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The First of the Year Diet

Posted Dec 28 2008 3:36pm

“It’s so unfair,” wailed a friend who called to wish me a happy new year. “From October on, the magazines push recipes with enough calories to feed a den of hibernating bears. Now the same magazines are telling us to stop eating and go on a diet. Thank goodness for bulky sweaters. They will hide at least 5 pounds of Christmas cookies until my diet kicks in.”

It is curious how and why the tradition of New Year dieting began, but presumably it was based on the idea of returning to a frugal state of eating and drinking after several weeks of extravagant ingestion. A few years ago I was in England in the early part of January and everyone was talking about purifying their body and getting rid of the toxins left over from too many parties. But, as a colleague told me, “This healthy eating and abstinence from alcohol begins to become boring around the end of the month and people return to their former ways by February.”

Obviously eating healthily and exercising on a regular basis should be part of everyone’s life style. If they are not, they should be in the top ten New Year’s resolutions. But regardless of what diet books or weight-loss organizations tell you, January is probably the worst month to take off extra pounds easily and effectively.   The many hours of darkness each day is the enemy of weight loss.   Tiredness, lack of motivation, disinterest in engaging in activities that might take the place of mindless munching, pervasive sleepiness and a real desire for sweet and starchy foods conspire to make eating less and exercising more very difficult. This winter depression does not begin to lift until late in February when the increase in daylight hours becomes noticeable.

And unless you have a home gym, or at least some exercise equipment, bad weather will make it very hard to exercise on a regular basis.   That walk after supper, which is so appealing, may be life threatening in the winter if you venture out on icy sidewalks or the side of a road heaped high with snowdrifts. Bone-chilling cold makes doing errands by foot a punishment, so burning up calories by walking to the mailbox or convenience store stops being an option. Venturing out to the gym early in the morning or after work at night requires enormous dedication to a weight-loss and fitness regimen and thus the resolution to exercise regularly is one of the first to be discarded.

So what should you do in January in addition to wearing bulky sweaters?   Start immediately to eat healthier foods and eliminate the junk foods and beverages from 2008. Spend a Sunday afternoon going through your refrigerator and pantry shelves. Remove high-calorie snacks, prepared meals, and sugar-laden soft drinks. Replace them with vegetables, fruit, low-fat dairy products and lean protein like chicken breasts and salmon patties.

Also, eat less take-out and restaurant foods and more home prepared meals.   Take-out and restaurants foods are very high in fat because oil and butter are usually added to keep foods looking and tasting fresh even if they are made hours before they are sold.

Take some time and go through the supermarket to identify foods that are easy to prepare at home and which fit into a healthy diet. You will be surprised at how many foods come with most of the preparation already done. You don’t have to eat snacks that taste like flavored cardboard when you give up chips and high-fat crackers. Check out the low-calorie rice, corn and soy-based snacks. By using January as the month to alter your food buying and eating habits, you will find yourself prepared to follow a diet later on in the winter. And simply through this change in food choices you probably will find a few pounds gone.

Starting a consistent exercise regimen is a harder change to make if you don’t have or easy access to a health club. However, consider going to your library and renting an exercise DVD.    These are made for people who want to exercise for short periods at home. Take out a few and play them. Not all of them will appeal to you and indeed none may. But if you find one that you might consider using, then you will have it when you feel ready to undertake a consistent exercise regimen. And maybe you could try it out for a few minutes before you start on the real diet.  


The other things you can do to make your body a little more fit before the real workout regimen begins is to find and unwrap that piece of exercise equipment already in your house. If you rent movies, put the DVD player near that treadmill or bike and promise yourself that you will walk or bike for l0 minutes of the movie. If the movie captures your interest you might find yourself exercising longer than you planned. Even if you do this only once a week, it is better than nothing and prepares your body for a more vigorous workout later on.

By making these small but important changes, you will be fulfilling your New Year’s resolution to become healthier and more fit. They may be only baby steps on the way to a full-blown diet and exercise program. Still, they are important because they are getting your mind, as well as your body, prepared for a thinner and fitter you in 2009.   

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