Most of us start the New Year with the best of intentions. Eat well. Exercise more. Stress less. Sleep better. But to really change your life, you need to start with a checklist of simple, concrete ideas. Nothing too intense at first, because you’ll notice one good habit leads to another. In other words, once you master the smaller stuff, it’s easier to master the bigger stuff. For example, if you exercise regularly, your quality of sleep will naturally improve and your stress levels will go down. It’s win-win.
If you’re struggling to meet your health and wellness goals, here are some of the easiest switches I discovered this year that can help you live smarter without even noticing. Start today and get on the right track for long-term, sustainable weight loss – you’ll be feeling better in no time!
1. Leave the pots on the stove
To avoid overeating at dinner, borrow a trick from a study out of Cornell University. Researchers discovered that when people filled their plates before sitting down and left the serving dishes on the counter, they ate 20 percent fewer calories. Simply put, they were less likely to get up for seconds. Out of sight, out of mind is even true with food.
2. Drink a glass of water before each meal
Not only does water help make your skin look great and your body work more efficiently, it’s also proven to help you lose weight. In one study, people ate 90 fewer calories per meal when given two glasses of water beforehand. That’s a savings of almost 300 calories a day, which translates into about half-a-pound a week.
3. Switch to whole-grain pasta, bread and rice
Banish simple white breads and pastas from your diet once and for all. Instead, stock your pantry with complex carbs like brown pastas, bread and rice. They’ll help you feel full longer, keep your blood sugar stable and curb cravings. And if you already eat brown rice, try quinoa or black rice. Quinoa is one of the only grains that’s also a complete protein. And just one spoonful of black rice contains more disease-fighting antioxidants than a spoonful of blueberries (not to mention less sugar and more fibre).
4. Write down what you eat
People who keep a food diary are twice as likely to lose weight than those who don’t, reports a study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine. Use online tools such as Sparkpeople.com to ensure greater success.
5. Take the stairs
Climbing eight flights to get to and from your office isn’t realistic. Two to three flights on the other hand? That’s manageable. Make a promise to yourself that you’ll skip the escalator or elevator at the mall, train station or doctor’s office – or anytime you’ve only got a few floors to go.
6. Use a smaller plate
Need an easy trick to control portions? Simply replace your large dinner plates, bowls and glasses with smaller versions. The visual cue of a full plate – even when it’s a smaller one – will trigger your brain to think you’ve enjoyed a complete meal.
7. Schedule your workouts
If you keep planning to hit the gym but never make it, start scheduling your workouts as meetings in your calendar – and make attendance non-negotiable, even if you only commit to going for 10 minutes. The important thing is getting in the habit of doing it. For extra motivation, get a friend to join you.
8. Do 10 more
Next time you’re at the gym, kick your workout up a notch by adding 10 extra reps on each weight-training exercise or an extra 10 minutes on the treadmill or bike.
9. Snack on portable proteins
Think plain yogurt (sweetened with frozen berries), a couple slices of cheese or a handful of almonds. Pair them with a banana, carrot sticks or apple slices to keep cravings at bay. Bonus: If almonds are your go-to snack, you’ll also reap their cholesterol-lowering benefits.
10. Replace the chair in your office with an exercise ball
Building core strength gets more important as we age and a strong midsection is key to a healthy spine and proper posture. Start by sitting on an exercise ball for 15 minutes in the morning and afternoon, and gradually work your way up to an hour or more a day. Because the ball is not a stable surface it will challenge your core muscles, while you work.
In his new book, The Life You Want!, Oprah’s own exercise guru Bob Greene offers some of his own tried and true strategies for better living.
And if like me, part of your New Year’s resolution is to do more yoga, check out GAIAM’s super cute new yoga socks. They feature a grip on the sole so you won’t slip around the studio and they’ll keep your toes toasty through the winter.
Laurie Jennings is Chatelaine magazine’s health editor.