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The New Year always feels like an opportune time for a fresh start. From Thanksgiving through Christmas, we indulge in festive cocktails and holiday meals. But then the New Year’s Eve ball drops, we make a Champagne toast… and we gear up for a fresh year.
This clean start often involves resolutions to take on a healthier life path. We may look into more satisfying jobs, reconsider our relationships, or try to be healthier versions of ourselves. Whether that involves upping our energy levels, getting more fit, or losing a few pounds, there’s no time like the present to get started.
Our goal in the new year is to treat ourselves better, and to be kinder to ourselves. That means a weight loss plan that’s about increased wellness and better health — not self-deprivation.
1. Focus on plants
A plant-powered diet isn’t only a trend for the new year. When done consistently, it may help you shed those extra pounds, too. “Fruits and vegetables are not only loaded with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, but they are also replete with fiber, and fiber helps keep hunger at bay,” says Kim Rose, RDN for the weight loss app, Lose It!.
Because fiber keeps you satisfied for a longer period of time, eating more fruits and vegetables is a great weight loss strategy. “You can lose weight while loading up on nutrients,” says Rose. Another way of looking at it: The more plants you eat, the fuller you’ll feel, so you’ll be much less likely to binge on empty calories.
2. Think about what fills your plate, not what you’re avoiding
When trying to lose weight, people often focus on foods they’re avoiding, which can make you feel deprived and create an unhealthy mindset around food. “If you instead focus on all of the amazing and nourishing foods that you’re able to eat and how wonderful they will make you feel, you’ll be more likely to stick to an eating plan,” says Serena Poon, a celebrity chef and nutritionist.
3. Steer clear of “quick fix” plans
There are a lot of ‘lose weight quick’ plans out there, but these rarely lead to sustainable change. “If you focus on changing your eating habits in the long-term, even if you have to move slowly, you’re setting yourself up to achieve lasting transformation,” says Poon. Work on making changes to your eating regimen that make sense for the long run.
4. Consider the “why”
Before making a change, it’s important to think about why weight loss is important to you. “I would suggest writing down one or two specific reasons,” says Mackenzie Burgess, registered dietitian nutritionist and recipe developer at Cheerful Choices. Perhaps it’s to improve energy, help prevent risk for chronic diseases, or reduce joint pain. “Remembering the ‘why’ can help motivate you and keep you on track even during difficult times,” says Burgess.
5. Set smart goals
Setting goals helps you make small changes towards weight loss. “Make your goals ‘SMART’: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound,” says Burgess. Avoid setting broad goals like, “I want to lose weight.” Instead, make them SMART, like: “My goal is to lose 10 pounds in three months by eating an extra serving of fruits and vegetables at least three days a week and walking 20 minutes daily.”
6. Get quality sleep
Few people realize how critical sleep is to achieving a healthy weight. “When you sleep, you secrete human growth hormone which helps regulate sugar and fat metabolism and also helps the body to heal and develop lean muscle mass,” says Carol Hinchcliffe, a functional nutritionist and restorative wellness practitioner. Try to get to bed at a reasonable hour, and put away the electronics at least an hour before bedtime.
7. Manage chronic stress
Chronic stress can definitely keep us from losing weight. “Stress causes the release of a hormone called cortisol which activates the release of glucose for fight-or-flight, says Hinchcliffe. “Chronic low-lying stress can trigger extra glucose that’s eventually stored as fat.” So, try to find ways to reduce stress in your life, whether through meditation, taking a yoga class, or relaxing with a good book.
8. Reduce snacking
You should be able to go at least three hours between meals, and five hours is optimal, according to Hinchcliffe. “Lengthening the time between meals activates fat-burning mode, and also triggers the migrating motor complex which is the housekeeper of your GI tract,” says Hinchcliffe. If you have trouble lengthening the time between meals and experience drowsiness or low energy, you may need help regulating your blood sugar first.
9. Consider testing for food sensitivities
“Poor digestion and food sensitivities can lead to a leaky gut and gastrointestinal inflammation,” says Hinchcliffe, who warns that this can make weight loss very difficult, inhibiting the breakdown of stored fats and encouraging more fat storage.
“Despite doing all the right things, people will often struggle to maintain a healthy weight as a result of this inflammatory process. Wondering if you have food sensitivities that lead to a leaky gut? It’s easy to test for and resolve these issues if you do,” she says.
10. Stick to whole, fresh foods
We all take short cuts from time to time, relying on processed foods to save time and effort. But these foods, even if they are packaged in such a way that they’re intended to seem “healthy,” may not be the best choice. “Centering your diet around fresh, wholesome food and avoiding items that are processed and packaged is a surefire way to lose weight without having to think about it too much,” says Poon.
11. Find good-for-you foods that you genuinely love
As you switch your diet to consume more nourishing foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes, make sure to select foods that you enjoy. “Don’t force yourself to eat kale if you don’t like it,” says Poon. “There are so many options for delicious and nutritious foods, so find healthy choices and recipes that excite you and create your sustainable health plan around them.”
12. Add protein to your meal plan
“If you have a tendency to get hungry easily during the day, adding a bit more protein to your meals can help with cravings,” says Poon. “Try adding a scoop of nut butter or organic protein to your morning smoothie or throw a handful of nuts into your afternoon snack.” Protein is the most filling macronutrient, so ensuring it is on your plate will help you feel satisfied all day long.