Almost half of all American adults make one or more New Year’s resolutions each January 1. Some of the most popular resolutions year after year involve our diets: to eat better and lose weight. But one in five people are back to their old ways by the end of January, and half have abandoned their resolutions completely by the Fourth of July.
Can you beat the odds and make lasting improvements in your diet this year? The key to success lies in setting clear, attainable goals. If you set an ill-defined and unrealistic goal regarding your eating habits – let’s say to stop eating junk food – you are setting yourself up for failure. Instead, identify specific, positive changes you can make and don’t underestimate the effectiveness of small modifications to your diet in meeting your objectives. “We see tremendous results with small, incremental changes,” says Helen Eddy, Assistant Vice President of Health and Wellness for Hy-Vee. For example, Eddy suggests a simple switch to a smaller dinner plate as a way to eat less. Replace your large dinner plates with smaller ones on January 1 and you’ll be cutting calories all year without even thinking about it.
Here are ten more easy things you can do to change your eating habits for the better. Pick one or two (or even more) and resolve to make them a part of your new year.
1. Maintain a bottomless fruit bowl
We’ve been told to eat between five and nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day to protect against heart disease, obesity, diabetes and cancer. This may sound daunting, especially if the closest thing you get to a vegetable is that bag of potato chips with your sandwich at lunch (and, no, that doesn’t count). If you’re not used to eating a lot of fresh produce, begin by adding one or two additional servings a day and then gradually increase your intake until you reach the recommended daily total. One easy way to get started is to fill a pretty bowl with fresh fruit – apples, oranges, bananas, etc. – and keep it on your kitchen table or counter. Get in the habit of grabbing a couple of pieces of fruit when you head out the door in the morning to snack on throughout the day. Restock your edible centerpiece every time you buy groceries.
2. Eat 4 to 5 colors of the rainbow every day
By eating a variety of foods you gain the benefits of diverse nutrients and antioxidants like lycopene, beta-carotene, carotenoids, lutein, and flavonoids. An easy way to add more variety is to eat at least 4 or 5 different colors of the rainbow every day. Rainbows aren’t brown and beige, so hamburgers and french fries don’t count. But these colorful foods do:
- Red: cherries, apples, strawberries, tomatoes, red peppers, beets, radishes
- Pink: raspberries, watermelon, grapefruit
- Orange: peaches, mango, oranges, cantaloupe, carrots, orange peppers, butternut squash, pumpkin, sweet potatoes
- Yellow: lemons, bananas, pineapple, pears, corn, summer squash
- Green: kiwis, honeydew melon, avocado, beans, lettuce, spinach, green peppers, zucchini, peas, broccoli, celery, cabbage, asparagus, cucumber
- Blue and purple: blueberries, blackberries, grapes, raisins, eggplant, red cabbage
- White: jicama, onions, turnips, parsnips, cauliflower, mushrooms, garlic
3. Go meatless on Mondays
Animal-based foods are a primary source of saturated fat and cholesterol in the diet. Meat production takes a toll on the environment through an intensive use of grain, water, energy, and land. By foregoing meat just one or two days a week, you will reduce your risk of coronary heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, and help preserve the earth’s precious resources. You’ll also save money by substituting inexpensive forms of protein like beans and eggs for meat.
4. Up your intake of whole grains
According to the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the typical American eats more than twice the recommended amount of refined grains (found in foods like white bread, white rice, crackers, and pastries) but only 15% of the recommended amount of whole grains (found in whole wheat bread, brown rice and oatmeal). Refined foods have less fiber and nutrients than their whole-grain counterparts, and are higher in calories, solid fats and sugar. The USDA therefore recommends that at least half of all grains consumed be whole grains. Up your intake of whole grains by selecting whole wheat over white bread and pasta and brown rice over white at least half the time.
5. Subtract two from the dirty dozen
Use the Environmental Working Group’s “dirty dozen” list to reduce your exposure to harmful synthetic chemicals. The list identifies the 12 types of produce containing the highest level of pesticides when grown non-organically. It not always possible (or economically feasible) to eat organic produce 100% of the time, so pick at least two from the list and resolve to buy and consume only the organic versions of those items in 2012. The Dirty Dozen:
- Bell peppers
- Kale/collard greens
6. Snack sensibly
Let’s be realistic. Unless you have incredible willpower, you’re not going to forego snacking for an entire year. But you can resolve to snack sensibly. Every Sunday, cut up raw veggies like carrots, celery, zucchini and radishes to keep in a container in the refrigerator. The rest of the week, snack on veggies and salsa instead of chips and dip. Grab a handful of nuts like almonds or walnuts for an afternoon energy boost instead of M&Ms. If you must give in to your craving for chips, crackers or pretzels, Ely resident Karen Erger offers this tip she learned from her mother: “Don’t eat them directly out of the bag. Put a few in a small bowl, and when they’re gone, you’re done.”
7. Skip soda at meals
Americans consume far too much sugar in liquid form. Diet drinks are no better given the potential harmful effects of synthetic sweeteners like saccharin and aspartame. An occasional can of soda can be a treat (after all, movie popcorn goes down so much better with an ice cold Coca-Cola), but resolve to skip the soda at meal time. Instead, choose plain old water or non-fat milk. If you’re looking for a boost of caffeine, unsweetened tea is a great choice and may provide protection against cardiovascular disease, dementia, and some cancers.
8. Buy local at least once a month
There are many reasons to seek out locally grown food: to decrease energy consumption, to support local producers, and to get food that tastes better and is better for you than factory-farmed varieties valued most for their ease of transport and long shelf-life. Commit to buying local at least once a month in 2012 and spending at least $25 per month on your local grocery purposes. Where do you find local food? Iowa has more farmers’ markets per capita than any other state, including several winter markets. Visit at least one a month. If you miss the winter market in January, visit the downtown market in Cedar Rapids twice in July. Join a CSA or food-buying co-op, like the Iowa Valley Food Cooperative, to buy directly from local producers. Or check the labels in your favorite grocery store to find locally-produced options. New Pioneer Food Co-op, located in Iowa City and Coralville, and Hy-Vee, with locations throughout Iowa, both offer a large selection of local products.
9. Grow your own
Resolve to plant a vegetable garden in 2012. You don’t need to till up the entire lawn; a couple of tomato plants in pots on the patio will suffice. The point is to grow something you will eat. Because uncooked vegetables can lose up to 50% of their nutrients within two weeks after harvest, food that goes right from your garden to your table is more nutritious than what you buy in the store. A garden also provides multiple fitness benefits; you burn fat and strengthen and tone all of your major muscle groups when you perform common garden chores like cultivating the soil and weeding.
More reasons to make gardening a part of your life.
10. Sit down to a family dinner
A healthy relationship with food is as much about how you eat as what you eat. Look at your own eating habits. Are you eating on the go, grabbing take-out on the way home, or eating in front of the computer or television? Studies have shown that when families eat together on a regular basis, everyone eats healthier and children do better in school. Resolve to sit down to a proper home cooked family dinner at least one night a week. Eat around the table with the television and cell phones off. Focus on each other and what you are eating. The food need not be anything fancy. It’s easy to roast a chicken and some vegetables or throw together a pot of chili. Everyone will benefit from the time together.
In what ways will you eat healthier in 2012? Share your ideas in the comments section below.