Many people want to be healthier but don’t know where to start. The first step is to figure out areas for improvement. Ditch chronic dieting, food guilt and meal skipping. Commit to making healthy changes starting today.
Discomfort with current weight or chronic health problems often motivates people to lose weight. Small changes make a big difference in weight loss and overall health. Lasting changes rarely take place overnight. Focus on daily choices to move toward
a healthier lifestyle.
A few small steps can be taken to lose weight:
- Choose healthy snacks. Hummus and carrots or fruit and low-fat yogurt are smart choices for satisfying hunger between meals.
- Track food intake. Eating extra calories can lead to weight gain over the course of a year. Paying attention to portions can ensure that every bite counts.
- Move more. Walk for 30–60 minutes to reduce disease risk and improve health.
- Eat breakfast. Eating a healthy breakfast prevents snacking later in the day.
- Prepare food at home. Home-cooked meals are often lower in calories and have more variety than restaurant meals.
Making Every Calorie Count
Healthy food choices do not have to be complicated. Individual food choices are less important than the overall pattern of eating. For instance, eating a piece of cake once in a while is different than the pattern of eating a piece of cake every day.
An eating pattern should focus on nutrient-dense foods that are full of vitamins and minerals. Eating foods from all of the food groups is a good idea for balance. Include items from two food groups at every snack, and from three to five food groups
at every meal.
The food groups are
Oils and fats also contain nutrients that are an important part of a healthy eating pattern. Dietary fats are found in both plant and animal foods. They supply calories for energy and help with the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. Oils and fats
add flavor to food and are important for nutrition but are high in calories and need to be eaten in moderation.
Understanding Food Labels
Check serving sizes. One container isn’t always one serving. Compare the container to what’s listed on the label as a serving size. Learning to read food labels can help with decision-making. There are three things to
remember when reading labels:
Pay attention to calories and avoid excess fats, sodium and added sugars. Added sugars are now listed on food labels to create awareness of sources of excess sugar. The recommended amount is no more than 36 grams of added sugar
per day for men and 25 grams for women.
Focus on getting more fiber, vitamin D, calcium, iron and potassium. When choosing a food, 10% of these individual nutrients is good, while 20% or more is excellent.
Choosing the right amount of food to meet hunger is a skill that can be developed. Learning to read food labels and estimate portion sizes are two ways to practice this skill. Choosing proper portion sizes also helps prevent food waste.
Beverage Choices Matter
Beverage choices contribute to total daily calories. Beverages can be nourishing; however, be aware of the empty-calorie beverage choices that can add significantly to daily total calories.
Beverage choices are especially important
for young children. Research shows that what children drink from birth through age 5 can have a big impact on their health since beverages are a big part of what they consume during this critical life stage. New recommendations by health care
professionals include plain water for hydration and plain pasteurized milk for nutrition. A limit on 100% juice consumption and limits or restrictions on added sugars in beverages are recommended.
Be Active … Get Moving!
Physical activity is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. The benefits of regular movement include:
- More energy
- Less stress
- Better sleep
- Lower risk of chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease
Physical activity can be in the form of exercise (jogging, walking, swimming) or everyday activities (gardening, car washing, stair climbing). Do it all at once or break it into smaller increments, aiming for 30–60 minutes total. To be active,
simply start moving.
Exercise should keep the heart rate elevated for a period of time. Thirty minutes of exercise, five days a week keeps the heart strong. Sixty to 90 minutes most days can help with weight loss goals or maintenance.
Strength training exercises like weightlifting, push-ups, sit-ups or yoga are also important since they build muscle, improve balance and strengthen bones.
No time for physical activity? Consider these options:
- Do jumping jacks or Pilates moves while watching TV.
- Use break time at work to stretch, walk and do simple exercises like squats and arm circles.
- Listen to a podcast while going for a walk or walk with a friend instead of sitting on the couch.
Make Healthier Choices Today
Small daily lifestyle changes can lead to better health. To get started, keep a food diary for a week, then evaluate it to see if a variety of foods from the food groups are included. For some people the simple act of writing what they eat and drink
improves the quality of their choices.
For information on label reading, food groups, activity and more, download the Activity + Eating for Adults self-instructional booklet below.