Inspired by the New Year

New Year’s Resolutions offer the impetus for us to make a commitment to something we want to change in our lives. I’ve only ever made one resolution, when I eschewed meat many moons ago, because I stuck to it and was afraid of ruining my perfect record. But at the end of every year, I find myself reviewing my life and evaluating what changes I could make for the better. So even though I haven’t since officially declared a resolution, I’ve certainly been inspired to act.

I’d love to make a resolution to travel more, to see amazing site like these wart hogs playing near a campfire in Swaziland, but it’s unrealistic.

Whether you are a resolution maker or, like me, just someone who reconsiders your life with the hope of a new start in the New Year, the biggest reason for failure is a lack of strategizing. Even the best of intentions won’t materialize without figuring out how to implement changes. A perfect example is the surge in gym memberships every January.

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So Many Diets Out There!

With so many diets out there, how do you know what to choose to get started? Actually, it’s imperative to avoid choosing a diet, but rather, adopt a regimen that offers a template to get started. Since the key to success is a lifestyle change, instead of starting a (or another?) diet, it’s much more useful to find a plan that offers some useful tools. Well-known diet plans are set up to keep customers dependent on them rather than show them how to live in the real world.

That I love vegetables definitely gives me an advantage to maintain a healthy body. I learned to make all of these veggie dishes at a cooking class in Morocco.

As I mentioned in Start NOW!, it’s best to choose a regimen largely based on the foods you regularly eat (unless it’s all junk food, though I’m sure someone has proposed a junk food diet. Even then, I’m just not sure how successful it could be for long term health…). Along with laying out the science behind nutrition, I discussed the reasons for my regimen choices over the last 15 years in My Food Education, which might offer a useful starting point.

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Start NOW!

It’s the New Year, and with the New Year comes resolutions. Not surprisingly, the number one resolution made by Americans is to get fit. But how to get started, especially if you’re feeling down on yourself, gained weight over the holidays, or have loads of food you feel obliged to consume: Leftover Christmas cookies, boxes of chocolates, Swiss Colony beef log, and loads of junk food from New Year’s Eve?

How to get started: Decide you want to make a change. If you’re like me, maybe you’re in denial about having food issues. I was dead convinced for the longest time that I didn’t really overeat, but I had earlier in my life, so if I could just drop those unwanted pounds, I’d be able to carry on with my life. I expect others might feel this way, judging by how many people successfully lose weight only to regain it once they stop dieting.

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Being Mindful While Being Sociable

I enjoy getting together with friends for a meal or dining with new people when I travel, but not surprisingly, I often find I’ve eaten without paying much attention to my food. And it’s usually at a restaurant where it’s nice to have something different for a change or a holiday gathering, when I’ve spent a good amount of time (usually two days) preparing a special meal. For me, in particular, these are special occasions because let’s face it, as a low-carbohydrate vegan, my restaurant choices are limited, and the number of friends willing to embrace my regimen as a challenge rather than a trial is, well, even more limited. So during these times, I especially want to pay attention to and savor what I’m eating, but I also want to enjoy the company. Finding a balance is the key.

Too many times I’ve left a meal feeling like I haven’t tasted anything I’ve eaten, and sometimes even end up feeling full without realizing how much I ate, though I barely remember putting food in my mouth. Since I want to relish every meal experience, over the last few years I’ve starting making a special effort to mindfully eat while being good company. It’s a lot easier with a group of people, rather than with just one person, but even that is possible.

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Less Can Be More

It’s difficult to be mindful on a regular basis. We’re constantly bombarded with messages that we need (or need more of, or a better) this or that to make our lives more complete, happier, better, blah blah blah… We are super busy. We have a perpetual “To Do” list, no matter how many items we complete. We have 100 things running through our heads at any given moment. We rarely take a breather because we need to keep up with social media, our friends, the news, pop culture, our calendars, and on it goes.

As a food addict, it has taken decades of regular practice to be more mindful of what I eat and how I’m feeling about what and how much I have eaten. The challenge is shutting out all the extraneous stuff and really focusing on what I’m eating. Of course, I don’t want to just sit and stare around while I eat, so I usually read at the same time, which is entertaining, but certainly a distraction from what I put into my mouth. So I’ve worked really hard to be more aware while I eat, whether it’s a sit-down meal or a standing snack.

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Keep your Mouth Busy

One of the most effective ways I have found to avoid eating between planned meals and snacks–especially during the weight loss part of my lifestyle change–is to chew gum or eat mints. (Just make sure they’re sugar-free! Your teeth and dentist will thank you.) Even though they have calories or carbohydrates in them, most often along with artificial sugars, these trade-offs are worth it. Mint or cinnamon flavors are especially good choices because they pretty much ruin the flavor of any food you might stick in your mouth, so they’re a good deterrent.

I quickly identified when I was most tempted to indulge: When I was cooking, portioning out snacks, or grazing through the kitchen out of boredom, stress, or whatever else emotional issue sent me looking for a diversion. Gum prevented me from sampling anything I was preparing for a meal. When I got home from food shopping and needed to portion out snacks and desserts, I always put gum in my mouth before I even started. If I found myself roaming around the kitchen, I made my way to the gum tin to treat myself to one of the varieties of gum or mints I stocked.

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The Feeding Season

With Thanksgiving, what I think of as “The Feeding Season” has officially begun. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could space out all of those parties and holiday meals throughout the year instead of within just over a month? Alas, that is not the case, so we must strategize to survive The Feeding Season. Using my strategies, it’s possible for January to arrive without adding unwanted weight, an elevated cholesterol count, or going into a sugar coma.

It's okay for this growing puppy to gain 2 pounds a week over the holidays, but not me!

It’s okay for this growing puppy to gain 2 pounds a week over the holidays, but not me!

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Is it *Really* Worth it?

As the holiday season is upon us, now is a good time to remember that it’s not important to finish everything you take. Before my lifestyle change, I was so conditioned to finish everything that it never occurred to me that I had the option not eating something unless I was just too full to eat what I’d taken. Instead, I’d end up eating something just because I didn’t want to waste it, felt guilty, or sometimes it was because I wasn’t paying enough attention to what I was eating to consider leaving the rest. Since my eyes were always bigger than my stomach, I regularly ate more than I needed.

This all changed when I was on a calorie-restrictive regimen. I gained a much greater appreciation for what was appealing to me and worth eating. I became much choosier about what and how much I ate. In particular, when I was at social events or dining out, I was much more careful about what I opted to put on my plate, because I knew that literally every calorie counted, and I learned to maximize my calories. I learned to start with small samples then return for more of what I really liked.

Lots of cookies!

Lots of cookies!

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Keep it Cheap

Whether you’re actively looking to lose weight or want to maintain a healthy weight, making choices with a ‘food budget’ in mind offers a useful self-check throughout the day. And with the holiday season rapidly approaching, replacing expensive foods with cheap ones or eating more cheap ones, dressed up with some cheap additions, counterbalances holidays indulgences.

One strategy, of course, is to eat a lot more non-starchy vegetables. But here are some other options you might not have considered to enhance a meal, snack, or dessert, without busting your budget but still feel satisfied.

In the weight-loss stage of my lifestyle change, I relied heavily on condiments to make pre-packaged entrées feel less ‘boxed’. Fat-free condiments were a god-send. I tried not to go hog-wild with higher calorie stuff, like BBQ sauce and ketchup, but along with various mustards, hot sauces, hot peppers, pickles, salsa, and marinades, I was able to dress up a lot of otherwise ordinary entrées or seemingly puny servings. Continue reading

Do You Carry?

I always thought the expression “Did you carry your lunch?” was funny. “Did I carry it where?” was always my first thought. But you’re better off if–more often than not–the answer is “Yes!” There are some compelling reasons why you should absolutely pack your lunch.

Get yourself some spiffy lunch bags and get packin'!

Get yourself some spiffy lunch bags and get packin’!

Cheaper. It’s less expensive, by far, than anything you’d buy at a restaurant or shop. Of course eating out is nice every once in a while to socialize or for a break. But if it’s the default, that’s tons of your money that could be better spent than subsidizing McDonald’s, Panera, or Chipotle.

It’s also less expensive for the planet. Instead of buying a bunch individually-wrapped, bagged items with a dozen napkins thrown in (that will go unused and likely be thrown out because they’re paper-thin, grease-stained, and smell like French fries), buy bulk and reuse packaging. It’s also a great way to use up leftovers.

Ultimately saves time and frustration. It may save you more time than you think. If nothing else, it will certainly save you some aggravation. Admittedly, I’m not fond of lunch packing time, but I’ve worked toward making it as effortless as possible. I make soups and stews in bulk, freezing them into individual portions. When I moved to a low-carbohydrate regimen, I kept a food log until I became accustomed to what was a well-rounded and satisfying meal, making it pretty easy to through something into a lunch bag. Continue reading