8 January 2019When It Comes To Diet, Resolve to "Do", Not to "Don't"

The new year always inspires good intentions. It's a good time to regroup, with a new sense of purpose, whether you want to improve your health or your finances or your career. So we make resolutions that focus on positive change. Except, when it comes to food and diet, we seem to make resolutions that are focused on negatives: Don't eat this! Avoid that! Give up this! Thanks to fad diets and misinformation, there is no end of potential "don'ts" to fill up your diet resolution list:

  • Gluten
  • Carbs
  • Sugar
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Salt
  • Additives
  • Foods that aren't organic
  • Processed meat
  • White foods
  • Dairy
  • Candy
  • Juice
  • Fast food

Or you can create long lists of specific foods you swear you'll never eat again, like ice cream, cookies, french fries, candy, soft drinks, pizza and bread. Whatever approach you take, it's all negative. Your whole life is consumed by avoidance, by demonizing large swaths of our food supply. Food is something to be feared and controlled, not enjoyed. This is a terrible mindset. It usually fails, leaving you feeling guilty, as if all that negativity was supposed to be inspirational.

I'd like to suggest a different way to make resolutions: Resolve to "Do", not to "Don't". Make the resolutions about choosing healthy foods and creating healthy meals. What do I mean by that? Here are some examples:

  • Plan ⅔ of your evening meal around plant foods, which can be some combination of vegetables, legumes (dried beans/peas), grains, and fruit.
  • Eat a colorful vegetable every day, from choices like spinach, squash, dark green lettuce, broccoli, chard, green beans, peas, sweet potatoes, peppers, tomatoes.
  • Have a soup-'n-salad meal at least once a week. In summer, just make it a salad meal.
  • Stock up on plain seltzer water or club soda to drink instead of soft drinks.
  • Find some herbal tea flavors that you can enjoy without sweetener.
  • Stock up on fresh fruit you enjoy and have a piece of fresh fruit at least once a day, perhaps in the evening as dessert.
  • Have a legume-based dish at least once a week. Legumes work well in soups, casseroles, chilis, burritos and salads.
  • Snack on small portions of nuts, or a cube of cheese.
  • Include a probiotic food several times a week, such as yogurt, kombucha, kefir, kimchi or fermented-style sauerkraut.
  • Eat a small-to-moderate breakfast everyday that includes a high protein food like eggs, milk, yogurt, cheese or nut butter.
  • Experiment with whole grains like farro, barley, red rice and millet.
  • Find a good olive oil you like and use that for dressing your salads -- just a bit of oil, plus vinegar, salt, pepper and perhaps some dried herbs.
  • Use smaller portions of meat or chicken, leaving more room on your plate for plant foods like vegetables and whole grains.

The good thing about these sorts of resolutions is that you can always do better. Maybe you let a week pass without preparing a legume dish. No problem, just make it happen next week, or the next day. Over time, the more you incorporate positive changes, the easier they are to accomplish. They become more of a habit.

As you incorporate many of these resolutions into your weekly food choices, there is less room for less healthful foods. For example, if you're filling up on vegetables at dinner, you'll have less appetite for sugary desserts. If you have more legume-based dishes, you end up eating less meat. If you have nuts or cheese readily available for a snack, you won't be eating candy bars. If you make sure to include a high protein food at breakfast you have less room for a sugary pastry.

Use some ideas from my list or create your own personalized list. Think of foods or meal changes or eating habits that would make a positive difference to your health. Don't feel like you need to create a specific number of resolutions or have the list done by a specific date. You might come up with an idea in March or June. There's no deadline for positive changes.

One thing I did not mention is exercise. Daily physical activity is critical to health. We're only now realizing how critical, as we recognize the serious ill effects of so much sitting and inactivity. So I would suggest, whatever food or diet resolutions you make, you also resolve to engage in meaningful physical activity everyday. Be realistic about your abilities, and certainly check with your physician if you have medical issues that might impact exercise tolerance. Find a way to make it happen. When it comes to health, diet and exercise go hand-in-hand.

Now start that list of "Do's" and Happy 2019!

Donna P Feldman MS RDN is author of Feed Your Vegetarian Teen and Food Wisdom for Women: nutrition for aging with energy, vitality and health. Donna writes about food and nutrition at Radio Nutrition and is co-host of the Walk Talk Nutrition podcast.
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Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.


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