For most people, small behavior changes, done consistently, yield better results than big, sweeping changes that fall flat in a few months (or weeks).
Do you still set New Year’s resolutions, or have you decided that they are so 2008? Whether or not you remain bitten by the resolution bug, there’s no denying that the start of each new year also feels like a fresh, new start.
Unfortunately, most New Year’s resolutions fizzle by February, and there are few things more demoralizing than resolving to do something and then not doing it, especially if you’ve made your resolutions known to friends and family.
This also makes your next attempt to make healthful changes harder, because you stop believing in yourself, and those around you are less and less supportive because you’ve cried wolf too many times.
If you want to eat and live more healthfully in 2016, resolve to only make those changes that you can happily (or at least contentedly) live with forever. Remember, a diet is temporary, healthful eating is for life. For most people, small behavior changes, done consistently, yield better results than big, sweeping changes that fall flat in a few months (or weeks). Here are a few seemingly simple habits worth cultivating:
Start with a clean pantry. It’s hard for cooking to be efficient or pleasurable if your pantry, fridge and freezer are clogged with rogue ingredients of indeterminate age or purpose. Take half a day, or an hour or two spread over two or three days, to ruthlessly weed out food that smells or looks off, has collected ice crystals or pantry moths, or that you know in your heart of hearts that you will never get around to using.
Donate any still usable pantry goods, and toss the rest in the yard waste or the compost bin. While you’re at it, give the inside of your fridge and pantry a good wipe down before putting back the food you plan to keep.
Drink water — often. It may not seem like a big deal if you don’t drink much water, but it is. Every cell in our body needs water to function optimally, and why wouldn’t you want to function optimally? When you don’t keep your fluid tank topped off, you run the risk of mild dehydration, which can produce that fatigued, headachy feeling that is easy to confuse with the need to eat.
Stop picking and grazing. These two habits are similar. Picking includes frequent sampling and tasting while preparing food in the kitchen or picking leftover food off your child’s (or spouse’s/partner’s) plate.
Grazing can include picking, but it extends to frequent trips to the kitchen for a nibble of this or a bite of that. I have patients who, when they first come to see me, graze all day or evening instead of sitting down for proper meals. They often think they aren’t eating very much, until I have them write down everything they graze on in a given day, and then the surprise and shock set in.
Move daily. This isn’t about joining a gym or starting a couch-to-5K program; this is about moving your body intentionally and often. If you aren’t already physically active daily (or at least most days of the week), set a goal to go for a five-minute walk every day.
Often the biggest hurdle is in starting, and committing to five minutes will get you over that hump. Once you get going, you’ll probably do more than five minutes.
Eat at least four cups of veggies each day. Most Americans don’t eat enough vegetables even though many people like vegetables just fine — they’re just in the habit of treating them as an afterthought. This tendency grows stronger when life is busy, as it is for most of us.
Vegetables are the backbone of a healthful diet, partly because they are big on volume (water and fiber) while being low in calories, but also because they are rich in vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Vegetables also provide food for the beneficial bacteria in our guts, and if you read my column regularly, you know how important that is.
You would certainly benefit from getting more than four cups of veggies each day, but that amount is a good goal if you find that veggies are minimal — or missing — from many a lunch and dinner. My formula for the “almost eternal” salad will help you get over any excuses for not getting a heaping helping of veggies at least twice a day!
The Almost Eternal Salad
This will last for about three days in the fridge, so make a batch twice a week. The idea is to combine a variety of greens and chopped, grated or sliced veggies together, maybe with some seeds or chopped nuts for extra crunch and a dose of healthy fats, and then add dressing to your portion when you’re ready to eat it. Here is a basic list of ideas to get you started:
• Torn leafy greens (lettuce, baby spinach, arugula, frisee, dandelion greens)
• Torn hearty greens (kale, Swiss chard, collard greens, mustard greens)
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• Shredded cabbage (red, green, Napa, savoy)
• Grated raw vegetables (carrots, beets, radishes, turnips, kohlrabi)
• Other chopped or sliced raw veggies (bell peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts)
• Leftover roasted vegetables
To make a complete meal, add a serving of protein and, if desired, a serving of cooked whole grain (like quinoa, farro or wheat berries) or cooled cooked winter squash.
When taking a portion of this salad to work or school for lunch, using hearty greens instead of leafy greens will allow the salad to hold up to being dressed in the morning before you leave the house.