Losing weight is a great goal when done in a way that promotes rather than harms overall health. Weight loss mainly involves controlling calorie intake while a healthy lifestyle is more in depth and includes physical activity, stress management and smarter eating habits. A healthy lifestyle leads to weight loss through good nutrition and exercise habits. This list contains five small goals to improve eating habits and promote the creation of a healthy lifestyle in the New Year.
1. Reduce Calorie Intake. Body weight has a very important role in overall health. Overweight and obese individuals are at a higher risk of developing weight related health issues such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and certain forms of cancer. If you are overweight or obese, losing weight improves health. Weight loss is simple and only requires you to burn more calories than you consume (calorie deficit). Making smarter food choices is the best way to lower calorie intake. Healthy foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds are lower in calories and higher in nutrients than junk food such as sweetened beverages, sugary snacks and fast foods.
2. Eat Healthy Fats. Fats, like carbohydrates and proteins, are a macronutrient, and provide the body with energy. Many attempt to limit fat intake because of the irrational fear that eating it leads to unwanted weight gain. Fats do not cause unwanted weight gain, only excess calories do. It makes no difference whether excess calories come from fats, carbs or proteins; if you consume more than you burn (calorie surplus), weight gain follows. Rather than indiscriminately removing all fats, learn to differentiate between healthy and unhealthy ones. There are three types of fats: unsaturated, saturated and trans fats. Unsaturated fats are known as the healthy kind and found in non-animal, plant products such as fruits & vegetables, oils, nuts and seeds. These healthy fats protect against cardiovascular disease. Saturated fats are known as the unhealthy kind and found mostly in animal products such as meat, milk, cheese, dairy and eggs. Trans fat is known as the ultra-unhealthy kind and found in foods made with partially or fully hydrogenated oils (check the nutrition label). Unhealthy fats promote cardiovascular disease. Minimizing intake of unhealthy fats allows you to reduce calorie intake in a healthy manner. Unsaturated fats offer important health benefits and shouldn't be eliminated from the diet.
3. Eat Healthy Carbohydrates. Carbohydrates have also gotten a bad reputation, and like fats, are undeserving of their status. Again, no single macronutrient (fats, carbs, proteins) is responsible for unwanted weight gain; a high calorie intake relative to energy expenditure is to blame. Carbohydrates are split into two groups: simple and complex. Simple carbs, known as the bad kind, are found in processed foods and sugars: soda, fruit juice, sweet tea/coffee, doughnuts, white bread/pasta/rice, candy and other sugary foods. Complex, or healthy carbs are found in fruits, vegetables, oatmeal, brown rice, beans and 100% whole wheat bread/pasta. Simple carbs are digested quickly and don't provide a feeling of satiety. This leads to hunger and overeating throughout the day. Complex carbs are digested much slower, keeping you full and calorie intake low. A healthy diet replaces simple carbs with complex ones.
4. Eat More Fiber. Fiber has many health benefits including weight & appetite control, reducing the risk of certain cancers and lowering cholesterol levels. The typical American diet is very high in processed foods which strips out many nutrients including fiber. Foods high in fiber include fruits, vegetables, 100% whole wheat products (bread, pasta), brown rice, oatmeal and beans. Using fresh, whole grain and unadulterated ingredients in home cooked meals and picking high fiber snacks are the best ways to increase intake.
5. Enjoy Food. In the quest to improve eating habits, many often forget to enjoy the food they consume. While worrying about calorie and sugar content, they cut out every single unhealthy food they've enjoyed over the years. Unfortunately, this strategy does not work in the long term. Moderation is the key to enjoying unhealthy foods. Having a few pieces of chocolate or a slice of pizza won't kill a healthy lifestyle. If you love chocolate, it's unrealistic to create a chocolate-free diet. Making healthy choices most of the time allows you to splurge some of the time.
The Bottom Line
Overly ambitious New Year's Resolutions fail because the change required to make them work in such a small period of time is usually too much to handle for most people. Instead of broad, life changing goals, a resolution should have a much more narrow and focused target such as eating more fiber or reducing intake of bad fats.
None of the improvements outlined above are drastic on their own, but when combined, are important steps in creating permanent lifestyle change. Permanent lifestyle changes lead to countless benefits including decreased disease risk and increased energy levels to participate in the activities you love. A New Year's Resolution should be the beginning of more ambitious change rather than a one-time goal.