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New Year Diet Resolutions: What To Do — And Not To Do

Monday, January 6, 2014
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Simple Changes That Lead To Healthy Eating with Theresa Shank, Registered Dietitian, Einstein Medical Center

Many people make New Year’s resolutions to lose weight. Why do so many of them fail?

Too many eggs in one flimsy basket, Shank says. “People have accumulated bad habits over many years, then think, ‘On New Year’s, I’m going to change everything.’ That’s overwhelming and unrealistic,” she explains. “Start with something small and achievable so that you feel as though you have accomplished something. For example, stop drinking soda first, then move on to eating a piece of fruit every day.”

So “one day at a time” is the goal?

You also need a long-term strategy, Shank says. Educate yourself about what needs changing in your diet, and then make a plan to eliminate the unhealthy items and replace them with healthy items. Make a chart, Shank suggests. “I suggest making a plan to change one thing at a time,” she says. “That one thing may be different for everyone. It could be giving up soda for one person, potato chips or cookies for another person. It could also be having a vegetable with every meal. Take it week by week and chart both your progress and your next goal. I believe that having an actual plan helps you stick to it.”

Don’t people get discouraged if they don’t lose a lot of weight quickly?

Slow and steady wins the diet race, Shank says. Losing one or two pounds per week is realistic — and healthy, she explains. Sure, it would be great to lose more weight quickly. But, she says, the goal is to keep the weight off, and that is done by changing eating habits.

How many calories do we need to eliminate to lose weight?

Shank says that 3,500 calories equals one pound. Remove 500 calories every day for seven days and you will lose one pound per week. “Either subtract 500 calories from your diet or burn 500 calories per day through exercise,” she explains. Subtraction is only part of the equation, Shank cautions. Some things should be added. Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, dairy; all of them are components of healthy diets. Eaten in proper portion sizes, they give the body nutrients and fiber it needs. “Feeling hungry, or just unsatisfied, is one of the top reasons that people don’t stick with their New Year’s resolution,” Shank says. 

What is mindful eating?

It is being aware of what you are eating — and why. “Ask yourself, ‘Does my body really need this?’ ” Shank says. “ ‘Or am I eating because I’m sad or bored? Will this food make me happy or will I feed badly in 20 minutes after I eat it?’ ” Answering those questions honestly puts the emphasis on adapting healthy behaviors that lead to long-term weight loss and healthy living.

What are three hidden dangers lurking in our cabinets?

Canned soup tops Shank’s danger list. “It is so high in sodium that it leaves us with thirst that gets interpreted as hunger,” she says. No. 2: sugary cereals. They are high in sugar and low in fiber, so they don’t provide good nutritional fuel. Number three: olive oil. “Yes, it can be a healthy oil, but it is high in calories, so limit its usage to 2 teaspoons,” Shank advises.

What are three easy, healthy changes we can make to our diet?

Shank’s recommendations: First, substitute non-fat Greek yogurt for sour cream and use it as a topping on tacos and other foods. Second, swap regular bread for whole-grain versions. Third, buy frozen fish and single-serving chicken breasts; cooking them is fast and easy. “And while you’re at it, buy frozen vegetables,” Shank suggests. “They take a minute-and-a-half to prepare. You can’t get easier or healthier than that!”

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