Organic Resolutions: Secrets to a Healthier, Happier & Wholesome New Year

Melinda Hemmelgarn, M.S., R.D.

Thinking about ways to live a healthier, more fulfilling life in 2012? Join the club. Many of us look forward to the New Year as a “clean slate”, the opportunity to start building a better future.  

Even though about half of all Americans say they make resolutions, by February most of our best intentions have withered away. That’s because we tend to bite off more than we can chew, feel overwhelmed, get discouraged, and then give up. Chalk it up to human nature.

Secrets for Success
According to psychiatrist William McCann, director of behavioral science education at North Carolina’s Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, one secret to realizing our goals boils down to taking small, achievable steps so we can feel successful. For example, say you’ve been sedentary for the past few years, and you want to be more physically fit. Better to start with a goal of walking 30 minutes four times a week, rather than running five miles every day. The first option is easier to achieve, and allows you to build from there.

Same with weight loss. If you’ve gained 20 pounds over the past five years, expecting to lose it all in a couple of months is unrealistic, despite what the latest diet guru promises.

As a dietitian, I can confirm your suspicions that D-I-E-T is a four-letter word in more ways than one. It’s tempting to buy into a new, exciting weight loss scheme, and January is chock-full of ads for diet books and products. But save your money. Diets tend to be overly restrictive, difficult to follow, uncomfortable, and expensive. Who wants to feel tired and hungry all the time? Worse, diets can lead to eating disorders. Better to eat sensibly, mindfully, and with pleasure. (More on that later.)

Another strategy for increasing our odds for success comes from researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. They recommend making Monday the day to commit (or recommit) to our resolutions, because we can evaluate our progress, and set achievable goals for the coming week. Sid Lerner, founder of the Healthy Monday Campaigns (1) says this approach gives us “52 chances for success.” Like the New Year, most of us see Monday as the day for a fresh start.

One Dozen Rewarding Resolutions for 2012

Below are twelve simple suggestions that can make a world of difference in enjoying a healthier, more wholesome New Year. You’ll discover that resolutions are often related -- when you achieve one goal, others likely fall into place.

1.     Eat mindfully. Start by asking a few basic questions: Where did my food come from; who produced it, and under what conditions? How will my food choices impact my family’s health, our environment, and the planet for future generations? You’ll find that a “conscious kitchen” makes for a kinder, gentler world.

2.     Become label literate. Beware of bogus terms. For example, the “natural” label doesn’t mean much. Instead, look for the USDA Organic seal – it provides legal assurance that our food is produced without antibiotics, sewage sludge, irradiation, synthetic pesticides, fertilizers or hormones, and without genetic engineering, or GMO (genetically modified) ingredients. Check ingredient lists. Unless labeled organic, the following are likely to be GMO: corn, soy, cottonseed oil, canola and sugar (if sourced from sugar beets). (4)

3.     Get Cooking! Home economists have a secret for eating well, within minutes, and on a dime. It’s this simple mantra: Cook once, eat twice. In other words, by preparing a large batch of favorite recipes, you can freeze extra portions to reheat during the busy workweek, and skip expensive, processed take-out or prepared meals. Plus, when you control the recipe, you’re in control of your family’s health. Cook from scratch with your kids (they’ll love spending time with you); pack organic lunches together; and share more meals at home. You’ll pocket the savings and reap rich rewards.

4.     Invest in your health. Look beyond price, and shop for food quality instead. What we spend on “good” food, we’ll save on doctor’s bills. Take soda, for example. It might seem like a cheap thirst-quencher, but sweetened drinks contribute to obesity and diabetes. Nutrient-rich organic milk, on the other hand, provides a bigger nutritional bang for our buck. Despite a higher price tag, organic food’s a bargain when you consider better nutrition, food safety, and environmental protection. (5) To help stretch your food dollar, use moderate portions of organic meat in stews and stir-fries to accompany heartier servings of whole grains and vegetables. Nourishing food is more satisfying, so when we eat higher quality food, less is more.

5.     Size check and color correct. To eat fewer calories, tweak your environment. (6) For example, when we use smaller bowls and plates, we automatically eat less. New research shows that we’ll also serve ourselves smaller portions if we choose dinnerware that has a contrasting color to our meal. Color plays a role in smart nutrition, too. Eating a rainbow of seasonal, organic produce helps prevent weight gain and a storm of chronic diseases. Keep a bowl of colorful organic fruit within sight and easy reach on your counter.

6.     Embrace the outdoors. For fun, inexpensive entertainment, search no further than Mother Nature’s playground in your backyard, local park, lake, river, or stream. Unplug, and trade screen time for green time. Turn family hikes into treasure hunts. Look for animal tracks, and collect rocks and wildflower seeds. Pack a picnic and invite some friends. Time in nature reduces stress, depression, symptoms of ADHD, and burns holiday calories. Plus, when we connect children with nature, they learn to love, respect, and protect their environment. (7)

7.     Minimize exposure to toxins. Think of organic food as “clean” food, produced without antibiotics, hormones, and pesticides. But pay attention to packaging too. Epoxy-lined cans and polycarbonate plastic can leach BPA, or bisphenol, into our food and mimic the hormone estrogen. Store water and leftover food in glass or stainless steel, and never microwave food in plastic or Styrofoam containers. Filter tap or well water to decrease exposure to cancer-causing chemicals. (8)(9)

8.     Eat a smart breakfast. Breakfast skippers come up short on nutrients and have a hard time controlling their weight. Bypass the donuts and sugary cereal, and choose some protein and dairy instead, such as an organic egg with whole grain toast and glass of milk or yogurt with berries. (10)

9.     Grow your own. Use cold winter nights to study seed catalogues and plan a new garden. Children love the magic of seed-to-harvest activities, and gardens turn picky eaters into vegetable lovers. Preserve your harvests for nourishing, inexpensive winter meals that reunite us with the sweet and savory tastes of summer. (11)(12)

10.  Fix your fat. Most American diets suffer from fat imbalance -- too many omega-6 fatty acids and too few omega-3s. Eating more omega-3 and less omega-6 fats can help reduce inflammation, depression and risk for heart disease. Corn, soy and safflower oils are high in omega-6 fatty acids. There are three categories of Omega-3’s : ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), in flaxseed, walnuts, plus milk and meat from cows raised on pasture; and, EPA (eicosapentanoic acid) and DHA (docosahexanoic acid), in fatty cold-water fish, fish oil supplements, and fortified products, such as Organic Valley Omega-3 Milk. (13)

11.  Snooze...and you’ll lose. Getting adequate sleep is critical to controlling appetite, weight, and just plain feeling good. Sleeping less than seven hours per night reduces insulin sensitivity and increases appetite.

12.  Eat with pleasure and purpose. Food nourishes us beyond nutrients. Sharing a meal with our friends and family provides a time to slow down, enjoy each other’s company and express gratitude for our food. Eating with the intention to feed your family “well” is one of the nicest ways to express your love.

Here’s to a Happy Organic New Year!

Sound Familiar?

Most people's resolutions include at least one of the following goals:

1. Lose weight.
2. Get in shape.
3. Get out of debt.
4. Spend more time with family and friends.
5. Quit smoking.

Make it Happen

Five sure-fire ways to realize your best intentions for the New Year:
* Write down your goals. Revisit your list daily to stay focused on the changes you wish to accomplish.
* Keep a written journal to track your progress. If you want to lose weight, keep a log of the foods you eat each day to track exactly what, when and why you eat.
* Plan ahead for dealing with barriers, setbacks and challenges. If you’re planning a trip, pack a few healthy, organic snacks so you won’t have to rely on whatever’s available when you feel hungry. If you do get off track, forgive yourself and get back on course.
* Seek positive social support. Get together with people who share common goals. Organize a walking group at work, or start an organic potluck club.
* Practice positive self-talk and visualization. See yourself achieving your goals. Believe in yourself and have confidence in your success.

The Future is Now: Leading Food Trends for 2012

Foodies with a crystal ball predict a few interesting trends for the New Year: (15)

* Foraging. Also known as “wild-crafting.” More of us will be combing the woods, and our backyards, for edible morsels, including native and heirloom plants, berries, herbs, flowers and fruits. Dandelion greens and aronia berries, anyone?

* Edible landscapes and urban gardens. Good-bye, grass, and hello, vegetables! Why mow when you can enjoy a fresh feast of greens from your front yard?

* Young farmers. More young, energetic farmers are heading back to the land for this most honorable (and necessary) profession. Thank you!

* Consumer demand for transparency. We want to know if GMOs are in our food and we want the right to choose. Just label it! (16)

Tell Us

Have you found the path to a new and improved you?
Share your resolution success stories

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