by Tandis Bishop, RD, LD
New Year, new start, new you! No matter how cliché the slogans are, the New Year really is a chance to start fresh and a perfect time to reevaluate your life and your habits, and commit to reaching better health and making positive changes. If you are among the countless number of Americans desiring to get healthier in the coming year, we want to support you by encouraging you to make improvements in your overall lifestyle. Relying on nonexistent quick-fixes or extreme diets and workouts is not a sustainable strategy and will likely result in frustration as the short-term benefits slowly fade away. Temporary solutions do not create lasting changes. Instead, work towards finding a healthy balance in your life and making sustainable improvements to your overall health. Not only is this more effective in the long run, it’s easier, less stressful and more rewarding. This year, forget about shortsighted goals and instead focus on long-term changes and steady progress toward a healthier version of yourself.
A key element is how well you eat. Many people have come to understand and appreciate that whole, plant-based foods are the foundation of a healthy, well-balanced diet. This means that the majority of your diet should consist of whole grains, vegetables, fresh fruits, legumes (such as beans, lentils, peas, and soy), and small amounts of nuts, seeds, and organic dairy products. In general, single-ingredient foods should be favored over processed foods with multiple ingredients.
Here are some ideas for incorporating more whole, plant-based foods into your diet:
- Plan ahead and keep a well-stocked kitchen. A major aspect of eating healthy is planning ahead. You are more likely to make healthy choices with a kitchen stocked with healthy ingredients and a list of some healthy meal and snack ideas. When planning, keep in mind your upcoming week’s schedule and what meals you’d like to make and snacks to have at hand. Having your meals figured out in advance has many benefits – it saves time and reduces stress because you don’t have to spend time planning dinner every day, it saves money because you can shop for only those ingredients you know you’ll need, and it makes it much more likely for you to stay on track with your healthy eating.
- Eat out less. “Less” is of course going to mean something different for each person and requires first that you determine honestly how much you eat out and how much you can reduce that habit. Generally speaking, the less the better. A 2014 study published by Public Health Nutrition concluded that people who ate at fast food or full-service restaurants consumed an extra 200 calories per day on average over people who ate at home1. If you eat out frequently, those extra calories, fats, sugars, and salts add up.
- Expand your recipe collection. Eating out less and planning ahead obviously translates into preparing your own meals. This means you may need to add some new quick and easy recipes to your repertoire. Modify old recipes by replacing meats and animal proteins with tofu, imitation meats, or beans/lentils, and boost it up with extra veggies. Reach out to friends for ideas or browse our recipe database. Find a few healthy and delicious staples to start from and slowly expand your collection from there.
- Start with one or two plant-based days a week. If you are trying to make your diet plant-centric, start by committing to one meatless day per week. Each month, add another day and by July, you’ll be eating completely plant-based!
- Shop Down to Earth's locally grown and organic produce. This is a great way to ensure that you are eating local, fresh, and organic.
- Attend a Down to Earth cooking class. Our cooking classes help give you tools and confidence to take control of your health and cook healthy dishes. Click here for our upcoming class schedule.
More tips to help you stay on track:
- Be Sensible. If you eat poorly one day, eat better the next and move on. The goal is eating well overall. The better you eat and more often you eat well, the better your health will be. Don’t stress over little slip-ups.
- Stay motivated. Have a collection spot for articles, quotes and pictures that you find inspiring. Keep in mind your motives, whether it’s to get in shape, lose weight, have more energy, feel good, reduce risk for disease, reduce medications, etc. Review these regularly or post them somewhere in daily view.
- Be realistic, yet challenge yourself. It’s ok to make large lifestyle changes to improve your health. The bigger the changes, the more you will experience the benefits of living healthy. But be realistic with your commitments. All you can do is your best. Sometimes small changes can mean big wins. The key is to stay consistent and continue moving forward.
- Monthly check-ins. Review your health habits on a regular basis, acknowledging your progress and reevaluating where needed.
- Find an accountability partner. Find a friend to get healthy with – or one who can be a mentor and help you stay on track.
- Use technology. There are many apps out there designed to support your health and fitness goals. Use them to track your progress and stay motivated.
- Do a yearly review. Don’t forget to look back on the previous year and appreciate the improvements you’ve made to your lifestyle. Write down what worked, what didn’t, and where you want to go from there.
Of course, good nutrition isn’t the only component in a healthy lifestyle. Check out our Health Tip as we address some of the other aspects of living well. We wish you the best of health for the year ahead and look forward to supporting you in your goals!
1 Binh T Nguyen and Lisa M Powell (2014). The impact of restaurant consumption among US adults: effects on energy and nutrient intakes. Public Health Nutrition, 17, pp 2445-2452. doi:10.1017/S1368980014001153.