You can start to follow these recommendations now or wait until the New Year. Committing to habit changes now generally means you are serious about getting healthy and dropping excess weight. Yes, it is harder to change habits during the holidays, but the payoff means you will be feeling significantly healthier by the time the first of January rolls around.
Stop drinking calories
This recommendation should not be a breaking news bulletin. In recent years, nutritionists have recommended limiting or completely removing caloric beverages from your diet. That means water, unsweetened tea and black coffee are the best drink choices for hydration. Most of us don't need carbohydrate-driven sports drinks, and we pour high-fat creamer into our tea and coffee too often. We drink too much juice, and we are still drinking way too much whole and 2 percent milk. When you don’t chew, you don’t really feel the calories. You also tend to forget these drink calories when tallying your day’s total calories. If you are considering diet soda as a swap out, check out Diet Soda: Good, Bad or In Between?
Understand what a snack is and decide if “it fits”
A snack is a bridge between meals. I’ve written about this topic frequently and it basically comes down to (a) choosing a snack that has lean or non-meat protein, plus a small amount of whole grains or healthy fat, and (b) deciding how many calories that snack should “cost,” based on your day’s calorie allotment. If you are getting your snacks from a vending machine or your co-worker’s desk, it’s likely you are eating candy. Candy is a treat and not a snack.
Make most of your meals from simple, unprocessed ingredients
This can be as easy as buying a variety of fresh vegetables to steam along with a piece of fish to grill or going to a salad bar and making a huge salad from loads of undressed vegetables and fruit, with some beans or grilled chicken as your protein choice and a splash of olive oil as dressing. Eat unprocessed foods as much as possible. You will reduce your overall consumption of calories, salt, unhealthy fats and added sugars.
Lose the salt
I recently wrote about salt and holiday headaches. Salt is credited with raising our risk of developing a number of health conditions, and Americans are eating way too much of it. The easiest swap outs for salt are dried or fresh herbs and roasted or fermented vegetables. Why not remove the salt shaker from the table and replace it with a dried spice shaker instead? It’s also important to know where salt is lurking.
Lose the added sugar
There are so many blog posts about the evils of added sugar. It’s important to recognize that preliminary research now suggests that fructose or high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) may have a unique impact on the brain, actually making you hungrier. Added sugar lurks in so many of the foods we choose to eat regularly. It’s also important to realize that the use of “natural sugars” like agave should be limited as well. Consider all forms of sugar as an ingredient requiring strict control.
Protein reigns at every meal, but be selective
Choose very lean cuts of red meat and eat meat less frequently. Chicken and duck should be skin free, since the skin contains most of the fat. We should all be emphasizing non-meat sources of protein like nuts and seeds, beans and legumes, Greek yogurt, and low-fat dairy options like ricotta cheese. Eggs and egg whites can be a daily go-to protein, and ancient grains like quinoa should be top choices since the protein component tempers the carbohydrate nature of the grain.
Use herbs and robust flavors instead of marinades and dressings
Marinades and condiments can be full of sodium, sugar and fat. We tend to pour them rather than use precise measurements. Swap them out for dried and fresh herbs and vegetable purees. Dressings like mustard alone or mixed with yogurt, freshly made tomato sauce, relish, sauerkraut and sautéed onions can add flavor to recipes with a healthy twist.
Vegetables at every meal
Most of us do not meet daily vegetable goals. Iceberg lettuce with a tomato slice is just not a salad. Consider adding vegetables to a morning omelet. A main dish salad should have a minimum of six different kinds of vegetables and should be the foundation for a topping of healthy protein. Dinner should always include a side salad and cooked vegetables. Vegetables should feature in most of your snack choices. Vegetables contain a broad range of nutrients, and their different colors represent a vast array of phytonutrients. Fiber found in vegetables can lower cholesterol, normalize blood sugar, prevent constipation and fill you up with fewer calories.
Dessert should mostly be fruit
Our feelings for dessert or treat entitlement need to be the focus of a 2016 lifestyle change. We justify too many sweets and treats in the name of celebrations, and we snack (sometimes mindlessly) on too many of these choices on a daily basis. Fruit should be our go-to dessert. In-season fruit has enough sweetness to satisfy our palates if we’re not eating too many processed foods with added sugars. Commit to a slow swap out and explore the world of fruit, trying new choices. Homemade applesauce, baked pears and grilled watermelon are just some of the ways you can jazz up simple fruit.
Find a way to like exercise and just do it
Exercise needs to be a regular part of your life. You somehow need to make it as regular and habitual as brushing your teeth or balancing your checkbook. Find ways to exercise that you enjoy, whether it’s a vigorous walk with a buddy or a Zumba class. If you expect to maintain weight loss and reduce your risk of disease, then you need to exercise every day. It does not require the same intensity daily, but it does have to happen.
Worth a quick mention
A Mediterranean-style diet continues to win raves from experts as a “best practices” lifestyle. Just remember if you are trying to lose weight, you need to consider overall calories and portion control.