Little lifestyle tweaks can add up to big changes in health, mood, and waistlines. Instead of resolving to take on an intensive diet or exercise regime, why not keep it simple? Pick 5 habits to lose and 5 habits to start for 2013 and this time next year, you'll be enjoying the results.
Here is my list of suggestions for 10 healthy changes for 2013, but you can make your own. Even if you only chose 2, you can still make big changes to your health after just a couple months.
OUT WITH THE OLD
If you have a daily latte habit, giving up at least one a day (or other caloric beverage) and instead having black coffee, tea, or water will save you at least 100 calories a day (maybe more depending on your drink habit). That’s at least 500 less calories and almost $20 more in your pocket each week (2,000 less calories a month and $100 saved)! This can help you lose weight and save money without changing anything else in your life.
2. Daily Dessert
If you eat dessert every night, cut back to 2 nights a week. Plan and look forward to your dessert nights. If you are craving something sweet after a meal, try an orange or tangerine. Citrus cleanses your palate while providing vitamins, fiber, and only about 100 calories.
3. Don't Skip Breakfast
Breakfast literally means to “break your fast,” to eat something finally after sleeping all night. Many studies have found that eating breakfast (ideally within an hour of waking) gets your metabolism working and can even help you lose weight. If you have never eaten breakfast, try starting each morning with just a small piece of toast and coffee, some fruit or yogurt, or a smoothie, cereal, or hard-boiled egg to establish the habit. You may not be hungry, but your body needs the fuel. Once you start regularly eating upon waking your metabolism will remind you to keep it up.
4. Too Much Alcohol
If you are a regular drinker, try limiting your indulgences to two nights a week. Remember that the number of calories in alcoholic drinks varies widely, from about 100 for a glass of red wine to 150 for a beer or classic martini to about 200 for a stout beer or a Cosmo. Cutting back will save you empty drink calories and hangovers. Plus many people find that drinking makes them more susceptible to overeating so you could save even more calories. Your liver will also thank you.
5. Ditch Diet Soda
While they may not have any calories, diet sodas are still not good for you. They generally have a lot of sodium (salt), are highly acidic and thus still bad for your teeth, and have been linked to increased risk for osteoporosis (bone density loss), and even a higher risk of obesity. Studies have shown that diet soda consumption can affect your metabolism in such a way that can cause weight gain and kidney damage. Soda cans also contain the endocrine disrupter BPA, which has been linked to heart disease and reproductive disorders. Also, because they have no calories, many of us feel free to consume as many as we want. Cut back slowly, replacing a can at a time with bubbly water and lemon or lime to start, as some people can experience intense caffeine and withdrawal symptoms.
IN WITH THE NEW
1. Take Eye Breaks
Eye strain is becoming a major hazard as we spend ever more time focused on screens at arm’s length or less. OSHA ranks Computer Vision Syndrome as the number one health-related office complaint. The Optometric Center for Family Vision Care and Vision Therapy recommends the 20-20-20 rule to give your eyes a break: set a timer for every 20 minutes and focus 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
Walk more. Every day. Start by adding a 10-minute walk to your day. Take just one break from your desk—walk out for 5 minutes and then back. Lengthen the walk as possible. Opportunities abound to get in a little extra walking: take the dog around the block; walk to the grocery store; take a stroll after lunch or dinner. As an incentive, pay yourself when you do it. Put $5 in a jar each time you walk more than once a day. After a month, treat yourself to lunch, or a new pair of walking shoes.
3. Regular Sleep
We need good regular sleep to think well—and even to lose weight. Your body actually burns calories as it sleeps (the most if you sleep for 7 hours or more). Sleeping five hours or less a night has been shown to cause changes in hormones that make you feel more hungry and crave more high-carb foods. Other scary side affects of too little sleep include changes to glucose metabolism that resemble pre-diabetes and memory impairment. Create a bedtime routine: set a sleep time and give yourself an hour before that to unwind and ready yourself. Try to avoid screens (TV and handhelds) as the light tells your body to stay awake. If you need to go to bed earlier, start your bedtime routine 10 minutes earlier each night for a week. Keep to the same sleep schedule on the weekends. Avoid caffeine in the afternoons. Let natural light wake you up in the morning.
4. More Snacks
As long as they are fruit or raw veggies, eat as much as you want. The fresh nutrients, low calories, fiber, and water content are all good for you. Always wash your hands and your produce before consuming.
5. Cook More at Home
This will save you money and calories while making you more self sufficient and healthier. Find 10 recipes that sound good and learn how to make them (invite a friend to help). Don’t be intimidated—all good cooks learned the same way, by cooking. Plan your meals a week ahead of time so you don’t order take-out because there’s nothing in the house.
If you make even a couple of subtle but healthy changes, over time you will see big changes to your health, weight, and well-being.