As we enter the holiday season, it’s a good time to talk about healthy eating.

About a year ago, I read a terrific letter to the editor that led me to the Web site of the American Heart Association (AHA). In the letter, which appeared in the Record, a newspaper in northern New Jersey, Steve and Christian Estrellado, volunteers with the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, wrote:

It’s that time again when we tend to hear discussions about New Year’s resolutions such as eating healthier, going to the gym and cutting back on sweets. Resolutions are passionately set, but as winter drags on, we slowly fall off the wagon. Suddenly the gym is less crowded and the lines for fast food are longer than ever. 

Since March 21, 2014, we lost more than 75 pounds by making a complete lifestyle change. With realistic goals and milestones, we have improved our diets and made exercise a daily habit.

Instead of making resolutions this year, make an intention. When you intend to do something good for your body, it’s possible to fail. But unlike resolutions, you don’t have to wait until next year to start over. Intend to live healthier and you can restart at any time.

We’ve found that little changes can add up to big results. That’s why we live by the American Heart Association’s Life Simple 7 program. There are seven manageable improvements to your health that can make a big difference. Start by watching your blood sugar and reducing your sugar intake. Our pledge is to inspire the world to lose 10 pounds. With the New Year around the corner, what are your intentions?

Once on the AHA Web site, I was able to read about Life’s Simple 7® (7 Small Steps to Big Changes: manage blood pressure, control cholesterol, reduce blood sugar, get active, eat better, lose (extra) weight, and stop smoking—key health factors and behaviors that keep your heart healthy, lower your risks of heart disease and stroke, and improve your quality of life.)

The site has lots of great information, including suggestions I strongly agree with about healthy eating. Specifically, they make it clear in bold, red type, “There’s a lot more to eating right than just watching your weight.”

Riska Platt, RD, a nutrition consultant and volunteer for the American Heart Association says on the site, “More and more diseases…are tied to foods that we eat.”

The first step they suggest for eating right is to figure out what you’re eating by keeping a food diary. They also suggest making notes about what’s going on in your life each day so you can determine how that may be driving eating decisions.

Other suggestions:

  • Reading nutrition labels and limiting saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, and added sugars.
  • Meeting with a nutritionist or registered dietitian to help you create a nutrition plan that will put you on the right track.
  • Understanding portion size and what you need in a day to avoid high-calorie foods and to avoid overeating “healthy” foods.

Another suggestion I strongly agree with is to set small goals. As you likely know, I advocate breaking down big goals into small pieces, and focusing on them one at a time for the 21 days it takes to create a habit.

“Setting yourself up for success makes you more likely to remain motivated to reach your larger goals,” Platt says. Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, and more recently Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business, similarly said in an interview in Fast Company magazine, “A stretch goal is a huge ambition. It inspires our motivation and dreams. But it can create panic.” To avoid that, Duhigg suggests breaking them down into shorter-term goals that will seem more achievable.

Platt advocates tackling a big problem with gradual steps. “For example, if you’re overeating sweets, such as having ice cream every night, start by eating half as much each time, then shift to every other day and then once a week; that is more realistic than trying to eliminate it all at once. Plan for the long term. Make changes you can continue with, not just do for a few weeks or months.”

How many of the AHA’s “Life’s Simple 7” do you do? Please join the conversation with your comments…

Best regards,