It never fails- every year we vow to lose weight, get healthy, eat cleaner, and banish anything with more than 100 calories per serving. We plan, we track, and we strategize because on January 1st all is forgiven. All of our past attempts and mistakes with dieting doesn’t matter. This time we’ll make it. This time we will succeed! One…month…later…it is February and we didn’t only fall off the wagon, the wagon was in a head on collision with a bucket of chocolate covered whatever. Oh well, there’s always next year? This constant cycle of failure is all too familiar. The heart is willing but the flesh doesn’t want to hear it! It’s not the planner, it’s the plan. All or nothing doesn’t work in a world of endless temptation and only sets us up for disappointment. Slow and steady wins the race. Trying to tackle too much at once- lose weight, avoid sugar, eat more vegetables, etc. will only result in misery. So, here are 12 food resolutions to help keep you on track- one for each month of the year ;-).
1: Eat the best food not the cheap stuff.
If you like cheese, eat really good cheese. The more intense the flavor the less you need to eat and if you slow down and savor your food, it will last longer too. There is no shortage of imitation foods out there but real food not only tastes better, it’s better for you. Speaking of which, what is imitation crab meat really? Besides being more expensive in the long run, the cheap substitutes are usually less nutrient dense and full of additives that can do more harm than good. Try to eat fresh, local, and in season whenever possible but choose wisely and set limits.
2: Experiment with flavors.
If salt and pepper or combinations of the two are all that is on your spice rack, you might be in a flavor rut. Expand your mind and experience different cultures in your eating. Herbs and spices provide a little excitement for those boring, bland chicken breasts. Trying adding dried rosemary and thyme to roasted potatoes or my personal favorite- whole garlic cloves to anything! Avoid anything with “salt” in the name i.e. - “garlic salt”, “onion salt”, “celery salt”, or “seasoned salt”. Opt for salt-free varieties and add your own to control sodium intake.
3: Don’t skip meals.
Not only does skipping meals set you up for overeating later, you run the risk of not getting the necessary nutrients your body needs to function properly. It’s like trying to make a 6-hour road trip with no gas in your tank. If eating smaller snack-sized meals more often works better for you, so be it. Remember, one bite is better than nothing and three small meals are better than none.
4: Don’t eat with your eyes. Listen to your belly.
Your eyes can deceive you and may cause you to eat more than you intended. It is important to know what satiety feels like for you. This can be challenging if you are not used to reading your own body’s cues. Simply asking yourself “Am I really hungry?” can help you learn your body’s signaling system. Feelings of discomfort are sure signs you have exceeded your maximum intake for that meal. Know when you are full and back away from the table.
5: Eat for fuel not for pleasure.
This is difficult because food can trigger the same pleasure/reward centers in the brain as hard drugs. Even though food can make us feel better, its job is to provide energy and nutrients not replace our social network. Don’t let your emotions rule your diet. And yes, boredom is an emotion too. Also, don’t use food as a reward lest everyday will be a reason to celebrate and by year’s end, your wagon will have crashed again. Try eating on a schedule to control mindless eating behaviors. For example- plan to eat breakfast somewhere between 7 and 9am, lunch between 12 and 2pm, and dinner between 5 and 7pm.
6: Hydrate yourself.
Dehydration or lack of water is the final common pathway to the death of anything including you. Your body is about 50% water and drinking half your body’s weight in fresh, clean, unadulterated water is required for optimal health. Water is the one fat-free, sugar-free, calorie-free nutrient you can’t afford to live without. You’ll know when you are getting enough when the color of your urine is in the light yellow to almost clear range. Also, dull, dry, itchy skin can be a sign of dehydration. If you’re still not excited about drinking more water, make your own “fruit punch” by adding fresh or frozen berries and orange slices to your water pitcher, or fresh ginger slices add a spicy kick and help with digestion.
7: Cleanse your palette in order to taste your food.
Our taste buds can become “dull” and immune to flavors especially if we follow the Standard American Diet (SAD) way of eating which includes high fat, high sugar, and high salt. If you find yourself adding salt to your Mickey D’s fries because they just don’t taste right or drowning a stack of pancakes in maple flavored syrup because they’re not sweet enough, it might be time for a palette cleanse. For one week, avoid adding salt or sugar to your food (including high sugar/salt condiments like ketchup and soy sauce); and limit how much you use during cooking and see how much better you can actually taste the food by week’s end.
8: Beware of fake sugars.
Artificial sugar is not a health food! It sets the stage for overeating, blood sugar imbalances, weight gain, and insulin resistance/pre-diabetes to name a few. If you use sugar, less is more but real is always better.
9: Don’t deny yourself.
Even though there may be certain foods that are not the best options for you, absence really does make the heart grow fonder. Almost any food can have some redeeming value depending on the situation. If you are starving, hours away from your ideal meal, and heading to an all-afternoon meeting, a fast food combo might not sound so bad. Obviously you would want to plan ahead for such an occasion and not rely on fast food fixes, but there are lesser evils on most menus. The point is, don’t make it a crime to eat your favorite foods just be smart about when and how much you eat them. Try scheduling dessert night(s)/treat day(s) and stick to it so you won’t feel deprived and end up binge eating. Start with every other day to avoid the “cold turkey” effect but remember you are not using food as a reward for good behavior.
10: Resist the urge to overshare.
Don’t tell people you are on a diet or that you can’t have certain foods. Your food preferences are yours alone so don’t expect others to understand. The moment people know that you have food restrictions they seem to go out of their way to tempt you with every forbidden treat Satan’s secretary can find. They say things like “Oh you can have a little” or “One bite can’t hurt you”. Although there’s no way to control what others do and say, you don’t have to provide the ammo that will be used against you. A simple “No thank you” or “I couldn’t eat another bite” may be the only way to get people to respect your personal food space. If all else fails, ask to take the offending food home and dispose of it how you see fit.
11: Get out of your food comfort bowl.
Most of us eat the same 10-12 foods over and over again with little deviation even in how we prepare them- baked chicken, steamed broccoli, mashed potatoes… Be a risk taker and swap these foods for ones you never tried before or at least try preparing them differently. Aim to try just three new vegetables this month or attempt to braise the chicken for tonight’s dinner or roast the broccoli. Create some diversity in your eating and you will be more likely to stick your new healthier way of eating.
12: Don’t become a food snob.
By now you have revamped what you eat and how you eat. It’s so easy to look down on the “less-evolved” among you but you must resist the urge to turn your nose up at their “poor” dietary habits. Besides, it is better to show than to tell. So be a quiet role model and demonstrate healthy food choices. Before long they will be seeking your advice instead of running from it.