Do you resolve each year to do your body some good? Making small changes in diet and exercise will reap big rewards.
By Jeanie Lerche Davis
Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario
Lose weight, eat less junk food -- they top many lists of New Year's resolutions. But sticking with those good intentions is just not easy.
The problem: "Most people have unrealistic expectations," says Cynthia Sass, a nutritionist with the University of South Florida in Tampa and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.
"They decide this is the year they're going to completely change everything about their diet," she tells WebMD. "That's just too hard to do."
Willpower isn't the issue, says Sass. "Willpower is about depriving yourself, and nobody gets excited about that. Besides, depriving yourself is depressing and leads to bingeing. Focus on the positives -- you feel better, have more energy, when you eat healthy."
When making dietary changes, "start small," she says. "Set a few realistic goals. In the long run, you'll have better self-esteem and more self-confidence because you'll actually stick with them."
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Here are a few tips for a healthier diet and lifestyle:
- Don't skip breakfast, says Heidi Reichenberger, another ADA spokeswoman based in Boston. "Skipping breakfast gives you the munchies later on and slows your metabolism down." She advises starting the day with yogurt and fruit or whole-grain cereal with low-fat milk.
- Don't skip any meals or snacks, says Sass. "Try not to let more than five hours go by without eating. Waiting too long can zap energy, and can lead to overeating later. Eat a (healthy) snack between lunch and dinner, maybe right before leaving work, so you will be less likely to grab snack foods once you get home."
- Include a total of 30 minutes of activity every day. "It doesn't have to be all at once," Reichenberger tells WebMD. If it takes 10 minutes to walk from the bus stop, get off at the next furthest stop so you get a few more minutes walking. And walk it briskly -- you can lose some weight, improve your cardiovascular system, and sleep better.
- Drink fewer sodas and other sweetened drinks, like iced tea. A big bottle of a juice-based drink can contain 300 calories -- and those calories add up. Drink water instead. Or mix juice and water, so you're not drinking something so heavily loaded with sugar.
- Aim to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables every day.
- Buy pre-cut fruits and vegetables, so you can grab them when you're hungry.
- Keep frozen veggies in the fridge. They are easy, quick, and rich in nutrients. Take them to work for a quick lunch you can heat in the microwave. Season with black pepper, herbs, lemon juice, or a red wine-and-balsamic vinegar dressing.
- Bring snacks to work -- such as pretzels, fruit, and yogurt -- so you won't find yourself at the vending machine every afternoon.
- When fixing a salad, sprinkle rolled oats or crunchy whole-grain cereal for added fiber, so you'll feel full.
- Fix pasta dishes with veggies and lean protein (like canned tiny shrimp, tuna canned in water, precooked chicken breast, or soy crumbles). Adding protein and veggies to pasta allows you to cut back on the amount of pasta (which is high in carbohydrates) while still feeling full.
- Also, hand-select a variety of fruits instead of buying one large bag of the same fruit. "After the third or fourth day of apples, you'll likely be sick of them," says Sass. "Mixing up a few different types of apples, one pear, one banana will keep you from getting bored."
Originally published Jan. 14, 2002.
Medically updated Oct. 18, 2004.
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