Create a healthier lifestyle 1 week at a time
Instead, try setting weekly mini-goals, which can help make intentions like losing weight, lowering your cholesterol, or adopting a plant-based diet less daunting and achievable.
This is how I have always worked with clients: I teach them about slow, gradual behavioral changes that, when combined, result in significant health improvements over time.
The good thing about setting small goals — and what makes them achievable — is that they don’t require major changes to your daily routine. To be successful, these goals must be realistic and specific, with measurable results.
Here is an example of a simple week-by-week guide to eating well and being healthier:
Week 1: Improve your breakfast by making it high in protein
If you eat a high-carb breakfast and are struggling with mid-morning hunger and energy slumps, add protein to your morning meal. Protein will help keep your blood sugar levels stable and keep you feeling full.
Week 2: Add a vegetable to lunch and dinner
It’s a simple way to make your plate more plant-based while increasing fiber. Here are some creative ways to add vegetables to your daily diet.
Include spinach leaves in a sandwich; snack on baby carrots and hummus; add a mixed green salad as part of dinner; enjoy mashed cauliflower instead of baked potatoes; roasted Brussels sprouts, rainbow carrots or diced eggplant on the side; add broccoli, mushrooms or cherry tomatoes to pasta; stir-fry with peppers, kale or hearts of palm; or enjoy sliced ripe tomatoes or sliced cucumber with a small amount of olive oil and a pinch of salt.
Week 3: Add two fruits each day
Adding fruit to your diet will boost vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber, and is a great way to satisfy a sweet tooth without consuming added sugars. It’s easy to make as an on-the-go snack or add to a meal.
Add strawberries or blueberries to breakfast cereal or yogurt; grab a clementine for a snack; eat a banana with almond or peanut butter to relieve midday hunger; cut a kiwi in half and eat it with a spoon; have berries with whipped cream for dessert, or peaches with fat-free whipped topping; or enjoy apple or mango crisps as a portable snack.
Week 4: Add an 8 ounce glass of water with each meal
It’s an easy way to remember to hydrate. Replacing water with higher-calorie beverages can also help you cut added sugars from your diet and limit your alcohol intake. To brighten the water, add lemon or orange slices to plain water or seltzer water.
Week 5: Take a tea break
Week 6: Cut your portions in half
One of the easiest ways to cut calories without having to measure or weigh food is to simply cut your portion sizes in half.
For example, the eyeball can cause an 8 ounce serving of chicken, fish, or meat to become 4 ounces; similarly, a 2 cup bowl of pasta divided in half becomes 1 cup. Choose your largest portions of protein and starches each day and reduce them by dividing them into two halves.
Week 7: Find 20 minutes of fitness a day
Adjusting to fitness can be difficult, especially with a busy schedule. Start small by doing 20 minutes of cardio, stretching, strength training, or any other activity that makes your body feel good. Exercise can boost circulation and improve your mood, and can also help you eat better and sleep better.
Week 8: Replace refined grains with whole grains
Try eating a sandwich with whole-wheat bread instead of white bread, enjoy oatmeal for breakfast, choose whole-wheat pasta or crackers instead of refined versions, and opt for brown rice (including included with sushi) instead of white rice.
Week 9: Add one “Meatless Meal” per week
Week 10: Replace a high-sugar food with a less sugary version
Examples include sliced fruit instead of sweet jam on toast, salsa instead of ketchup, or “nice” frozen banana cream instead of ice cream. You can also use cinnamon instead of sugar as a spice for cereals, oatmeal, and baked goods.
Week 11: Stop buying trigger foods and drinks
It can be hard to resist tempting foods and sweets when they take pride of place in your kitchen. There’s a lot to be said for Out of Sight, Out of Mind. Make it easier to stick to your goals by avoiding your trigger foods. Do not bring cookies, chips, sweets, high calorie drinks or other similar foods from the supermarket.
Week 12: Get more sleep
By making these changes to your daily diet, you’ll naturally crowd out unhealthy foods and drinks while creating a healthier lifestyle one week at a time.
Lisa Drayer is a nutritionist, author, and CNN health and nutrition contributor.