Once again we’re closing in on the end of another year gone by. Typically, this is the time of year when we reflect on the ups and downs of the past 365 days; memories of time spent with family and friends, travel adventures, accomplishments at work and in life in general, and probably even some regrets and reflections on things that didn’t turn out as we had hoped. But alas, 2024 is on the horizon – a blank canvas waiting for each of us. A chance for a fresh start and an opportunity to set new goals and envision what we’d like the New Year to be like.
Studies show that more than half of our New Year’s Resolutions will be health related, including upping our fitness game and eating healthier. Yet most people give up on their resolutions before January comes to an end. Instead of inserting ourselves into a vicious cycle of unrealistic expectations that end with defeat, a simpler approach can lead to greater success.
1. Eat Real Food
This sounds obvious, but is more easily said than done. With more than 20,000 new food and beverage products hitting the shelves of grocery stores and pages of online food retailers each year, it is easy to get sucked into consuming highly processed foods, including some that tout health and nutrition benefits. We can probably all agree that packaged foods like chips, cookies, and candies are not examples of real foods, but can be more easily fooled and enticed by their perceived healthier counterparts like puffs made from chickpeas, protein bars, and gluten free cookies.
Focusing on food that is as close to its natural form is a great strategy. Chances are, if you’re unwrapping your snack, it’s not a “real” food. In his book Food Rules (which I highly recommend), Michael Pollan suggests “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.” This immediately takes so many foods in question out of the picture.
2. Follow the Protein/Healthy Fat/ Fiber Rule
Every meal and snack should contain some form of protein, healthy fat, and fiber. Once my clients get accustomed to this concept, it’s much easier for them to learn how to comprise their own healthy meals and snack, rather than relying on suggestions from me. While I sometimes provide sample meal plans, I prefer to educate and equip people to make their own decisions about what to eat, in order to reflect their personal food preference.
Combining protein with healthy fat and fiber sets us up for success by keeping blood sugars more stable which also helps prevent cravings and mood swings. For example, while an apple is naturally a healthy choice, eating it on its own results in a more rapid blood sugar surge, but adding a Tablespoon of nut butter or a small handful of nuts changes the nutrition profile significantly and will keep hunger at bay longer.
Similarly, a bowl of oatmeal with plain oats cooked in water sounds like a healthy breakfast, but adding chopped nuts or a drizzle of almond butter and fruit takes it to the next level and will be more satiating.
3. Eat More Produce
I’ve said it before and I’ll probably never stop saying it. According to the Centers for Disease Control, only 9% of American adults consume enough vegetables, and only 12% eat the recommended amount of fruit.
Produce is one of the best sources of fiber and micronutrients, and also provides water, which makes for a filling food with low caloric density. You get more bang for your buck when you load up on produce, especially in combination with protein and fiber. Adding veggies to your plate can help offset the calorie load from other foods, so aiming to fill half your plate with veggies is a great way to ensure you’re consuming nutrient dense foods as well as a helpful tool for calorie control.
Since all fruits and vegetables offer different health benefits, variety is key. Experimenting with different ways of preparing produce is a sure way to figure out what you (or your family) likes best. Roasting vegetables provides great flavor and texture compared to eating raw. Adding fruit to oatmeal, yogurt or even a salad may be more appealing than eating it straight up. Figure out what works for you.
4. Cook More
This doesn’t mean that you need to whip up elaborate recipes and spend endless hours in the kitchen but, having a hand in preparing your own meals means that you have more control and knowledge of what you’re consuming. The more frequently you eat out, the less control you have over what you’re actually taking in. What seems like a healthy choice in a restaurant is more than likely full of extra calories, fat, and processed ingredients.
I love to point my clients in the direction of easy, quick meals that can be assembled in minutes, yet also satisfy the protein/healthy fat/fiber rule. You don’t have to know how to cook to throw your own meal together. Sheet pan suppers, soups, and entrée salads are all great options that require minimal effort. And, you may even surprise yourself that you enjoy the process of making a meal come together at a much lower cost both nutritionally and financially.
It’s the planning ahead factor that’s the most critical. Without a plan, we’re more likely to order out, go out, get take out, etc. As a mother of three, I can 100% relate to this and have often been sucked into the cycle of grabbing something on the go, while no other plan was made. Choose not to wing it in 2024!
5. Find a Partner in Crime
Regardless of what you’re looking to change, add, or remove in 2024, sharing your goal with a spouse, friend, or colleague that has a similar interest can help ensure success. Finding a partner for exercising, cooking or sharing recipes and tips is a built-in form of accountability.
Years ago I used to meet up with a friend for a Saturday morning run. It was a time I always looked forward to…one of the best forms of self-care. Exercising while chatting with a friend can be so therapeutic. I currently work out with a group of women that provides much more joy than working out alone. We don’t all necessarily hang out socially, but I find myself looking forward to those workouts, those women, and the laughs we share. We also share recipes and parenting stories from time to time, and that sense of comradery is helpful on many levels.
This may look different for you. Invite a friend to meal prep with you, and divide the yield to benefit both of you. Start a supper club where multiple couples provide a dish, and exchange the recipes for future use. Join an exercise class or group. Whatever it is, avoid tackling things on your own in isolation. That never ends well. Engaging with others who share similar goals will not only contribute to greater success, but add joy along the way.
Cheers to a brand New Year!
For more information on the nutrition services offered at Functionize, contact me at allysonbalzuweitRD@gmail.com or 678-575-3413.
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