It’s still January. How are those New Year’s resolutions coming along? Nutrition experts tell us our biggest challenge to long term health is sticking to a plan for the long term. Not that our intentions aren’t honorable. It’s just that words like “routine” and “consistency” don’t often match life’s erratic and unpredictable circumstances.
How ‘bout we give ourselves a break and focus on “most of the time” this year? Sometimes situations merit some flexibility. We’ve all been there: A social function where we are served a menu that doesn’t exactly fit into our health goals. An emergency that forces us to eat dinner from a vending machine.
Here’s the good news: Normal eating involves giving ourselves permission to decide how we will handle each and every eating opportunity this year. My decision to eat a chocolate covered pecan and caramel candy from the local sweet shop for lunch will not ruin me for life…unless I make it a daily habit.
So in the spirit of encouragement, let’s keep going with those resolutions. Each day, with each eating encounter, let us ask ourselves, “How important is this to me right now?” and “What is the best decision I can make if I want to reach my health goal?”
Here are some “most of the time” habits to help us reach our nutrition goals:
- Eat at least three small meals a day at reasonable intervals. Our bodies burn calories more efficiently when we don’t overload the system with a day’s supply of food at one time.
- Pay attention to how your body signals you to start and stop eating. That means beginning to recognize true body hunger—the time to start eating. Then learn to eat slow enough to feel the “I’m not hungry anymore” signal to stop eating.
- Remind yourself—especially when you want to eat but you’re not really hungry—to drink water, tea, coffee or other calorie-free beverages. Sometimes we confuse thirst with hunger.
- Decide to add more fiber to your daily routine. Remember that fiber is only found in foods of plant origin. Most of time, strive to include a vegetable, a fruit, and/or a whole-grain food with each meal.
- Decide if you need to cut back on alcohol. The holidays are over; spiked eggnog is no longer in fad. And alcohol is not an essential food group.
- For all eating occasions, put into your head the image of a plate portioned into four sectors. One section is for protein-rich foods (fish, poultry, meat, cheese, soy foods), another is for starches (pasta, rice, potatoes, bread, crackers). Reserve the remaining two sections—the largest part of your plate—for non-starchy vegetables (leafy greens, tomatoes, carrots, green beans, zucchini and a host of others) and fruit.
- Oh, and one more reminder if you’re striving to eat less and move more this year: It’s hard to eat while you’re exercising.
Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian nutritionist affiliated with the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. She is the author of “Quinn-Essential Nutrition: The Uncomplicated Science of Eating.” Email her at email@example.com.