Nutrition Articles

Get a Head Start on Eating Right

Quick nutrition tips for success all year

By Candice Livingston

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Have you ever had a New Year’s Resolution that you kept? Not many people can answer yes to that question. Have you ever made a New Year’s Resolution to eat better and lose weight? Now most people will answer yes to that one. Put the two together and you have a failed resolution to eat right, year after year..

Such a promise usually results in splurging through the holidays just to get to the New Year and trying the latest diet craze or starving yourself until the scale reveals that magic number. Instead, start now to make small nutritional changes so your New Year’s Resolution can be, "I will never `diet’ again."

A study conducted in 1997 at the University of Washington was aimed at understanding the factors that best predict success in keeping New Year’s resolutions. Alan Marlatt, director of the University of Washington’s Addictive Behaviors Research Center, reported that the keys to making a successful resolution are a person’s confidence that he or she can make a behavior change and the commitment to making that change.

So the key to getting a head start on the New Year is to focus on the "head" in head start. Success starts with the belief that you can succeed. Then keep in mind something else the study revealed: "Resolutions are a process, not a one-time effort that offers people a chance to create new habits." Making nutritional changes is all about setting yourself up for success mentally and then setting small goals you know you can reach.

Open your mind

Become aware of how you eat. Write down what you eat for a week to see where you can make small, easy changes. "People are not aware of what they are actually eating," says Gina Kolata, author of Ultimate Fitness: The Quest for Truth about Exercise and Health (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003). So become more aware, but don’t commit to keep a food diary for the rest of your life. Start small and make it work for you.

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If you don’t have time to jot down everything you eat as it enters your mouth, set aside 10 minutes every evening to record what you ate that day. On Saturday night, schedule an additional 10 minutes to look over the week and try to find one thing about your diet you could change. If you eat a candy bar every afternoon at work, start taking a granola bar with you each morning to serve as that candy bar’s replacement. If you notice you grab a doughnut for breakfast on the way to work on days you are running late, find a healthy alternative to keep on hand, like a yogurt smoothie or banana, something you can, and will, eat on the go.

Make changes one at a time
Tackle one change at a time, such as adding more produce to your diet. By mastering that change, it becomes second nature and turns into a habit after a few weeks. Then you can move onto your next nutritional goal.

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Make a goal to drink more water. This may mean you make sure you start drinking at least one glass with every meal or replace one bottle of soda with a bottle of water each day. Don’t expect to cut out all soda at once or to start drinking 64 ounces of water every day when you were only drinking 16 ounces before. Start slow and small.

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Add one fruit or vegetable to every meal. This may actually be harder than it sounds, especially since you don’t get to count French fries or potato chips as a vegetable. To start even smaller, start adding a fruit or vegetable to your breakfast each morning. Once that becomes habit, move onto adding one to lunch and then to dinner. Make it easier by keeping fruit cups in the fridge or taking a bag of carrots or mixed fresh veggies to work each day.

The value in veggies
It may be easier to add that fruit or veggie when you consider the benefits they bring. Apples are a great source of fiber, which helps keep you feeling fuller longer with only 81 calories (based on a medium, 2 ½-inch apple). One medium orange contains more than 100 percent of the U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance of vitamin C and 80 calories. And bananas are a good source of potassium and dietary fiber and have no fat, cholesterol or sodium. A single banana supplies 20 percent of the U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance of B6, a vitamin that helps the body use proteins and fats.

On the vegetable side of things, consider broccoli.  One medium stalk contains 45 calories and is a great source of beta caratine which your body can use to make vitamin A.  Carrots are also a great source of beta caratine.

Think small
Order small when it comes to eating out—small fries, small drink, small salad. Remember there is no value to your health in ordering the "value" size. Keep healthy snacks in the car and at work so you are able to stave off hunger and eat smaller meals at mealtimes. Slow down. Become more aware of what you eat, how much you eat and when you start feeling full by taking a little more time at each meal. Awareness is the key here.

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Knowing what you are eating and drinking and thinking small can lead to big success. If you replace one 21-ounce bottle of soda with a 21-ounce bottle of water, you will consume 250 less calories per day and 1,750 less calories per week. Ordering small fries will cost you only 250 calories versus large fries at 440 calories

Be patient
No goal can be met overnight. Even after a month of ordering small at the drive-thru, you may find yourself asking for the value size combo meal. Don’t beat yourself up about it. There is some truth to the saying that "old habits die hard." Be patient with yourself, focus on your success over the past month and go back to your new habits the next time you eat out.

"Patience is the capacity to accept where we are in any given moment, whether we like it or not," says M.J. Ryan, author of The Power of Patience (Broadway Books, 2003) and Attitudes of Gratitude (Conari Press, 2000). "When we accept where we are, that increases our awareness."

Another aspect of patience is perseverance, the patience to set your goal and tell yourself you will stick to it, again and again and again. "Without patience, none of us can reach any goal because it takes practice," Ryan says.

They say practice makes perfect, so no matter how small the goal or how much you believe in yourself and your ability to succeed, remember that change is a process. So start that process when you sit down to make your New Year’s resolutions, and be sure the first thing on your list is "I will never diet again!"

Beyond thinking small
The bottom line with all these changes is that you set small nutrition goals and think positive. The key is to build upon successes you’ve already had, Ryan says. "Trusting and believing in yourself builds on experience. If it is not grounded in experience, it is meaningless." Remember times you have been able to accomplish similar goals and build upon that success.

You also want to make sure you are setting goals for the right reasons. The American Council on Exercise released a document called "Resolve to Be Healthy in 2003" last year. The first of 12 resolutions it suggests is, "Focus your efforts on things that matter; inform yourself about possible risks." This resolution goes on to say, "When it comes to achieving long life and good health, we largely determine our own fate. Aswe get ready to start a New Year, we can do ourselves the most good by improving important health-related aspects of our lifestyles."

Improving your nutrition plan, one of the most important primary health-related aspects, may mean that you resolve to set aside time each day to evaluate your goals. Then you can see where you fell short and make smaller daily goals on how you will improve tomorrow. This helps stay focused on the present rather than always holding out for that final goal of eating the perfectly balanced diet. By setting and meeting smaller goals, you see more immediate rewards that will lead to your ultimate objective.

One day at a time
To create a lasting change, there must be awareness without judgment, Ryan explains. You shouldn’t use that awareness to beat yourself up though. "Where patience comes into the process, especially with eating, is that awareness itself creates the change." When you are aware, you have the choice of making the change, she continues.

Small steps are the key to success. No success can come without believing in yourself and your ability to accomplish your goals." Most people underestimate what they can do," Kolata says. With that knowledge, each goal becomes even a little easier.

Yet even with that in mind, you must start small; otherwise the task is overwhelming, Ryan says. "If you say `I have to do this for the rest of my life,’ it stretches into eternity. If you say `I am doing this today,’ then you are doing it today."