The last thing on anybody’s wish list over the holiday season is higher blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels, or weight gain. But for many people, the holidays are a time of celebration, which often involve foods high in fat, sugar and calories and short on nutrition. While it is impossible to change the past, the New Year is always a good time to refocus and begin making healthier food choices.
The key to healthy eating is the time-tested advice of balance, variety and moderation. In short, that means eating a wide variety of foods without getting too many calories or too much of any one nutrient. These following tips can help you follow that advice while still enjoying the foods that you eat.
Eat a variety of foods each day. Avoid diets that restrict the consumption of entire food groups. Eating a variety of foods, including bread and other whole-grain foods; fruits; vegetables; dairy products; and meat, poultry, fish and other protein sources, helps provide the nutrition needed to help reduce chronic disease risk and aid weight loss.
Eat foods you enjoy. However eat them less often or in smaller portions. When eating out, divide the meal and take half home, share with a friend, or order an appetizer as your main course. When serving yourself, go light on richer foods and fill up on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats.
Eat regularly. Skipping meals can lead to ravenous hunger, often resulting in overeating. When you are very hungry, it is tempting to forget about good nutrition. Snacking between meals can help, but do not eat so much that your snack becomes an entire meal.
Think before you eat. Review and decide what a healthy choice should be. If there are several less nutritious choices, pick one or two in small portions and then choose other foods to provide a healthy balance and variety.
Schedule time to exercise. Make an appointment with yourself for a brisk walk or other aerobic activity for at least 20 to 30 minutes, three times a week. Do not cancel an appointment with yourself!
Challenge yourself. Discover other ways to enjoy yourself that do not involve food such as a new hobby or dance and music lessons. Each time you consistently exchange an unhealthy snack to a non-food activity, your brain will find new ways to feel satisfied.
The best piece of advice is to make changes gradually. There is no quick fix or easy answers so do not expect to overhaul your eating habits overnight. Changing too much or too fast can get in the way of success. Begin to remedy the holiday indulgences with modest dietary changes that can add up to healthier, lifelong eating habits.
Mary Ann Martin, RD, CDE, LDN, is a Registered Dietician on staff at Paoli Hospital.
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