Note to Reporters: The following column was written by Melissa Wdowik, Ph.D., RDN, FAND, an assistant professor at Colorado State University in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, and director of the Kendall Reagan Nutrition Center.
Based on statistics and testimonials, half of you made a New Year’s resolution. Half of those resolutions will not be maintained, though, either because they are too broad or too difficult. But don’t quit before you start! Here is a timely top-10 list of recommendations that are specific and easy enough to lead to success, especially if you start with just one.
10. Get more sleep. Thanks to a powerful combination of hormones and brain activity, sleep deprivation leads not just to fatigue but weight gain and related disorders. People who sleep less than seven hours are more likely to make poor food choices, search for a high-calorie pick-me-up, and snack late at night.
9. Be less inactive. While many resolutions are to join a gym or exercise more, research shows it is just as important to stop being sedentary! Every half hour, get up and walk around the room, the building, or even in place. Add other bits of movement throughout the day while working on a computer, talking on the phone, or brushing your teeth. Take the stairs. Add a walking meeting. Do jumping jacks during commercials. Anything other than sitting all day.
8. Eat less sugar. Simple sugars are everywhere – table sugar, processed foods and sweet drinks, just to name a few. These sugars can contribute to tooth decay, mood swings and fatigue. Consuming less sugar will reduce your risk of cancer, diabetes and liver damage.
7. Allow treats. Deprivation often causes dieters to give up and overeat what they were trying to avoid. Instead of cutting out what you crave, eliminate the word “diet” and allow yourself occasional treats – a small serving daily if you are healthy and weekly if you are trying to manage your weight or a chronic disease.
6. Drink more water. Water is a healthful alternative to sweetened beverages, less expensive than coffee drinks, and a good filler when you are tempted to snack mindlessly. Aim to drink 1-2 cups by lunch and 1-2 cups by dinner, and you are on your way.
5. Make fermented foods part of your eating plan. From yogurt to sauerkraut, fermented foods improve your digestion, immune system and inflammation levels.
4. Consume more functional foods. These are foods that have a health benefit beyond just basic nutrients, such as oatmeal helping to lower cholesterol and salmon improving brain function. Health claims are not regulated, so this is not a recommendation to buy fortified empty calories (cookies with added fiber are not the ideal). Instead, some top choices in addition to oatmeal and salmon include beans, nuts and berries.
3. Eat more fiber. Dietary fiber helps regulate blood sugar and weight while reducing your risk of heart disease and diverticulosis. Great sources are raw fruits and vegetables, legumes and whole grains.
2. Eat out less. If you are like many Americans, you spend more money on restaurant food than groceries. That means hidden salt, sugar, fat, calories and food additives, even when you try to make good choices. Avoid these unknowns by spending more time in your own kitchen.
1. Make your portions smaller. If you make no other changes to your eating habits, eating less will benefit your weight, your waist and your wallet. Most portions served at home and in restaurants are 50 percent to 100 percent larger than you need. No eating from the bag or munching standing up. Use a plate, serve yourself smaller amounts, then leave some on the plate. Your body will soon adapt to feeling content with less, and you will hopefully start to appreciate your food more.
Melissa Wdowik, Ph.D., RDN, FAND, is an assistant professor at Colorado State University in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, and director of the Kendall Reagan Nutrition Center.