Around the new year, most of us vow to make drastic changes to our diet or lifestyle. For some that means adopting a strict (and joyless) diet or signing up for hardcore fitness classes that meet at 5 a.m. (despite the fact that you're horribly out of shape). It's no wonder these resolutions are often short-lived. When it comes to making lasting changes to your diet and lifestyle habits, slow and steady wins the race.
There's no doubt that committing to eat healthier and get more exercise are great New Year's resolutions. But unless your new practices are sustainable, any progress you make could be short-lived. Small diet and lifestyle changes over time that aren't too disruptive stand a better shot at becoming permanent healthy habits. Whether you want to lose 30 pounds, get better control of your diabetes, or achieve a similar health goal, it's best to make small but powerful changes. Eventually, you'll see results.
If you're ready to take some small yet mighty steps toward better health in 2019, give these tips a try.
- Cut out sugary drinks immediately. Sugary drinks like regular soda, fruit drinks, energy drinks and sweet tea raise your blood glucose and add empty calories to your daily intake. Even though it can be a hard habit to kick, do all you can to eliminate these drinks from your diet. Replace them with fresh water, low-fat milk, flavored calorie-free carbonated water, and unsweetened tea and coffee.
- Purge the junk food. Cookies, chips, sweets and other snacks are hard to resist when they are an arm's length away. The best way to avoid them is by removing them from your home. But don't worry. When you're craving a snack, you can try a healthier, whole-food option, like slices of avocado, a handful of nuts, kale chips, a small serving of Greek yogurt, a piece of fruit, veggies with hummus, or nut butter. These snacks are more satisfying and pack more nutrition than your processed favorites.
- Do some research and identify an eating pattern you can live with. Studies show that there are many different eating patterns that can be helpful in managing diabetes. That means that if you're trying to get your health in order, you don't have to stick to a rigid plan that restricts many of your favorite foods. Some effective eating patterns include vegetarian or flexitarian, Mediterranean, low carbohydrate, and low glycemic.
- Choose leaner cuts of meat. Saturated fat – the kind found in animal protein – raises blood cholesterol levels, which is a risk factor for heart disease. An easy way to reduce your saturated fat intake is by choosing lean cuts of meat. Avoid or reduce your intake of lard, fatback and high-fat meats like regular ground beef, bologna, hot dogs, sausage, bacon, spare ribs and the skin from chicken and other poultry. Instead, choose skinless poultry; fish, turkey and beef trimmed of fat, including round, sirloin, flank, and tenderloin; and lean cuts of pork, including center loin chop and tenderloin.
- Plan your meal around veggies (instead of making them the afterthought). At mealtimes, try to fill at least half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables like spinach, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, bell peppers, Brussels sprouts and eggplant. Veggies like cauliflower, broccoli, carrots and Brussels sprouts are delicious when roasted in the oven, and sautéing cabbage, bell peppers and eggplant brings out their natural flavors. Finally, start any meal with a simple salad of mixed greens to help you meet your veggie quota.
- Try lettuce wraps instead of bread. Iceberg, green leaf or butter lettuce make a surprisingly delicious bread substitute. Use them in place of bread for your next sandwich. Nestle burgers or grilled chicken inside a lettuce "cup" in place of hamburger buns, and carefully wrap deli meats and toppings into a low-carb lettuce sub sandwich and secure it with wax paper and a piece of tape. Then tear the paper away as you eat.
- Eat veggie noodles in place of pasta. For a great pasta substitute, sample the veggie noodles trend. Veggie noodles are a delicious, lower-carb option that can be eaten in place of grain-based pastas. A kitchen tool called a "spiralizer" quickly and easily turns vegetables into "noodles," or you can use a standard vegetable peeler for a similar result. For even more convenience, you can now find these spiralized veggies in the freezer or produce section of many grocery stores. Try noodles made from zucchini, sweet potato, carrot or spaghetti squash. Top them with chili or Bolognese sauce or use them to make a cold "pasta salad" or noodle dishes like Pad Thai. Hint: You can also try cauliflower, butternut or broccoli "rice" in place of regular rice for a lower-carb option.
- Schedule in exercise five days a week. What you write on your calendar and allot time for is more likely to get done. Your workouts don't have to be extra rigorous to be effective. Just taking a brisk 30-minute walk each day – or at least five times a week – is a great way to get your heart rate up and kickstart weight loss and improved health. Of course, if you'd like to take up running or sign up for a cardio class, go for it! But if you are sedentary, it's important to start slow and build up your endurance so you can maintain your new routine!
- But don't do ONLY cardio. Get in some strength training, too (even if you're watching TV at the same time). Strength or resistance training makes your body more sensitive to insulin and can lower blood glucose. It also helps to maintain and build strong muscles and bones. The American Diabetes Association recommends doing some type of strength training at least two times per week. Activities include using weight machines, free weights at the gym, or resistance bands; exercises that use your body weight to work your muscles like squats, lunges, planks, wall-sits and push-ups; or activities that build and keep muscle like heavy gardening.
- Do at least some of your exercise outdoors. There's nothing wrong with going to the gym, but if you're feeling unmotivated to do your normal indoor routine, take your workout outside. The fresh air is invigorating and studies show that being in nature decreases stress and promotes positive emotions, so be sure to trade out some of your time on a treadmill for a walk or jog in a local park. Or do lunges, push-ups and other strength training in your backyard for a change of scenery.
- Shake up your sedentary workday every chance you get. Sitting at a desk all day can negatively impact your health. If the nature of your work causes you to be sedentary for eight hours a day, look for chances to build more movement into your day. For example, take a 10-minute walk after lunch, get up and move a little each hour (even if it's just a walk to the water fountain or restroom), park farther away than you normally would, and take the stairs instead of the elevator.
There's no reason your New Year's resolutions have to be painful, punishing and ultimately unsustainable. Making more manageable changes that you will actually enjoy is a better game plan for success. Make 2019 the year you finally shift into a healthier lifestyle and start moving toward building a better you.
About the Authors:
Lara Rondinelli-Hamilton, R.D., C.D.E., counsels a wide variety of people, from those wanting to lose weight to others trying to better control their diabetes or cholesterol. Her role is to educate people on the importance of a healthy lifestyle, but also to help them incorporate it into real life with healthy eating and cooking.
Jennifer Bucko Lamplough, M.B.A, and chef, is working to help solve hunger by working with food pantries, soup kitchens and meal programs in northern Illinois to not only distribute meals, but to provide nutrition education in those settings. She continues to work as a cooking demonstrator, teaching people how to cook healthy and showing that it can be delicious and easy.
As a team, Lamplough and Rondinelli-Hamilton have written two previous books for the American Diabetes Association: “The Healthy Carb Diabetes Cookbook” and the best-selling “Healthy Calendar Diabetic Cooking” and developed hundreds of recipes for the association's healthy eating programs, many of which are appearing for the first time in print. For more information, please visit diabetesfoodhub.org or diabetes.org.