A healthier new year: Our daily list of 31 habits to start introducing during December

Post date: Dec 1, 2015 8:14:18 AM

As 2015 comes to a close, and the new year being just around the corner, we find ourselves doing some soul searching and looking to establish or reestablish personal and life goals. Gyms and fitness trainers love this time of year. Weight loss and healthy lifestyle goals repeatedly top the list of new years resolutions but are seldom kept. Unfortunately, that first day back at the gym while still recovering from that New Years eve party can be particularly painful causing most of us to quickly realize thats it’s only a matter of time before we lose steam.

Even for those of us who like to “wing it”, preparation is ALWAYS the key to success. A few minor, consistent changes ahead of the big leap may help create the momentum we need to keep us on track once the new year rolls around, which is why we have decided to help our patients plan and prepare before executing their New Year’s resolution for a healthier self with a 31 day check list. Join us as we introduce a new habit each day during December…READY? Here we go…

Day 1

Start with a plan

When looking at the calendar, it can seem overwhelming to have a plan for the month let alone the year. Remember that the idea is to make life long changes…there is no deadline to a healthy lifestyle. However, to build on that, we need to start somewhere.

Starting with a weekly meal plan can help organize your sense of direction and keep you on track.

Day 2

Use a smaller plate and consider each option

We are a society of excess in so many ways. We love the super sized portions, free refills, and big gulps for a reason. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Remember controlling our portion size helps us control our waist size.

Make a conscious decision each time you eat to make sure you make the right choice in what to eat and how much to eat.

Day 3

Get plenty of sleep

Lets face it, when we are tired, we make poor decisions, and being chronically fatigued and sleep deprived only further perpetuates our bad decisions which lead to over eating and weight gain, which in turn makes us more tired. Additionally the stress wreaks havoc on our health and can also contribute to weight gain. Until we break that cycle, the symptoms continue. They don't call it beauty sleep for no reason!

Day 4

Make a commitment and stick with it

This seems like such a simple concept, but health is a life long commitment, so how can we assume that a 4 day investment will change our future? There are days when we will feel less driven, but the idea is to continue making better choices and forming better habits.

Day 5

Find your inner motivation.

Most of us have tried to shed a few pounds for a reunion or a wedding, but after the event, we often times find ourselves falling into the same routine and dietary pitfalls. Health is a lifelong commitment, so finding your inner most desire to staying healthy is key. Consider longevity and quality of life, maintaining independence or just being there for your loved ones. A healthy lifestyle helps boost confidence and energy levels along with helping you look and feel younger. What ever the reason, make sure it is a long term goal. Write it down, put it on the fridge, or set it as a reminder on your phone, seeing it on a daily basis will help keep you on track.

When you feel like quitting think about why you started

Day 6

Set realistic goals

We come in all shapes and sizes, and it is important to understand what is best for YOU. While this blog is primarily geared toward those trying to maintain or lose weight, underweight patients can feel pressure to put weight on in an unhealthy manner, or in an unnatural body distribution as well. The goal, regardless of which direction you would like to take your weight and body image, is to start will smaller goals.

Keeping the big picture in mind is important, but breaking it up into bite sized pieces (pun intended) makes it easy to not get overwhelmed.

Day 7

Decrease sugars and conquer carbs.

High sugar intake has been linked to increased cancer incidence, aging skin, cataracts and many other disease processes. Gaining research is beginning to give more and more weight (there we go again with the puns!) to the deleterious effects of sugar and carbohydrates. While we see the changes in our diabetic populations more dramatically, the changes are also evident in our nondiabetics as well. Sugars come in many different forms (ranging from pastries and donuts to bread, rice and pastas). Each individual's optimal carb intake varies based on body composition, age, gender, activity level and metabolic health. It's important to cut out the obvious processed high carbohydrate foods but also watch out for foods with a high glycemic index i.e. bananas and apples.

For all you sweet toothes out there- here are a few tips you can use to curb your cravings: increase your dietary fiber as this helps stabilize your blood sugar and also chromium can also help decrease your sugar cravings, add cinnamon to your morning oatmeal, and increase your daily non-animal protein. As you start to decrease the amount of sugar you eat and resensitize your taste buds, you will realize you will not require as much sugar to satisfy your palate.

Take inventory of your carbohydrate intake (We will revisit this topic, so stay tuned...), and then look for things to cut back.

Day 8

Add more fruits into your diet

Adding fresh fruits into your diet can help you get in that additional supplementation of vitamins, fiber and antioxidants. If you're craving something sweet, grab

some fruit instead of those holiday cookies and candy. Fruits that are fresh and in season tend to be more flavorful and much more nutritious.

Eat in season whenever you can.

Day 9:

Switch to a leaner meat

Meats are a good source of complete protein, however, eating high fat meats can often negate the nutritional benefits you can get from meat. According to the USDA, lean meat must contain less than 10 g of total fat, including fewer than 4.5 g of saturated fat in a 3 oz serving. To qualify as extra-lean, the same serving should size have less than 5 g of total fat and 2 g of saturated fat. Also, reducing the amount of red meat has a number of studies that support cardiovascular health which means poultry and fish (which also can contain higher concentrations of omega-3s, which are a "good fat") are your best bets. Lean meats are loaded with B12, iron, complete protein, and contain less saturated than higher fat cuts of meat.

When preparing your meals, be sure to trim the extra fat so you don't have to!

Day 10

Snack but snack smart

This one seems to always stir a bit of controversy in the diet world. The way I see it, hunger is not a medical emergency (in most cases), but it can cause us to make poorer food choices when the possibility of food becomes an option. Snacking between meals can help us maintain a sense of civility when choosing the type and quantity of food we are about to consume, whereas being hungry may cause us to reach for a larger plate (see day 2). When choosing a snack, plan ahead here too. Don't stock cookies and candies for a quick sugar surge.

Pack healthy, low sugar snacks, and keep an eye on your serving sizes.

Day 11

Ditch the sugary drinks

Soda, pop, coke...whatever you call it...GET RID OF IT NOW!!! I've had many patients tell me they hate the taste of water, and that soda is usually their go-to beverage of choice. As a compromise, they often will reach for juice. Both of these are wrong answers. While I appreciate their honesty, I encourage my patients to stay away from the sugary drinks...there is no nutritional value in soda, and yet the calories are there. Same goes for most juices. When opting for something to quench your thirst, reach for water. For an added taste...infuse with some fruit or herbs.

Not only will it help your weight by reducing caloric intake, but it will help minimize hunger and help minimize dry crepiness and breakouts giving you a youthful glow.

Day 12

Start moving for 30 minutes daily

Exercise can help regulate mood and energy levels along with helping with weight management, and can help prevent heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis (if weight bearing exercises are implemented, and certain kinds of cancers. Most of us in the modern world have somewhat sedentary lifestyles. When pertaining to the obesity epidemic in our society, we may be active, but not active enough...so get moving!

Exercise truly is the fountain of youth.

Day 13

Speaking of fountains...

Our bodies are made up of 60% water...it NEEDS water for basic functional processes. These functions include digestion, absorption, circulation, transportation

of nutrients, maintenance of body temperature and kidney health. Conversely even minimal dehydration can cause headaches, fatigue and stimulate our hunger centers causing us to consume more unnecessary calories, among other things.

The old recommendation of 8 glasses of water a day is a helpful guideline but that exact quantity is different for everyone...

so drink till you pee clear!

Day 14

Keep records

Food and exercise diaries have become increasingly popular with lifestyle apps and "personal trainer" technologies.

Keeping a record of your food intake BEFORE YOU EAT(quality and quantity, along with caloric density), and logging exercise AFTER THE activity allows you to stay accountable for your actions.

Day 15

Increase fiber intake

Based on research of the cardiac benefits, the recommended amounts of dietary fiber are 25 g for adult women and 38 g for adult males based on an article published on the American dietetics association website (whereas the average American consumes about 17g/day). Higher intakes of dietary fiber reduce the risk of development of several chronic diseases (type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers) and have been associated with better weight control.

Adding whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes and nuts is a great way to increase dietary fiber intake without the added sugar and fats.

Day 16

Start a multivitamin

The average American diet fails to meet dietary recommendations for many reasons, including unhealthy food options/choices, rigorous dieting, poor appetite, or changing nutritional needs. While healthy eating remains the best source of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, a multivitamin can be an easy way to fill in small nutritional insufficiencies.

Multivitamins should not be a substitute for healthy diet and lifestyle, but it can provide a nutritional back-up for a less-than-ideal diet.

Day 17

Implement weight bearing exercises

Weight-bearing exercise helps make the bones both stronger and more dense. Stronger bones mean less chance of injury and can mean a reduced risk of osteoporosis (brittle, weakened bones). Overall, it can also help increase stamina, slow the aging process, and helps tremendously with arthritis pain. Those who do weight-bearing exercises regularly tend to have leaner bodies, which leads to a decreased risk of weight related diseases.

Day 18

Decrease salt intake

Low sodium diets have long been recommended to patients with high blood pressure since hypertension is a main contributor to heart disease. The trouble is, so many foods contain large amounts of sodium, so it can be difficult to avoid. Read labels, look at sodium content per serving size, and

avoid prepackaged/pre-prepared foods.

Not only will this help overall cardiac health, but you'll look and feel slimmer once that excess water weight and bloating falls away.

Day 19

It's Saturday, be mindful

We look forward to weekends, but we tend to derail when we fall out of routine. Weekends are typically "cheat" days for my patients. Now, while I'm not a fan of cheat days, I also realize that some stay focused when being rewarded for staying disciplined. It's okay to live a little, but think moderation.

Set limits early, and don't go overboard...slow and steady wins the race.

Day 20

Get some rest, enjoy yourself

Congrats! We've made it to day 20, and hopefully your changes have been cumulative. Remember to take a break. I wrote about cheat days yesterday, but there should be a distinct difference between cheat days and rest days. Give the body some rest between exercise days to help heal injured muscles and other soft tissues.

Rest will help your body repair itself, lower stress levels and keep you on track.

Day 21

Turn off the tv while eating

So much attention is given to the dangers of multitasking these days-driving while distracted being a hot topic, eating while distracted can also be dangerous. Pay attention to your meals, it's much easier to choose unhealthy foods and consume more of it (and faster) when eating with the TV on.

Day 22

Slow down your meals

We are a nation of instant gratification. Everything moves more quickly, and although we feel that this makes us efficient, but we lose the essence of what we are doing. Mealtime is no different. Slowing down your meals can help you not only allow your "I'm full" centers to catch up with your mouth, but also helps you focus on what your doing.

Don't let mealtime be a blur... savor the flavor

Day 23

Keep yourself motivated (see day 5)

Although there are so many more helpful tips to squeeze into this month, I want to repeat myself for the sake of importance. Go back to day 5, and remind yourself of why you are reading this blog and why you've read until day 23. Although I suggested at the beginning of the month that these tips should be additive and applied cumulatively, I think that our goals should be regularly assessed, revised and reaffirmed.

Motivation and accountability are ultimately the keystones to a healthier lifestyle.

Day 24

Drink water before each meal

Many weight loss experts recommend drinking a glass of water before eating a meal or snack. Why? The reason is that for most, recognizing hunger for many sends them searching for food, often before they need to eat, and even still, they tend to eat more at each sitting.

Drinking a glass of water before each meal means consuming fewer calories.

Day 25

Increase your protein

With high protein diets being all the rage at the moment, I think the subject is worth touching upon. While high protein diets may not be for EVERYONE, we do see many benefits to increasing protein intake. Protein is more filling than fats and carbohydrates. This means we feel more satisfied when we eat it, and when we feel more satisfied, we naturally eat less (and therefore consume fewer calories). Also it helps repair muscles and other connective tissue which allows you to bounce back from those workouts.

Consuming less calories + more effective work outs= weight loss.

Day 26

Start with a sensible breakfast

Regular breakfast has been linked to lower body weights, increased energy levels, improved short term memory, improved blood sugar and cholesterol levels. The key is that those who consume breakfast are not likely grabbing daily breakfast at the drive-thru window. Grab breakfast regularly, but make sure it's high in fiber, nutrients and lean protein, and low on sugars and fats in order to get the benefits of breakfast.

Day 27

Start implementing more greens into your diet (plant based/Mediterranean)

As Americans, we are known for our "red meat and potatoes"-ness, and in some cultures, vegetarians are in the majority. As our food culture shifts, we are seeing a dietary shift away from carnivorous diets. "Plant based" diets tend to consistently support weight loss, heart health, and lower incidences of chronic diseases. These don't necessarily imply vegan or vegetarian diet, but rather a diet enriched with nutrient packed fruits and vegetables (most of us lack sufficient intake anyway).

Day 28

Going up?

Personal activity trackers have revolutionized the health and wellness industry by allowing us to take accountability into our own hands (or wrists). Knowing our daily level of routine activity allows us to be cognizant of areas for improvement. One easy way to add steps on to you activity tracker? Take the stairs!

Small additions like taking the stairs will help you step up your weight loss efforts without going out of your way.

Day 29

Use music to help you get moving

What Rocky did for boxing, hoodies and Philadelphia pales in comparison to what the sound track did for my work outs. Getting you in the zone, keeping cadence and staying inspired are some of the reasons why jamming out while you work out go together so well.

Music can tend to get you to and through your work outs.

Day 30

Try AM workouts

The early bird catches the worm. I'm a night owl so mornings tend to be tough, but even I'll admit that mornings set the pace for the rest of the day. As our day fills with commitments and distractions, working out gets harder to stick with. Morning routines have been found to help with quality of sleep, energy, alertness levels throughout the day, and studies show that those who work out in the am are more likely to adhere to their new activity.

Any movement is good regardless of what time you do it, but why not increase your odds of "stick-to-it-ivity".

Day 31


Eliminate the burden of daily toxins by decreasing alcohol (beware of those New Years celebrations), coffee, cigarettes, saturated fats and refined sugars, but also minimize that cortisol (stress hormone) load by decreasing stress and focusing on yoga, deep breathing and meditation.

Tomorrow is a new day and a new year, so let's get started!

Now that you've gradually introduced these healthy habits, here's to a new year of health!

Written by Mandeep Bajwa, MD