Healthy Changes That Stick
Year after year, Americans make New Year resolutions to eat healthier, exercise more, eat more meals at home and decrease sweets. By making such healthy changes, we can significantly decrease the risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer for ourselves and our kids. But the truth is, making new healthy habits stick can be difficult. Try the following strategies to help you make lasting changes in your habits and health.
Small changes lead to big success. It is easy to fall into the trap of making a long list of the things we will do; I suggest starting with the easiest changes first and make gradual changes over time. By creating some early “wins” with small changes, we are more likely to continue our goal, which can then lead to additional healthy changes in the future. For example, the family goal might be: Eat one more vegetable and one more fruit per day or get an extra 15 minutes of activity each day. Choose a goal that is achievable, measurable and realistic.
Have a Game Plan. By creating a goal that is specific, the chances of success are greater. It is also important to combine numerous strategies to help you take actions steps and follow through long term. For example, if the goal is to increase the amount of fruits and vegetables your family eats, make it more specific, such as “I will offer five servings of fruits and vegetables each day.” Next, think about the strategies, such as serving fruit at breakfast, after school and dinner and providing two vegetables at dinner or a vegetable at lunch and dinner. Another strategy could include buying frozen, fresh and canned options, or making an extra trip to the grocery store each week to ensure you don’t run out of fruit or vegetables. If your goal is to make more dinners at home, strategies might include batch cooking on the weekend or making a double portion on Monday or Tuesday to reheat as leftovers later in the week. Another popular option is to sign up for a meal service that delivers two or three meals per week with the recipe and exact ingredients ready to prepare. Families also find it beneficial to write the “cook-at-home” nights on a family calendar. Something about physically writing down our game plan helps put it into action.
Focus on eating, not dieting. Although it is important to determine which foods to buy less often, such as sweets and unhealthy snack foods, people have much greater success when they focus most of their attention on which foods to include more often. For example, ensuring kids are getting three servings of dairy daily to meet their calcium needs, including a fruit or vegetable in the afternoon snack every day and including beans in more family meals are ways to focus on healthy foods to eat more often, which in turn helps decrease the less healthy options.
Choose a habit that “calls to you.” Is diabetes, excess weight or high cholesterol a concern for your family? There are specific foods and food groups to help prevent or improve these medical conditions. For example, eating high fiber foods can help diabetes and cholesterol or increasing vegetable intake can help with weight loss. For more specific and individualized nutrition recommendations, consider meeting with a registered dietitian nutritionist.
Work with a Buddy. Making healthy lifestyle changes is much easier when we have support and accountability. There are many types of support, including friends, family members, colleagues and internet groups. Support from family might include kids and spouse helping with grocery shopping, meal planning and meal preparation. The whole family can brainstorm recipe and meal ideas together. Lastly, consider working with a registered dietitian or fitness coach who can help make your family’s New Year resolutions become lasting healthy habits.
Jill West, R.D.N., is a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified health coach with a private practice in Lafayette. She works with women, families and student athletes to help them make lasting changes that improve their health and performance. Jill is a professional speaker and author of the book 400 Moms. To learn more, call 925-310-5545 or visit www.jillwestrd.com or www.400moms.com