January 2, 2013

Rather than New Year’s Resolutions Make Lasting Healthy Lifestyle Changes

No NY resolutionsWith all the chatter about New Year’s Resolutions which for the most part fail to result in REAL CHANGE for most people, why not try a different approach in 2013? Consider these 5 key principles to a healthier lifestyle I recently offered at an American Association of University Women meeting after a showing of Food, Inc.

About Food Inc. I absolutely agree that our food supply and eating habits have gone thru an unfortunate evolution in the last 30 plus years. I also agree we have to slowly and steadily do the hard work to reset our food environment to 'make the healthier choice the easier choice.' Today, it certainly isn’t!  While I’m totally supportive of people eating organically grown foods, locally grown foods, growing their own foods and am supportive of many sustainable agriculture initiatives around the globe, I’m a pragmatist and realist at heart. I believe that for the majority of Americans we’ve got to keep in our mind’s eye the reality of our current eating habits. With these realities in mind we need to set realistic goals for ourselves, our population.
As for our current eating habits, we’re heavy on calories, slightly high on fat and saturated fat and eat about double the sodium we need. We eat about the amount of carbohydrate and protein we need (albeit within excess calories), but the quality of our foods that contain carbohydrate and protein are of concern. Think about this: we eat about 50% of our calories as carbohydrate, which is within the Dietary Guidelines (do yourself a favor, give this booklet a read), but we eat, on average, 22 teaspoons of added sugars a day. Not hard to imagine since a 20 oz regular soda contains 15 tsp of added sugars. We don’t eat enough fruits, vegetables, low fat dairy foods and whole grains. We don’t eat nearly enough dietary fiber which comes from those fruits, vegetables and fiber-filled whole grains…along with plenty of vitamins, minerals.

All in all most Americans have lots of work to do to adjust their eating habits. For most of us this entails navigating the supermarket aisles and restaurant menus.

With our collective current eating habits and challenges in mind, here are 5 key research-based lifestyle changes each of us can focus on to move towards healthier eating for life. Note I said ‘move towards.’ Consider making lifestyle changes a work in progress. Think about the slow and steady changes you can make day after day.

  1. Eat mainly a plant-based diet. More and more research points to the immediate and long term health benefits of eating less animal protein and products. This doesn’t mean you've got to do without if that's not your persuasion, it means eat less. Enjoy meatless meals, consider meat as a side dish. When you purchase animal products, buy lean, prepare and consume small amounts. Eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains – make these the mainstays on your plate as often as you can.
  2. Purchase and eat the least processed, adulterated foods. The fewer steps from picking to eating, the better. Buy locally grown foods when possible to help our environment and improve your and your family’s health. Eating less processed foods also helps you cut way down on preservatives, additives and sodium. This step will naturally push you to eat more fruits and vegetables. 
  3. Preplan your food purchasing and meals. Don’t just let what you eat happen by happenstance. Put thought into it. Plan meals, shop regularly. Think ahead. Know what and where you’ll eat when possible. Eat fewer meals and snacks out. Choosing from restaurant menus simply stated makes eating healthy a big challenge in most cases. That’s true from the food choices to the huge portions! 
  4. Prepare your foods/meals at home. Serve and eat family meals. There are many reasons this goal is important, especially for our children and teens. They range from health to sociological and psychological. 
  5. Exercise, be physically active regularly. Walk at least 30 minutes (or more if you can) nearly every day. It’s the easiest and most time-efficient form of physical activity. Research on the health benefits of exercise and its value in weight control can’t be underestimated. There is no doubt, Exercise is Medicine. It's central to the prevention of many chronic diseases and  living a long and healthy life.

Ah yes, so simple to say, yet quite a challenge for most of us to put these 5 changes for healthy living  into action day after day. Believe me I'm right there with you! Step by step give them a try. Let me know how you do. If more of us make the effort to choose healthier foods, eat healthier and walk more, someday (hopefully soon), making the healthier choice WILL be the easier choice.