Making Diet Resolutions? Try Diet Changes Instead

Skip the cookies and try fruit for dessert.

Planning your diet resolutions for the New Year? Try making a few small changes every month – all year long.

When January 1st comes around, it’s time to dust off that list of diet resolutions you made last year (and perhaps the year before that?) and vow to tackle them again.

It’s in our nature to look upon the New Year as a time to start fresh. It’s a time of promise and hope. We promise ourselves we’re going to eat right and get into shape, and we hope we can stick with our resolutions. But we often don’t. A lot of times it’s because our diet and lifestyle “to-do” list is a mile long, and it’s just too hard to make many changes all at once. We’re creatures of habit, and it just takes time for new habits to take hold.

Diet Resolutions for the New Year – A Step-Wise Approach

Make a Few Small Changes Every Month

Here’s a suggestion for you. Go ahead and make that to-do list, but just don’t try to make all your changes at once. In fact, I’m going to suggest that you tackle just three small changes in January – another three in February, three more in March, and so on until the end of the year. And here’s why. If you work on establishing just three new habits for a month, you won’t be overwhelmed with trying to focus on too many things at once. By the end of the month, the three new habits will be part of your routine, and you’ll be ready to take on three more changes in the following month.

Keep Your Diet Resolutions Going All Year Long

Suppose that those three changes you make in January cut out a total of 100 calories a day from your diet. That might not sound like a lot, but let’s say the same thing happens in February and March and April and May. Five months into the New Year, you’ve made a total of 15 small, sustainable changes to your eating habits, and you’re now saving 500 calories a day – enough to lose up to a pound a week.

Think about what you’d like to work on first. Maybe you’d like to cut your fat or sugar intake. Maybe your portions are just too large, or your problem is that you don’t eat enough fruits or vegetables. Maybe you’re an emotional eater and you want to work on that. Then determine the three things you plan to do in January and get to work.

Three Small Diet Changes a Month

Let’s say you want to cut back on your sugar intake. Your diet resolutions for January might be:

  • I will have fruit for dessert instead of cookies
  • I will cut my soda intake in half
  • I will switch from pre-sweetened yogurt to plain yogurt

Maybe eating too much fat is your problem. In that case, your January diet resolutions might be:

  • Instead of chips or fries with my lunch, I will have a side salad instead
  • I will switch from regular salad dressing to low-fat
  • I will have my coffee drinks made with nonfat milk instead of whole milk

If it’s portion control you need to work on, your January resolutions might look like this:

  • I will use smaller plates when I eat at home to control my portions
  • When I go out to eat, I will ask the server to put half my meal in a take-home container and serve me the rest
  • I will weigh and measure my food portions a few times a week to make sure I’m staying on track

Maybe this is the year to take a different approach to your diet resolutions. Make a few changes, give them a month to settle in, and then build on those changes month after month. True, this step-wise approach isn’t the complete diet overhaul that you may attempt every January (and abandon by February) – but what have you got to lose?

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Trying to Eat Less Sugar? Five Tips to Help You Reduce Your Sugar Intake

Trying to Eat Less Sugar? Five Tips to Help You Reduce Your Sugar IntakeIf you want to eat less sugar, you’ve got to know where to look.  Sugar hides in hundreds of everyday foods.

Trying to eat less sugar is difficult – and not just because we like it so much.  Sure, it’s hard to give up something that tastes so good… but what really makes eating less sugar so tough is the fact that it’s nearly impossible to avoid it.

There is so much sugar added to so many foods that the average American adult eats about 22 teaspoons of sugar – that’s 350 calories’ worth – every single day.  To put another way, that means we’re each eating about 3 pounds of sugar a week, or 150 pounds a year, or nearly 18% of our total calories from sugar alone.  Where is all this sugar coming from?

What are Added Sugars?

Some sugars naturally occur in foods – like lactose (natural milk sugar) or the natural fructose that adds sweetness to fruits.  Those aren’t added sugars – they’re just a component of these foods in their natural state.

But added sugars are just what they sound like – they’re sugars that are added to foods during processing, or during preparation, or at the table.

When spread jam on your toast, or sprinkle sugar in your coffee, or when a recipe calls for a sugary ingredient, you’re adding sugar to your food, of course. But it’s the processed foods we eat that dump lots of added sugar into our bodies.   As foods are processed – becoming further and further removed from their natural state – a lot of sugar is often added along the way.  A small fresh apple has some natural sugar in it – maybe 15 grams or so – but process it into sweetened applesauce and you’ve now got another 15 grams of added sugar per serving.  Natural whole wheat has virtually no sugar in it -  but process it into sugary cereal flakes and you could be eating a few tablespoons of added sugar in every bowlful.

Sugar In Foods – The Sugar You See

Some added sugars are pretty obvious – like the jams and jellies, table sugar, honey or syrup we put on our foods.  Then there’s the 53 gallons of sugary soft drinks that the average American consumes every year – which accounts for about a third of our total added sugar intake.   We also get plenty of sugar from treats like cakes and cookies, candies and frozen desserts.  These are the sugars we can see – but nearly a quarter of the sugar we eat is hidden away in processed foods.

Sugar In Foods – The Sugar You Don’t See

Unless you are a fanatic about reading ingredients labels, there’s a good chance that you’re eating sugar you didn’t even know about – and in places where you wouldn’t expect to find it.  I’ll bet you didn’t think a serving of pasta sauce could harbor nearly 5 teaspoons of sugar, or that 80% of the calories in ketchup come from sugar.  Once you start looking at ingredients lists, you’ll find sugar in everything from soups to salad dressings.

 5 Tips for Cutting Your Sugar Intake

  • Read Nutrition Labels.  This is really the first step in reducing your sugar intake for a couple of reasons.  First, sugar comes in many forms, so you’ll want to read your ingredients list carefully for words other than just “sugar” – sucrose, glucose, dextrose, latose, maltose, brown rice syrup, fruit juice concentrate, maltodextrin, corn syrup, molasses are just some of the many, many forms of sugar added to foods.  On the flip side, be aware that those sugars that naturally occur in foods – the lactose in milk and the fructose in fruit, for example – will show up on the nutrition facts panel as “sugar” even though no sugar is added.  The nutrition facts panel on a package of frozen, unsweetened strawberries might list 10 grams of sugar per serving, but that’s just the natural fructose in the fruit.  Check the ingredients list to be sure – which, in this case, should just say, “strawberries”.
  • Sweeten foods yourself.  Many foods that come pre-sweetened – like cereals, yogurt, salad dressings or ‘alternative’ milks (like rice, hemp or soy) have surprising amounts of sugar.  Some varieties of instant oatmeal have more than a tablespoon of added sugar (in a very tiny packet – and who eats just one?), some single-serve yogurts pack 30 grams (7 ½ teaspoons) of sugar, and vanilla-flavored rice, hemp or soy milks can have more than 3 teaspoons of added sugar in an 8-ounce (240mL) cup.  Even if you add your own sugar to these foods, you can certainly get by with less.  To cut sugar even further, try sweetening cereal with a sliced banana or a handful of berries. And here’s another trick – try dropping a whole date or a few raisins and a few drops of vanilla extract into your carton of unsweetened ‘milk alternative’.  It adds lots of flavor with just a trace of sugar.
  • Enjoy naturally sweet flavors.  Your taste buds may be so over-saturated with sugar that you’ve lost your appreciation for foods that are naturally (but not overly) sweet.  Fruits are an obvious substitute for sugary desserts, but sweet spices – like cinnamon, nutmeg or clove – add sweet notes to fruits, cereals or yogurt in place of sugar. 
  • Cut back on liquid sugar.  It’s an obvious suggestion, I know.  But when you consider that half the US population consumes a sugary drink on any given day, or that 25% of American adults take in 200 calories a day from sugary beverages, it’s a suggestion worth repeating. Curb your intake of soft drinks, sweetened coffee and tea drinks, and fruity drinks like lemonade.  Instead, try flavorful teas, or add some citrus peel or a slice of fruit to your water for a calorie-free beverage.   
  • Picture how much sugar you’re eating.  Sometimes it helps if you visualize how much sugar you’re actually eating, so here’s a tip for you.  Every four grams of sugar that’s listed on the nutrition facts panel is equal to a teaspoon of sugar – or about one sugar cube.  A soda label that lists 36 grams of sugar in a serving may not sound that bad … but when you picture the nine sugar cubes it contains, you just might think twice about drinking it.

Susan Bowerman is Director of Nutrition Training at Herbalife. Susan is a Registered Dietitian and a Board-Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics.

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