Minor Changes Could Have a Major Impact on Your Diet

By Jennifer Huget
Tuesday, January 6, 2009

I'm rethinking my resolutions for 2009 -- at least the ones that have to do with diet and exercise. And with good reason: Most every year that I can remember, I've resolved to lose 10 pounds and to fit into size . . . well, a size smaller jeans than I currently wear.

I'm still carrying those 10 pounds around (at least I didn't gain any over the past month, thanks to the Holiday Challenge!), and I still wear the same size jeans. So this time around, I'm making a different set of promises to myself. For inspiration, I've looked back over the interviews with nutritionists and other health experts I've conducted since I started writing the Eat, Drink and Be Healthy column and the Lean & Fit newsletter.

Funny thing: There are a number of practices that nearly every one of these experts preaches. And yet some of them have yet to sink in with me. So for 2009, I hereby resolve to improve my health by adopting some of the most common tips. I'm optimistic that I'll succeed, as all of these are relatively minor improvements that I should be able to implement. Here they are:

Plan. It sounds deceptively simple, but planning ahead is the key to many aspects of managing your diet. Planning a week's menu and crafting a grocery list that includes only the items you need to execute that menu saves money and prevents your stocking up on extras that all too easily turn into unnecessary snacks. Planning each day's meals and snacks helps you prepare for random hunger pangs: If you've brought string cheese and an apple to sate your appetite, you're less likely to grab a handful of doughnut holes.

Eat slowly. This is surprisingly hard to do, especially when those around you are wolfing down their food. But experts agree that you'll eat less and enjoy your meals more if you take small bites, put your fork down between bites and chew slowly, savoring every mouthful. Don't allow your dinner companions to set the pace; see if you can assume a leadership role.

Read food-package labels. Sadly, you can't assume that a package of bread boasting "Whole Wheat!" in large type really contains much whole grain. And while many manufacturers have removed artery-clogging trans fats from their products, trans fats still lurk in some. Same with high-fructose corn syrup, which, although probably not as threatening to your weight and waistline as was once thought, is still a potent source of empty calories. The only way to know what's in the foods you're buying is to read the fine-print list of ingredients and the nutrition facts panel.

Eat more whole foods. I mean that both ways: Eat foods that are more "whole" -- with fewer added ingredients and less exposure to processing -- and eat more of them. I plan to start shopping more frequently at farmers markets for close-to-home produce, cheese and honey.

Make Mondays meatless. An uncomplicated way to cut calories and boost nutrition for yourself and your family is to eliminate meat from a day's worth of meals. Joining the Meatless Mondays movement is a great way to get a taste of vegetarian cooking without making a full-fledged commitment. (For inspiration and recipes, see the Meatless Mondays feature in Kim O'Donnel's A Mighty Appetite blog, http://blog.washingtonpost.com/mighty-appetite, every Monday.)

Focus on food. I know that sounds odd: For Pete's sake, aren't we all too focused on food every waking moment? But this is about shifting that focus a bit. Instead of obsessing about what's in the pantry or fridge, pay attention to buying high-quality food, preparing it carefully and eating it mindfully. It's the opposite of going through the motions, throwing a meal together and eating it in front of the TV.

That's what I'm planning. How about you? Do you have any baby steps we can take together toward healthier eating this year? Please share them today by going to The Checkup blog and adding your ideas in the comments section.

Here's to a happy -- and healthy -- 2009!

Check out today's Checkup blog post, in which Jennifer fields readers' ideas for easy-to-implement New Year's resolutions for more healthful eating. Subscribe to the weekly Lean & Fit nutrition newsletter by going to http://www.washingtonpost.com and searching for "newsletters." Go to the Wednesday Food section to find Nourish, a new feature with a recipe for healthy eating every week. And e-mail your thoughts to Jennifer at checkup@washpost.com.

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