Happy New You!

It’s the New Year and you want to lose weight, eat better, exercise more or just feel good about yourself. Meritus Health tapped registered dietitian Tim Higgins, CDE, with Meritus Endocrinology, Nutrition and Diabetes Education Center and exercise enthusiast Matthew Beckwith, M.D., with Potomac Family Medicine for easy-to-follow tips.

On eating better…

Stick to a pattern. Breakfast, lunch and dinner is a time-tested routine, but our busy lifestyles often fight the concept. Highly touted grazing, says Tim, allows people to overeat because it’s unconscious eating. “Hunger patterns start to normalize when we stick to a schedule,” explains Tim.

Expert advice: Shut the kitchen down after dinner and rest your digestive tract for 10-12 hours—and then break the fast!

Keep it simple. Don’t attempt perfection when changing your eating habits. “When you overcomplicate things, it’s hard to make it sustainable,” says Tim. Write down foods that you eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner and create a food template. For example, if you eat oatmeal for breakfast, add a dollop of Greek yogurt and nuts or add black beans to your lunch time salad.

For those who struggle with meal planning and cooking, Tim suggests using prepared foods like packaged salads, canned, low-sodium soups and rotisserie chicken. Or make a batch of lentil soup over the weekend and store it in containers for convenient, ready-to-eat lunches and dinners.

Expert advice: Build a pantry of healthy, “predictable foods.”

Sustain the change. To achieve a sustainable behavior change, Tim says there has to be a 70-80 percent likelihood of repeating the behavior. “Determine the one meal that you can confidently prepare and work on it,” explains Tim. Most people can make a sandwich. After dinner—and when food is already out—prepare a sandwich for lunch the next day. “Make it part of your routine,” says Tim.

Expert advice: Don’t eliminate foods from your diet because it sets you up for failure. It’s OK to indulge in favorite foods every once in a while. If you long for sweets, eat a piece of dark chocolate once a day to curb the craving.

On exercising more…

When it comes to exercise, Dr. Beckwith agrees with Tim’s philosophy of routine, simplicity and sustainability.

Get moving every day. “Do 10 pushups, 10 forward lunges or walk around the block,” says Dr. Beckwith. “A couple of minutes a day will reap benefits.” In between seeing patients, Dr. Beckwith performs lunges as a way to boost energy and stay limber.

Expert advice: For people with busy schedules, break exercise into smaller chunks to increase confidence and create an exercise habit. Try five minutes of jumping jacks or do standing pushups while preparing dinner.

Find motivation. If you can afford a gym, sign up for a membership says Dr. Beckwith. He attends a boot camp-style class three days a week, participates in 5K runs every weekend and meets with a personal trainer two days a week. Why? He needs someone to motivate him.

Expert adviceJoin a fitness challenge at work or online or download a wellness app to your smart phone.

Go for the long haul. Any exercise regime worth its salt will take time to develop and stick. You may not see quick results, but you’ll notice long-term benefits like lower blood pressure, increased stamina or a better attitude. “Your physical condition equals your emotional condition,” says Dr. Beckwith. “Your new-found energy will make you feel good.”

Expert advice: Set achievable or low goals and go slow.

Above all, reflect! Think about how good you feel after eating well and exercising—and keep repeating the behavior.