less.
11. Write it down.
Keeping a food diary is a great to track your food intake. It helps to keep you accountable as well as identify your triggers and weaknesses. You can keep a food journal or you can use an app. Choose the method that is less cumbersome for you. Keep track of what you eat, how much, as well as how the food is prepared.
12. Cook more.
Home-cooked food tends to be healthier than restaurant and store bought food, containing fewer calories and less fat, sugar, and salt. If you eat out most nights of the week (and that includes ordering in!) , tweak your routine by eating home a few nights. If you don’t cook regularly, you may think you don’t know how, but give it a try and experiment your mom’s favorite recipes.
13. Souper-size it!
I am a huge fan of eating soup either as a snack or as a n appetizer. What I like most about including soups in your diet is that they are filling and often times, you get to eat a large portion without too many calories. Perfect for volume lovers! In fact, people who eat a large vegetable-based soup as an appetizer often end up eating fewer calories at the rest of the meal. My favorites — minestrone, tomato kale, lentil soup, and white bean. Several caveats: skip the cream soups and go easy on salt.
14. Say no to liquid candy.
Liquid candy is a term used for soda, sweetened iced tea, fruit punch and the like. Not only do sugary beverages contain unnecessary calories, (all from added sugars!), you often don't even realize you are getting any calories at all, and you often eat a not so healthy snack with it. A triple wammy! Drink water instead. Sparkling water is great too. And feel free to add lemon, cucumber, sliced apple or mint leaves for added flavor.
Happy New Year. Here’s to a healthy year and to 365 days of endless possibilities.
We’d love to hear your New Year’s hacks.