To trim calories and fat, take stock of yourself: How has my weight changed in the last year? The last five years? And why has it changed? Then, track your eating habits by keeping a food or eating journal for two typical weekdays and a weekend day.
Be thorough. If you add cream and sugar to your coffee, write it down. Note whether food eaten is part of a meal or snack, eaten alone or with others, eaten because you are hungry or simply because it's time to eat.
Aim for an attainable goal, such as losing a pound or two a month that, in a year's time, will yield a weight loss of 12 to 24 pounds.
Tips to help manage weight and improve health include:
· Eat a breakfast that includes whole grains. This provides complex carbohydrates that break down slowly to provide lasting energy. Sugary foods provide simple carbohydrates that break down quickly. Eating satisfying, complex carbohydrates early in the day also can reduce the tendency to overeat later in the day.
· Read food labels to learn about ingredients in foods you choose.
· Measure portions to become more familiar with standard, recommended serving sizes.
· Bring family or friends together for meals, and focus on having a good time with people, rather than food.
· Can't do dinner? Try breakfast together on weekdays or a more leisurely brunch on weekends.
· Take time to eat and savor the food. Eating lunch at your desk or supper while watching TV might increase calorie consumption because it is easy to eat more when we are not focusing on the meal itself.
· Wash hands frequently, such as before and after food preparation or storage and before and after eating. This helps reduce risks of contracting colds and flu.
· Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and to maintain body function. Remember also that water can serve as a healthy substitute for other beverages that add unnecessary calories.
· Be active. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Park at the end of the block and walk to your destination. Or walk around the block several times a day to help keep the appetite in check, boost energy and reduce stress.
· Strive to maintain a consistent sleep schedule. Too much or too little sleep can upset the body's rhythm.
· Resolve to eat a variety of foods that are key to managing weight and health.
Prepare yourself now for that time in late January or mid-February when your motivation wanes. Have a reward to bring you back to your goal. Knowing there is a reward in sight can get you through rough times.
Think about how it will be when you accomplish your goal. If your goal is walking 30 minutes per day, think how much more energy you will have and how much better you will consistently feel because you have been active.
Have a healthy 2008!
Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.