By Dr. Sarah Rudnick
After the indulgences of the holiday season, many of us want to take off a few pounds and get in shape. We start the new year with an ambitious plan: Cut out all sweets! No more fast food! Only salads for lunch and dinner! And while cutting out all those calories, we’ll also hit the gym for an hour every day. Meanwhile, our kids are still begging for their usual treats, and our spouses are rebelling by ordering take-out at the local pizza joint. We’ve just set ourselves up for failure.
Making drastic changes seldom works, at least not for more than a few weeks. To lose weight and keep it off, you’ll probably need to make some permanent changes to what you eat. That means not just watching calories, but also eating healthier foods such as more whole grains, vegetables and fruits lean meats, low-fat dairy and healthy oils while eating fewer processed foods, and foods high in fat, sugar and salt. The good news is that you don’t have to do this overnight.
Whether you’re an adult who wants to lose weight, or you’re looking for ways to slim down the whole family, these tips will help you get started.
Start slowly. I tell families in my practice that it’s important not to do everything at once. Make one change each week. Substitute whole-grain pasta for white pasta. If you eat dessert every day, cut back to three days a week.
Get the buy-in from the whole family. Even if you’re the only one who wants (or needs) lose weight, getting everyone on the same eating plan makes sense. Involve your family in menu planning. Take the kids to the grocery store and let them choose some new fruits and vegetables to try.
Keep a food diary. Most of us don’t have any idea of how many calories we’re consuming. Writing it down creates that awareness and keeps us accountable to our goal. If it’s overwhelming to do this every day, just do it a couple of days during the week and one day on the weekend. Make a plan that you can succeed at.
Eat meals together with all media and electronics turned off. Studies have shown that people eat less food and make more healthful choices if they do this. It’s about mindfulness.
Make smart choices about beverages. I recommend trying not to drink your calories. Beverages like juice and coffee drinks often add calories without filling you up. If it’s difficult to cut them out, start by cutting down and work toward a goal of eliminating them from your diet. Regarding milk: While milk is good for kids, they often drink too much. Aim for about 16 ounces a day. Adults don’t really need milk. Calcium is important, but you can get it from other food sources.
Have lots of healthy choices ready to go. That way, when you reach for a snack, you will have good choices: hummus and carrots, string cheese, almonds or other nuts, fresh fruit or plain yogurt with fresh fruit. Clear your pantry of those high-fat, high-sugar foods you find hard to resist.
Have a plan. If you decide to have three desserts per week, choose which three days ahead of time and stick with that plan. If you’re going to decrease the number of coffee drinks you order per week, plan how many you will buy and when. The more specific you can be with your goals, the clearer the road map is and the more likely you are to be successful.
Overall, remember that food fuels your body. When you eat well, you’ll feel better and will have more energy for work and for the activities you enjoy. And speaking of activities, while it’s really hard to exercise away a calorie-heavy dessert, exercise will support your weight-loss goals, and is good for your overall health. Just make one small change today that you can stick with. And then tomorrow, take the next step. Before you know it, you’ll have made changes that will make a real difference for the long term.