Yeah, yeah, it's a new year, and now we're supposed to make all those diet and exercise resolutions that never stick. But long-lasting improvement is possible. The key to healthy lifestyle changes with staying power is simple: Go small.
Sure, it sounds so much sexier to say "go big or go home," but Mount Everest-type tactics don't work — in the long term — for most of us.
Everyone has something in their diets they can adjust, no matter how they live. Remember: Don't make it so hard you can't keep it up. The goal here is consistency.
If you make a tiny change, and then maintain that change for a few weeks or a month, you could gain the comfort and confidence to add another tiny change. Soon, those small changes pile up, and you could see noticeable results in your health, energy, appearance.
Let's keep it simple and focus on two aspects of what we eat, day in and day out.
"My two big things are reducing sugar and increasing nutrient-density," says Aynsley Kirshenbaum, a Brooklyn-based professional nutritionist and personal trainer with a holistic approach to wellness grounded by her master's degree in nutrition. "I think both of these things can absolutely be done on a small scale for big differences in our energy levels, stress management, and maybe even waistline."
Kirshenbaum is also the creator of the Sugar Purge, a 12-day supported kickstart to healthier eating. (Full disclosure: This author tried the program, and is eating a lot less sugar than a month ago.)
"To reduce sugar, take your life into account," Kirshenbaum says. Notice this goal isn't to completely cut out added sugar or desserts.
Tip 1: If you're into baking, reduce the sweetener by half in all of your recipes.
Tip 2: If you like sweetened coffee, try to take it from 2 teaspoons to 1 teaspoon.
* Reward* Instead of rewarding your good behavior with sweets, carbs, or salty, fatty foods, treat yourself to something else. You could buy fancy measuring spoons to congratulate yourself, and to ensure you're sprinkling in the right amount.
Pewter Measuring Spoons | Buy Now
Make measuring out your sugar for your coffee more pleasurable with these pewter measuring spoons that include 1 tablespoon, 1 teaspoon, 1/2 teaspoon, and 1/4 teaspoon. They each have different Fleur de Lys designs, which represent the French monarchy, found in castles and homes throughout France and in the southeastern United States, especially Louisiana. The lead-free pewter is food safe. Buy it here.
Tip 3: "When I was pregnant and nauseous every morning, I sipped a mixture of lemon-lime soda and seltzer made with our Soda Stream," Kirshenbaum says. "I needed a little bit of the sweetness, but straight soda was too much."
Soda Stream | Buy Now
Get that fizzy feeling you love about soda, without all the high fructose corn syrup or those sugar substitutes that can be even worse. With the Jet Sparkling Water Maker, you can turn tap water into sparkling water or soda in less than 30 seconds. This kit includes everything you need to make fresh sparkling water in your own home. Flavor it however you want, but we advise a squeeze of lemon, lime, vanilla extract or something else fresh and unprocessed. Buy it here.
Tip 4: Sweeten yogurt and oatmeal with vanilla and cinnamon instead of sugar. Use a great vanilla to make it even better.
Madagascar Vanilla Bean Paste | Buy Now
More viscous than vanilla extract and filled with vanilla pod seeds, this paste has a thick consistency similar to molasses, adding more delicious vanilla flavor to batters or sauces without thinning them out. Use the same amount of vanilla bean paste as you would vanilla extract in recipes. Buy it here.
Increase Nutrient Density
The easiest way to do this is to up your vegetable consumption, Kirshenbaum says. Think of it as adding more food into your life, rather than taking something away.
Tip 1: "For pasta lovers, a spiralizer to turn veggies into noodles is great!" she says. Spiralize a ton of vegetables and reduce the amount of wheat noodles in your meal by half. You'll still get your pasta fix, but pack in more vegetables. (Zucchini + Noodles = Zoodles)
OXO Handheld Spiralizer | Buy Now
This OXO spiralizer has a comfortable design to enable you to grip it better and waste less of the vegetable near the end. And a razor sharp blade with an open design allows you to spiralize anything from apples to zucchini. The sturdy, BPA-free material can be cleaned in the dishwasher too. Buy it here.
Tip 2: You can always shred vegetables and sneak them into dishes that don't usually include them. A box grater will shred them up and you can add them to anything: soups, stews, sauces, pancakes, muffins, eggs, pizza. "I've been known to add zucchini to brownies and have a bunch of 4-year-olds ask for seconds," Kirshenbaum says.
KitchenAid Box Grater | Buy Now
Sure, the stainless steel grating surface and slicing blade are rust resistant, but there's more that sets this box grater apart. Mainly, it's the 3-cup container with measured capacity markings that fits inside the box grater to catch the grated or sliced food. Stick the whole thing in the dishwasher. Buy it here.
Tip 3: Smoothies can be another great vehicle for vegetables. Get some creative ideas with a smoothie-specific cookbook.
Green Kitchen Smoothies Cookbook | Buy Now
Bestselling authors David Frenkiel and Luise Vindahl created this health-conscious book, which is divided into categories, such as simple smoothies, post-workout favorites, breakfast ideas, energizers, and desserts. Get recipes for nut milks and butters, granola and muesli — as well as their favorite juices. Highlights in the book include the Sleeping-in Smoothie, Green Stamina Workout, the Warm Smoothie, Green Bowl, and Apple Pie in a Glass. Buy it here.
Tip 4: To keep produce at the forefront of your mind, consider a beautiful fruit bowl for your counter.
Large Fruit Bowl | Buy Now
This show-stopping ceramic fruit bowl was hand-built from white clay, carved, and then decorated with a turquoise glaze. Buy it here.
Tip 5: Increase nutrient density by adding more spices and herbs. Consider updating your spice cabinet or trying something new.
Penzey's Fox Point Spices | Buy Now
This blend of salt, freeze-dried shallots, chives, garlic, onion, and green peppercorns bursts with rich flavor on anything from fish and chicken to vegetables and eggs. You can use it to make a yogurt dip, which also can be a topping for baked potatoes or the binder for a quick chicken or tuna salad. Store it in the refrigerator. Buy it here.
— Head Image: Ricotta & Radishes.
Amy Sowder is the assistant editor at Chowhound in New York City. She loves cheesy things, especially toasties and puns. She's trying to like mushrooms. Her running habit is the excuse for her gelato passion. Or is it the other way around? Follow her on Instagram, Twitter, and her blog, What Do I Eat Now. Learn more at AmySowder.com.