10 Steps to a Healthy New Year and a Healthy New You

The First Step - A Year in Review

Smiling woman writing in journal
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Take a look at what your diet and health have been like for the last 12 months. Think about these questions and write down your answers in a notebook so that you can look back at them again a year from now:

  • How does your weight compare with a year ago? 
  • Do you feel healthy and have a lot of energy or are you tired all the time?
  • Do you take vitamins or other nutritional supplements?
  • Do you eat at home most of the time? If so, what types of foods? Whole fresh foods, boxed foods or TV dinners?
  • Do you dine out frequently? What types of restaurants do you like and what kinds of foods do you choose?
  • How physically active are you? Do you exercise regularly?
  • Do you eat healthy portions, or do you stuff yourself with every meal?
  • Do you smoke?
  • How much alcohol do you drink each week?

It's important to take an honest look at your health and dietary habits so you can set goals for the next year.

The Second Step - Setting Goals

Set Health Goals
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Do you want to lose weight? Do you want to be able to run up and down your stairway without becoming winded? Do you want to reduce cholesterol or lower your blood pressure? Decide what you want to achieve over the next month, and over the next year.

One possible goal for your first month could be a resolution to take your lunch to work four days per week for each week this month instead of eating lunch in restaurants every day. Another example of a monthly goal would be to walk for 30 minutes four days per week each week this month.

Start with your statistics. Take body composition measurements and make your goals. Then write down your goals in a notebook or in the food diary you are going to create in step seven.

The Third Step - Determining Your Dietary Needs

Check your weight.
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Here are some ideas you might want to consider:

  • Do you have high blood pressure? If so you may wish to reduce sodium in your diet by avoiding canned and packaged foods.
  • Are you overweight? You need to decrease your calorie intake or increase your amount of physical exercise. You can choose a low-carb diet or a low-fat diet, just be sure to watch your calories and portion sizes.
  • Do you have diabetes? If so, then you need to reduce your sugar intake.
  • Do you have high cholesterol? Increase your intake of soluble fiber like the fiber found in oatmeal. It will help lower your cholesterol levels.

Reduce your intake of saturated fats and increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids from fish, flax, walnuts, and canola oil.

The Fourth Step - Dietary Supplements

Supplements in bottles
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A healthy diet should give you all of the vitamins and minerals you need, but many people take vitamins just to make sure. There are several formulations available, but all you need is a simple multivitamin and multi-mineral supplement. Speak with your health care provider before you take any additional supplements or if you have any health conditions.

The Fifth Step - Design Your Healthy New Diet

Eat more healthy salads.
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Here's what you need to know to design your new diet:

  • How many calories do you need to eat each day to reach your weight gain or weight loss goal?
  • How do your eating patterns fit your lifestyle?
  • Do you feel better with three large meals per day or five smaller meals per day?
  • Will you continue to eat in restaurants often?
  • What types of fruits and vegetables do you like?

A healthy diet should give you five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables per day, 25 to 38 grams of fiber per day, five or six ounces of protein per day and a small amount of omega-3 essential fatty acids. To stick with your new diet, you'll want to include foods you enjoy. If you love hamburgers, that's okay. Make them at home with whole grain rolls and cut down the size of the burger patty, or use ground turkey. Add lots of lettuce, onion, and tomato. Serve your burger with a salad instead of fries.

More Tips

  • Choose crunchy raw green beans instead of chips and serve them with a little of your favorite dip.
  • Replace high fat hot dogs with soy dogs.
  • Choose whole grain bread and pasta instead of white bread and white pasta.
  • Skip the sugary desserts and have a small dish of fresh berries with a dab of whipped cream or non-fat whipped topping, then add a sprinkling of chopped walnuts.
  • Use lemon juice instead of oil for as salad dressing.
  • Choose low-fat ground turkey instead of high-fat ground beef to cut back on saturated fat (read the label - not all ground turkey is low in fat).
  • I've also got some tips for finding healthful foods on a restaurant menu.

The Sixth Step - Shopping and Cooking

Couple cooking in kitchen
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Make a grocery list before you go shopping. Stay away from the snack food aisles and the prepackaged foods aisles when you shop. Choose fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grain breads, lean meats, fish, and legumes. Avoid foods high in saturated fats, sodium, trans-fats and sugar.

The best cooking methods are essential for healthy nutrition, too:

  • Sautéing is better than deep-frying. Frying foods adds fats and calories and doesn't add any nutrition.
  • Steam your vegetables instead of boiling them to mush. Steaming will preserve the vitamins found in the vegetables.
  • When you cook your healthy meals at home, be sure to make a little bit extra to take to work or school the next day.

The Seventh Step - Getting Started with a Food Diary

Keep a food diary.
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If you're serious about changing your diet, losing (or gaining) weight, and improving your health, you'll find that keeping track of things is key to your success in a simple food and exercise diary. This will help keep you motivated and help you get back on your diet if you have a temporary setback.

Be sure to note the portion sizes and write down the calories you eat every day. Add up the number of calories per day and your total for the week. If you need to lose weight, decrease the number of calories you need to eat each week by 500. For most people, that adds up to one pound per week.

You can make your own food diary or join Calorie Count to keep track of your healthy new diet online (it's free).

The Eighth Step - Exercise, Fitness and General Health Goals

Join an exercise class.
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Good nutrition is just one part of a healthy lifestyle. Another component of health and fitness is exercise. If you lead a sedentary lifestyle, you need to get out and get moving. If you want to lose weight, it is important to increase aerobic activity like walking or running. If you need to increase your strength, then you need to start resistance training such as lifting weights.

There are health clubs, gyms, personal trainers as well as at-home equipment to get you fit and healthy. 

Do you smoke? If so, you'll do yourself a favor by quitting. Smoking has been connected to many chronic diseases, plus you will save a lot of money over the next year if you quit smoking.

How much alcohol do you drink? One drink per day has been shown to be beneficial. More than one drink per day can be detrimental to your health, however. If you find yourself drinking more than four ounces of wine, two ounces of liquor or twelve ounces of beer each day, then you may need to decrease your consumption of alcohol.

The Ninth Step - Reduce Stress

Stress relief is important for your health.
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Stress is detrimental to your health. Stress includes daily events like constant deadlines at work; long drive times with excess traffic; more activities than time to do them; and emotional trauma like death or divorce.

Reduce Stress

The Tenth Step - Motivation and Maintenance

Counting calories diary
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Sometimes getting started with a new healthy diet and fitness plan is the easy part. Many of us hit occasional roadblocks due to busy schedules, loss of motivation, and sometimes we hit weight loss plateaus.

Those are the times when we feel like we do everything right, but the scale doesn't seem to budge. When this happens, don't give up. Here are some articles and resources that will keep you motivated:

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