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Dear Dietitian – Making healthier eating a habit in the new year

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PICT Leanne McCrate Dear Dietitian
Leanne McCrate, RDN, CNSC

Dear Readers:

As 2020 draws to a close, we are all looking forward to a better year. Many people will make New Year’s resolutions. Top resolutions include spending more time with friends and family, saving money, and of course, eating healthier and losing weight.

It seems there is always a new fad diet that promises fast weight loss, and its reputation spreads like wildfire. Many embrace the latest fad diet hoping to lose twenty pounds a month. However, chronic dieting is associated with long-term weight gain, so it may be better to focus on eating healthier instead of losing weight.

Eating healthier can become a habit, although it’s easier said than done. Our bodies want good nutrition, and when we are well-nourished, we are less likely to reach for junk food.

The following tips will help you make healthy eating a way of life.

  1. Be specific about your goal. Instead of saying, “I want to eat healthier,” set a goal to eat less sugar. Decide when you will begin your new habit and write it down. For example, Beginning January 2, 2021, I will reduce sugar in my diet by 50%.
  2. Next, identify areas in your diet where you are consuming added sugars. Desserts, coffee drinks, and candy are obvious areas, but what about added sugar in yogurt, breakfast cereals, and snack foods? Other areas of sneaky sugar include energy bars, smoothies, and fruit juices.
  3. Identify areas where sugar can be reduced or eliminated. Replace these foods with a healthy substitute. For example, replace pre-packaged oatmeal with the type that cooks in five minutes.
  4. Read the nutrition facts label. Make sure added sugars are 10 grams per serving or less.
  5. Choose an artificial sweetener if that is your preference.
  6. Keep alternative food readily available. Put a fresh fruit bowl on the kitchen table where it is highly visible. Prepare vegetables and place them in containers to have them ready as an afternoon snack.
  7. Make sure to eat a variety of foods in every food group. A well-nourishing diet prevents feelings of deprivation, the number-one defeater of healthy eating changes.
  8. Choose a simple action that will remind you to do this activity every day. The connection will help cement the healthy behavior. For example, “When I take my afternoon break, I will eat a low-sugar yogurt.”
  9. Track your progress. It helps to see improvements in black and white.
  10. The new habit will get easier with time. The timeframe for behavior change varies, but you will begin to see healthy patterns in about one month.
  11. Reward yourself with non-food gifts. Get a massage; go to a movie; play golf; buy a new purse. 
  12. Finally, be patient. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

I wish you all a happy and healthy New Year!

Dear Dietitian

Leanne McCrate, RDN, CNSC, is an award-winning dietitian based in St. Louis, Missouri. Her mission is to educate consumers on sound, scientifically-based nutrition. Do you have a nutrition question? Email her today at Dear Dietitian does not endorse any products, health programs, or diet plans.