It’s a new year, and we’re all setting goals and working to build better habits. In that spirit, I’ve provided a comprehensive list of tips to help guide your goals in the coming year. Here’s to a happy and healthy 2017!
Healthy Living / Goal Setting
- Set S.M.A.R.T. goals: No matter what you resolve to do this year, make sure to set goals that will help you succeed. The acronym S.M.A.R.T. stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. Goals should have each of these attributes in order to help you be successful. Sometimes when our goals aren’t “SMART”, we set ourselves up for failure.
- Commit to Family Meals: Studies show that families who take the time to eat together at the dinner table are not only happier, but healthier as well. Kids who eat regular meals at home do better in school and have improved mental health and positive family relationships. For an added benefit, individuals who eat more meals at home eat less overall and are less likely to be overweight.
- Drink More Water: Water helps our bodies regulate temperature and get rid of wastes. Feeling thirsty can sometimes feel like a false sense of hunger, so staying hydrated can help us avoid eating when we aren’t hungry. Caffeinated drinks like soda, coffee, or tea actually dehydrate the body, so it is best to limit these beverages and stick to water most often.
- Break out of Dieting Jail: Diets are meant to be temporary and are rarely effective for sustainable behavior change. Instead, focus on adding healthy behaviors to your lifestyle such as eating more fruits and vegetables or exercising frequently. This will help you make a lasting change and avoid “yo-yo dieting” which can damage metabolism.
- Focus on Mindfulness: Being mindful is a lost art in our society, especially during meals. We often eat quickly on the run or while watching TV, which takes not only the awareness, but some of the enjoyment out of meal times. As best you can, try to schedule at least 20-30 minutes for meals. Slow down, taste your food, and enjoy the meal experience.
- Get Cooking: Preparing meals at home is often cheaper and healthier. Get the whole family involved in meal planning and food prep. Kids are more likely to eat a dish if they helped create it. Resolve to learn new kitchen skills together this year, like baking homemade bread or cooking dried beans.
- Eat Breakfast: The old saying is true – breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Research shows that individuals who eat breakfast eat fewer calories later. When it comes to improving metabolism and energy, eating a balanced breakfast can give you that much needed jump-start to tackle the day.
- Make Half Your Plate Fruits and Vegetables: Fruits and veggies are packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber plus antioxidants to support your immune system. The different colors mean different nutrients, so be sure to get a variety of colors each day. Fresh, frozen, canned, or dried are all great options.
- Incorporate Healthy Snacks: Snacks can act as a much needed bridge between meals to fuel your metabolism, keep your energy level up, and prevent you from overeating later. Try to include at least two food groups in your snacks such as yogurt with fruit, whole-grain crackers with low-fat cheese, or a small portion of nuts with an apple.
- Get to Know Food Labels: Food packages make a wide variety of claims from “reduced-fat” to “low-calorie” or even simply “healthy”. The Food and Drug Administration has strict guidelines on some of these terms, but not all of them. If you are trying to make a purchase decision based on nutrition, the best place to check would be the Nutrition Facts Panel which is more tightly regulated and consistent.
- Eat Whole Grains: Whole grain foods have all three parts of the grain seed which increases their fiber and nutrient content. The brown color doesn’t necessarily mean your bread is whole grain. Check the label. Whole grains should have at least 3 grams of fiber in one serving. Also, the very first ingredient should be “100% whole grain”.
- Focus on Balance: All food groups are important because they play specific roles in the body. Foods that are higher in energy or calories and lower in nutrients should be eaten less often in moderation. Foods higher in nutrients are often lower in calories, so the portion sizes of these foods can be larger and they can be eaten more often.
- Go Fish – At Least Twice per Week: Seafood is a lean protein source that is high in omega-3 fatty acids which may contribute to heart and brain health. Try to eat fish or shellfish at least twice per week to enjoy these benefits.
- Cut Back on Added Sugars: Added sugar can be hidden in many foods and drinks. These sugars add calories, but little nutrition. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines recommend keeping added sugars to less than 12 teaspoons per day. Use the Nutrition Facts Panel and ingredient lists to find foods without added sugars and choose plain, unsweetened varieties when possible.
- Banish Boredom at Lunchtime: Mix up your lunch routine with combinations of homemade items and purchased food from the grocery store. Try a whole-wheat pita pocket with hummus or a sandwich on whole wheat bread paired with pre-cut fruits and vegetables, a side salad, or even a bowl of soup from the Produce and Deli Department. The grocery store has a variety of freshly prepared options that can give you a healthier alternative to fast food.
- Break up Your Exercise Routine: Physical activity decreases the risk of disease and helps manage stress and weight. The recommendation for adults is 150 minutes of exercise each week. This may seem daunting at first, but research shows that activity in just 10 minute increments is beneficial to health. Start small with 5-10 minutes of exercise three times each day. You will feel the difference!
- Enjoy the Great Outdoors: Don’t let cold weather keep you cooped up inside. Bundle up, and head outdoors instead! Enjoying nature can soothe stress. The sunshine also helps our bodies activate vitamin D which is important to prevent depression during the winter months.
Body Positivity / Emotional Health
- Give up the Guilt: Guilt is only a good thing when it motivates you to positive change, not if it gives you the chance to wallow or put yourself down. It is the same with healthy eating. Good nutrition is determined over time and is based on lifestyle not on one meal or one day of eating something out of the norm.
- Be Body-Positive: With obesity persisting as a major health concern, it is common for conversations about weight to occur at home and often at the dinner table. Focusing only on weight can be emotionally harmful, especially for children and teens who are still developing physically. Instead, it is more helpful to talk positively about the nutrients that food can provide for the body.
- Manage Stress Wisely: Our busy lives often contribute to excess stress. If not managed, this stress can build up and cause serious mental, emotional, and physical problems. Make sure to include stress-relieving activities into your daily routine such as deep breathing, meditation or doing something you love with friends and family.
- Schedule your Annual Wellness Exam and Screenings: No one particularly enjoys going in for a check-up, but seeing a healthcare provider regularly is important to identify problems and prevent long-term diseases. Go ahead and call your healthcare provider to schedule your wellness exam and recommended screenings today!
- Don’t Forget Sun Protection: Sunburns are often associated with heat, but no matter the temperature outside, over-exposure to the sun’s rays can still lead to skin damage and sunburn. Sun protection is just as important during the winter as it is during the warmer months. If you will be outside for longer than 10 minutes, apply sunblock of at least SPF 15 to your skin regularly.
- Get Enough Sleep: Scientists aren’t sure why, but too little sleep increases the risk of weight gain and developing Type 2 Diabetes. One theory is that poor sleep disrupts hormone levels that regulate appetite which increases the likelihood of overeating. The importance of adequate sleep applies to children as well and may be just as crucial as nutrition and exercise to proper development.
This post was guest written by Elizabeth Hall, RDN, LDRN Registered Dietitian, Food City
Follow her on Twitter @FCDietitican