In the winter months, whether it be due to the feast-filled holidays or cold-weather-induced cravings, may of us turn toward rich and often less-nutritious foods. They might offer comfort, but they also tend to come with a helping of extra weight and a dash of lethargy. Come spring, we tend to feel ready for a dietary makeover.
How we eat can aid in weight loss, help prevent illnesses, and contribute to improved mood.1,2,3 Of course, even if we know the benefits, actually making and maintaining changes to our diets can be a challenge. Here are some ways to help make the process manageable.
Assess your diet
Start a food diary or journal to record what you eat and drink—and how much of it. This can help you look for patterns and see where you’re at with daily nutrition, so you can determine what improvements to make (e.g., more veggies, less sugar). If possible, write things down throughout the day. Use whatever method will be convenient a pen and paper, a computer file or a smartphone app.
Have a (meal) plan
As the saying goes: Fail to plan; plan to fail. Set yourself up for success by creating a meal plan for the week ahead. Taking into account changes to your day-to-day schedule and dietary goals, determine what meals you will make for breakfast, lunch and dinner each day. Consider snacks, too. Having a strategy can help lead to healthier choices.
Create a grocery list, then shop
Don’t enter the grocery store without a sense of direction. Draft a shopping list with your health goals in mind—and stick to it once you’re in the store. Use your meal plan to guide you in creating it. Also, there are lots of grocery-related smartphone apps to help ensure you’ll never forget your list on the kitchen counter. Plan and shop at a frequency that suits your schedule. If you have a busy week or two coming up, stock up as needed.
Make-ahead and freezable meals can be a real lifesaver. They can help you stick to your dietary goals and prevent you from calling for takeout when you’re too exhausted or time-crunched to cook or the shelves are bare. Set aside a day during your week—or month—to cook and freeze some options for busy times or lazy nights. Or, toss together a crockpot dinner that will be ready to go when you get home from work.
Online searches for make-ahead and freezable meals will yield tons of recipes from popular food websites and blogs to suit your taste and dietary needs. Pinterest can also be your friend in this realm.
Get a little help from your friends
If you are making changes to how you eat, tell your close friends and family and ask for their support. If they know you are trying to lose weight, eat leaner, etc., it’s likely they’ll be less inclined to ask you out for deep-dish pizza or cook up a heavy lasagna the next time you come over for dinner.
Start bit(e) by bit(e)
Make changes that feel manageable. If completely overhauling breakfast, lunch and dinner feels like a tremendous commitment, start meal by meal. Or, maybe you have multiple dietary goals (e.g., drink more water, eat less meat, cut caffeine); start with one at a time if it all feels like too much to manage at once. After a week or two with one change, add in the next.
Healthier living doesn’t necessitate deprivation. Go about things a different way. Consider your goals and get creative. If you want fewer carbs in your life but love pasta, consider making zucchini noodles with a spiralizer or using spaghetti squash. If you like crunch with your sandwich at lunch but need to lessen your fat and calorie intake, swap out greasy potato chips for kale chips or carrot sticks. Striving for more veggies and less animal proteins? Go meatless one day of the week. Don’t skip dessert; just change your definition or frequency of it.
Talk to a medical professional
If you plan to make big changes to your diet, whether they be related to health or weight-loss, discuss these plans with your doctor. It’s important to make sure you are healthy enough to make such changes and that you go about them in a healthy manner. You may want to see a nutritionist or registered dietician to help guide you in the process.
To learn more about weight management and healthier eating, visit choosemyplate.gov.
1USDA. “Why is It Important to Eat Vegetables?” ChooseMyPlate.gov. N.D. http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/vegetables-why.html
2The President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition. “Benefits of Being Fit & Eating Well.” N.D. https://www.presidentschallenge.org/motivated/benefits.shtml
3Nelson, Jennifer K., R.D., L.D. and Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. “The Food and Mood Connection [Blog].” Mayo Clinic. May 23, 2009. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/expert-blog/food-and-mood/bgp-20056183