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Healthy Habits for 2018 - It's Not too Late to Start!

Instead of trying the next fad diet this year, why not make some healthy, sustainable lifestyle changes.   A “diet” is a plan that lasts a couple of weeks or months and when over, old habits resume.  Often the weight that is lost, is gained back and sometimes more.  This often leads to cycles of on and of yo-yo dieting and up and down weight changes.  Put an end to this yo-yo cycle by making consistent, healthy lifestyle changes.

Lifestyle changes are healthy habits that become part of our everyday routine.  This is the key to meeting your health goals to get leaner, healthier and maintain weight lost.  Here are some great lifestyle strategies to help you meet your goals.

1- Eat mindfully.  Mindful eating is simply being more fully aware when eating. Give food and mealtimes your full attention. Recognize physical hunger and satiety cues.   Use knowledge and mindfulness to guide your eating decisions.   Ask yourself, what is triggering you to eat? Is it physical hunger, or, is it a rough day, boredom, stress, fatigue?  Being aware of why you are eating other than hunger is a first step in changing bad patterns, such as eating for boredom.  So, acknowledge what you are doing before you act on it. Before actually eating, stop and think about it for a minute before you act on it.

If you are actually hungry, being conscious and fully present when you eat, will be reduce the inclination to overeat.  Eat slowly and appreciate each bite, the textures, taste and smell.

Be present and avoid distractions while eating.  Put away the cell phone, shut the television and enjoy the experience of eating.

2- Practice “hara hachi bu”.  Have you ever gone to a buffet or party and eat and eat until you are beyond full?  We’ve all been there and done that!  Let’s face it, when we do that, we usually don’t feel very good afterwards.  Let’s try to change these habits for good by adopting this very simple principle of Hara hachi bu.

“Hari hachi bu “is a practice done by the people of Okinawa, who have a high number of centenarians and have been studied for their long life expectancy.  Aside from their antioxidant, plant rich diet, and active lifestyle, they eat until they are 80 percent full.   Stopping to eat at 80% capacity is a very good strategy to avoid overeating without going hungry because the stomach’s stretch receptors take about 20 minutes to tell the body how full it really is.  So, when you are eating, be in touch with hunger cues and listen to your body.  Keep asking yourself, am I still hungry?  Stop eating when you are just satisfied.  This ties into the mindful eating strategy I discussed above.  It is a simple approach that can help with weight control and keeping you healthy.

3- Quit “the diet starts Monday” attitude. One splurge will not sabotage all your goals. However, the attitude of “I messed up already, I will start again Monday “followed with an all-out binge will set you back. This attitude creates a vicious cycle of self-destruction. So, instead of a negative attitude, allow yourself an occasional treat that you enjoy and eat mindfully.   If you feel like you’ve overeaten, don’t put yourself in a downward spiral and quit healthy eating.  Just move forward right away (don’t wait till Monday!)  and continue with your goals.  This is all part of healthy eating and a healthy positive attitude towards food.

5- Get cooking.  Eat home cooked food more often and less convenience, restaurant and packaged foods.   Restaurants often have larger than needed portions and food is frequently high in unhealthy fats, calories, and sodium.  Convenience and prepackaged food also don’t measure up to home cooking even though food companies have tried to create more healthful convenience food products.  It’s easy to come across a convenient food product that is laden with sodium and unhealthy fats, yet there are much fewer products that include desirable ingredients, such as whole grains, vegetables, and legumes.  When we cook at home, we know exactly what is going into our foods.  There’s no guessing.  By cooking our food, we can save on sodium, sugars, unhealthy fats, extra calories and preservatives. Several studies show that cooking dinner regularly at home is associated with consumption of a healthier diet whether or not one is trying to lose weight.  Also, sharing the joys of home cooking with your family has many positive social benefits.

So, for a more healthful eating pattern, keep restaurant eating to social outings and special occasions and convenience foods for emergency meals. If you are not an avid home cook and need extra help, then try collecting recipes, attend a cooking class, and watch youtube cooking videos to help you.  If you get home late from work and time is a problem, then setting aside time on the weekend for meal prepping is key.  This brings us to my next tip of the importance of meal prepping.    

6- Preplan and pre prep your meals.  Having healthy food on hand and prepared is a big key to healthy eating success.  When healthy food is readily available to you, you will be more likely to eat healthy food.  Set aside some time on a Sunday morning (or whenever works for you) to plan for the week.  Make this a weekly ritual. It will save you time and stress during the week after a hectic day of work.   Meal prepping can be as simple as washing, cutting and storing veggies, cooking quinoa, and beans and boiling eggs. Or, prepping can as be extensive as cooking entire meals.

Simple steps for Meal Prep:  1- determine your schedule for the week and pinpoint those busy days.  2- Plan meals for each day according to your schedule (plan easier meals on hockey, or dance nights etc).  3-Open up your recipe books or internet and find recipes that you would like to make.  Make a list.  4-Create a grocery list based on the recipes you plan to make.  5- Go grocery shopping and come home and start chopping, steaming, roasting!  (Alternatively, you may find it easier to grocery shop the day before meal prep so it’s not too overwhelming).  6- Store your food and meals in good storage containers and refrigerate or freeze.

7- Get active consistently.  Many people prioritize exercise as one of their New Year’s resolutions.  They join a gym in January and start by going 5, 6, and 7 days a week.  Often that pattern quickly dwindles, people start finding other priorities, and gym days become rare.  Many of us know the benefits of exercise such as improved mood, helping with weight control, better health, and improved energy.  However, the benefits of exercise will only help us if we are consistently working out.  Often new years resolutions fail because many people have an all or nothing attitude.   They want to go all out and set goals that they can’t achieve and then just give up the whole plan altogether.   I’m here to tell you to be consistent with exercise and never give up by finding workouts that your truly enjoy and setting up realistic goals for yourself.

Figure out a plan for yourself as to how many workouts per week will work with your schedule.  Block off the day and time on your schedule as your allotted work out time. (Almost nothing comes in the way of me and my work out J ) .  As your work outs become part of your schedule and it’s feasible to add more days, then go ahead and build up from there.  Also, if the gym isn’t your cup of tea, there are many, many ways to get moving.  You can try running, walking, bicycling, or swimming, and so many others activities to choose from.  If you do join a gym and find yourself too busy to get there one week, then working out from home is a great option.  You can find many work outs on you tube, pinterest or downloadable apps on your phone.  There is no shortage of methods to work out.

Look at it this way, a one hour work out is only 4% of your day, so fit it in!  Try to keep as consistent as possible with work outs by doing a variety of activities that you enjoy and finding back up workouts from home when you can’t get to the gym.  However, if you stumble one week and don’t meet your goal, then pick yourself up again and continue-but don’t call it quits.  You got this!

Adapting these healthy habits will put you on your way towards a healthier lifestyle.  Take care of yourself because you are important.  You can do it!

Elizabeth Zemelman is a Registered Dietitian and been in practice for over 19 years. Follow her on Instagram @ elizabethzrd.