By Kathleen Berger, Executive Producer for Science and Technology
Holiday food indulgence! The temptation is hard to resist, which is one of the reasons why popular New Year’s Resolutions include eating healthier and losing weight. But making that lifestyle change as a New Year’s Resolution may be asking too much.
“There are some studies that have found that the majority of people who set New Year’s resolutions are not able to follow through with them,” said Tim Bono, PhD, Lecturer in Psychological and Brain Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis.
As a behavior scientist, Bono advised approaching some New Year’s goals by taking smaller steps. He said setting smaller goals is ideal for diet and fitness goals, or anything that may be hard to achieve.
“Identify the big goals, like I’m going to write a book or I’m going to learn the Beethoven sonata. But on any given day, don’t say, ‘Okay, I’m going to make progress on the book today.’ (Instead) say, ‘I’m going to develop an outline today or I’m going to write two pages today or I’m going to focus on one page of the Beethoven sonata.’ By looking at it in terms of smaller steps, those seem manageable,” Bono explained.
Emily Cutler takes that approach when setting nutrition goals for her patients. Cutler is a registered dietitian for Mercy in St. Louis, working with people one on one.
“The new year is a really popular time to make resolutions and we just want to make sure that patients are setting themselves up for success. It’s nice to have an overall goal, like eating healthier. But then we need to get smart with our goal. We want our goals to be specific. Measurable, actionable, relevant and then time-specific,” explained Cutler. “Such as, I’m going to choose whole grains with every meal for the next three months and that would be a very specific way of meeting your overall goal of eating healthier.”
Cutler helps many people with medical conditions, but that’s not a requirement to sit with her and learn about healthy eating to prevent diseases and maintain good health as people age. Anyone can see a registered dietician to improve their nutrition as they maintain their weight or lose weight.
The key is to step into new healthy eating habits gradually because Cutler wants to build sustainable life-long changes. She said the plan that works best is the Mediterranean way of eating.
“That incorporates a lot of whole grains, fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, seafood, and some lean poultry,” she said. “We can use that model to also build some of our goals and see how that fits on your plate.”
She said it’s easy to manage.
“At home, traveling or if you’re going to a restaurant, we like to use this method called the plate method. You would like to take your plate, divide in half and we like to make sure that we’re loading up (half of plate) with fresh fruits and vegetables. Colorful produce on about half of your plate,” she explained. “Then a quarter of your plate would be your carbohydrate food. So whole grains, preferably whole wheat pasta, whole grain bread or brown rice. And then we like to show how the correct portion of protein can fit in that (remaining) quarter of your plate. It could be around the size of the palm of your hand.”
Cutler said this approach is better than fad diets promising fast weight loss.
“Slow and steady wins the race,” Cutler said. “We’re looking for progress and not perfection. And so, I think we can set ourselves up for success by setting the smart goals and using a framework that you can incorporate into your daily life.”