“A New Year, a new you” – that’s how the saying goes, but three weeks into the new year, are you still holding true to your resolutions? When we think about making improvements to ourselves, we usually consider our physical health first. In our New Year’s resolutions we plan to lose weight and exercise more, but these general, sweeping ideas often fizzle out more quickly than your sparkler. But let’s say you really truly want to improve your eating habits this year, thinking of food in terms of diets are sure to lead to failure. So what guidelines can you follow to help you change your resolution into actual life-long eating habits?
First, educate yourself on the latest nutrition guidelines. These specific, scientific-based findings can help you create specific and measurable goals you can attain. According to law, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture must publish a joint document with dietary guidelines for Americans. The most recent one was published in 2015 and holds a wealth of information. However, for those of us who don’t have time to read through hundreds of pages of a report, there is a helpful Executive Summary. The summary provides specific, actionable information for adults to follow. One of the departments’ key findings is that adults should establish healthy eating patterns. As quoted from the website, this pattern includes eating:
- A variety of vegetables from all of the subgroups—dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy, and other
- Fruits, especially whole fruits
- Grains, at least half of which are whole grains
- Fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or fortified soy beverages
- A variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), nuts, seeds, and soy products
- The summary also stresses that adults limit their intake of saturated and trans fats, added sugars, oils, and sodium.
Aligning Your Eating Patterns with the Guidelines
According to the Dietary Guidelines study, most Americans are exceeding their daily intake of sodium, sugars, and oils. This fact is especially scary when combined with the fact that most Americans are also falling far below the daily recommended amount of vegetables, fruits, and dairy. So how can you make sure you are following the guidelines, beyond just reporting the report? Another great government-funded tool is the MyPlate.org website, run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. One this site you can find information about the food groups, their recommended amounts, and even a BMI calculator. You can also calculate your calorie goals using the MyPlate Checklist Calculator. The calculation is based on your age, gender, weight, height, and level of physical activity. Once the calculator provides you with a target calorie count, you can download or print out the MyPlate Checklist for that calorie count. The checklist provides you with specific recommended amounts of each food group as well as a graphic organizer you can put on your refrigerator or bulletin board to keep track of your goals. For those ready to take things up a notch, you can download the SuperTracker, which can help you “plan, analyze, and track your diet and physical activity.”
Coming up with a plan
Once you have identified your goals, consider what methods of modification work best for you. Some people do best by making incremental changes, such as eating only two cookies instead of four. However, other people do better with a cold turkey approach – no cookies allowed in the house at all. You’ll also want to think about how you are best motivated to stick to goals. Some people need to reward themselves with objects (no cookies for a week equals a new book), while others are motivated by public acknowledgement (posting a goal on social media). Writing all of your plans and methods down somewhere you see them daily will help you stay on target. Consider putting positive reminders on your fridge and the cabinets that usually contain your go-to junk food.