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Five small changes worth trying in the coming new year

While New Year’s resolutions are made with the best of intentions, they’re usually forgotten by mid-February. If this first sentence describes your own experience I'd like to suggest to you a no-resolution plan for change this coming year.

How could that work?

New Year’s resolutions tend to be big plans—commitments to a “project” that are often unrealistic because they impose impracticable demands on our tendency to stick to old habits. Try as we might, most of us find it hard to get a beach body, lose forty pounds or work out in the gym every day.

A better plan for healthy change for many of us is a small-step scheme—a plan that instills really small changes, which are easy to adopt, don’t lead to a sense of deprivation, and therefore can be sustained over time. Small steps over long periods of time accumulate really big benefits!

If you’re the kind of person who can enact really dramatic changes and stick to them long-term read no further. But if you’ve tried big dramatic promises, only to fall back to old habits with a vengeance, this plan may be for you!

So this new year, consider a “no big resolution” plan for a healthier lifestyle.

A few suggestions:

1. No dieting after the holidays!
Planning to diet only gives permission for some to gain weight they’ll not necessarily drop. Anticipating a new-year plan can make December a month of non-stop overindulgence.

When you’re presented with food that’s indulgent, or circumstances in which you’d be tempted to eat much more than usual, pause and consider: Is it worth it? If this food is just there and it doesn’t pose much more of a benefit than filling you up, do yourself a favor and skip it. Choose a healthier alternative instead. There’s no happiness in a week (or more) of binge eating and drinking when you’ll have to pay for it later, with heartburn, hangovers, extra pounds, diets and guilt.

2. Eliminate one sugary drink a day
Sugary drinks are probably the easiest-to-cut source of extra, empty calories! Cutting one can of soda or fruit drink a day can add up to a weight loss of one pound a month—or twelve pounds a year! The American Heart Association recently issued a statement calling to cut back sugar in a big way, advising that, “Soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages are the number one source of added sugars in Americans’ diet.” They are both the number one source and the easiest to eliminate!

3. Cook one more home-made meal a week
No matter how you cook, I bet your home-made food is nutritionally better, has fewer additives and preservatives, and probably contains fewer calories than whatever prepared food you’d buy. Plus, you’ll enjoy a level of satisfaction from a meal you’ve prepared that just doesn’t happen when you order take-out.

4. Double the amount of vegetables and fruit on your plate
Serving large portions of food leads to increased consumption, so why not try the same trick for healthier, low-calorie foods? If you fill your plate with fresh veggies and fruit there’ll be less room for the higher-calorie entrée, and you may get closer to the recommended daily amounts of fruits and vegetables (very few Americans eat their daily five)!

5. Add one more active pastime or chore to your everyday regimen
Physical activity that’s part of everyday life is easier to stick to than a gym-based regimen, so sign on for a job that needs to be done at home that burns calories, such as gardening or changing the sheets. Park the car on the far end of the lot. Take the stairs at every opportunity. Going for a brisk walk with someone whose company you enjoy several times a week, signing up for a yoga class, or playing outdoors with your kids are also active pastimes that will probably put a smile on your face, and may not require all that much will-power compared to a formal fitness program.

The energy imbalance that makes us gain weight is quite small; it’s estimated at 100 to 150 calories a day. Weight gain is a slow and insidious process. For most of us, it happens because of small amounts of extra calories over long periods of time.

Small changes that make you eat a little less and expend a few more calories can definitely lead to weight maintenance and also to weight loss in a healthy sustainable way! It’s also encouraging to bear in mind that even very moderate weight loss has clear health benefits—it reduces blood pressure and cholesterol and the tendency to develop diabetes to name a few—while improving your overall well-being.

Try making small choices instead of big resolutions in 2010. Let me know how it goes.

Happy New Year!

Dr. Ayala

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Tags: Fruits, activity, calories, eating, family, food, health, healthy, living, nutrition, More…obesity, physical, resolution, small, steps, vegetables


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