Your Health, Your Choice | March

Eat breakfast. Start your morning with lean protein, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Try making a breakfast burrito with scrambled eggs, cheese, salsa and a whole wheat tortilla or a parfait with yogurt, fruit and whole grain cereal.

Make half your plate fruits and vegetables. Fruits and veggies add vitamins, minerals and fiber to your plate. Make 2 cups of fruit and 2 ½ cups of vegetables your daily goal.

Watch portion sizes. Get out the measuring cups and see how close your portions are to the recommended serving size. Use half your plate for fruits and vegetables and the other half for grains and lean protein foods.

Fix healthy snacks. Choose from two or more of grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy, and protein. Try raw veggies with low-fat cottage cheese, or a tablespoon of peanut butter with an apple or banana.

Get to know food labels. Reading the nutrition facts panel can help you shop and eat or drink smarter.

Consult an RDN. Registered dietitian nutritionists can help you by providing sound, easy-to-follow personalized nutrition advice.

Get cooking. Preparing foods at home is healthier and cost-effective. The collection of “How Do I…” videos at www.eatright.org/howdoi will help.

Dine out without ditching your goals. Ask questions and choose foods carefully. Compare nutrition information, and look for healthier options that are grilled, baked, broiled or steamed.

Plan to eat as a family. Set a regular mealtime. Turn off the tv, phones and devices to encourage mealtime talk. Involve kids to reinforce healthy choices.

Drink more water. Quench your thirst by drinking water instead of sugary drinks.

Cut back on added sugars. Foods and drinks with added sugars can contribute empty calories and little or no nutrition.

The physical benefits of exercise — improving physical condition and fighting disease — have long been established, and physicians always encourage staying physically active.

Exercise is also considered vital for maintaining mental fitness, and it can reduce stress. Studies show that it is very effective at reducing fatigue, improving alertness and concentration, and at enhancing overall cognitive function. This can be especially helpful when stress has depleted your energy or ability to concentrate.

When stress affects the brain, with its many nerve connections, the rest of the body feels the impact as well. Or, if your body feels better, so does your mind. Exercise and other physical activity produce endorphins — chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers — and also improve the ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress.

Scientists have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem. About five minutes of aerobic exercise can begin to stimulate anti-anxiety effects.

Relationship of exercise to anxiety disorders. Stress and anxiety are a normal part of life, but anxiety disorders, which affect 40 million adults, are the most common psychiatric illnesses in the U.S. The benefits of exercise may well extend beyond stress relief to improving anxiety and related disorders.

Psychologists studying how exercise relieves anxiety and depression suggest that a 10-minute walk may be just as good as a 45-minute workout. Science has also provided some evidence that physically active people have lower rates of anxiety and depression than sedentary people.

Exercise as Part of Therapy. According to some studies, regular exercise works as well as medication for some people to reduce  symptoms of anxiety and depression, and the effects can be long lasting. One vigorous exercise session can help alleviate symptoms for hours, and a regular schedule may significantly reduce them over time.

Many people find that there are not enough waking hours to accomplish all we need to do. Work, long commutes, e-mail, family responsibilities and household chores can eat up much of our waking time. But sleep deprivation can have effects on both your mental and physical health.

So what are these negative effects of not getting enough sleep?

  1. Lower stress threshold. When you’re tired, routine activities can feel like overwhelming tasks.
  2. Impaired memory. Deep sleep fosters the formation of connections between cells, and REM sleep aids in memory formation.
  3. Trouble concentrating. When you’re dragging yourself through the day, it’s hard to stay alert and focused. Sleep-deprived people have trouble focusing on tasks and overestimate their performance.
  4. Decreased optimism and sociability. Whether it’s the effort we have to put into staying awake, sleep deprivation makes us less hopeful or friendly.
  5. Impaired creativity and innovation. A growing body of research suggests that sleep deprivation may have a particular effect on cognitive processes that rely on our experience of emotions.
  6. Increased resting blood pressure. Several studies have found that sleep deprivation leads to increased blood pressure.
  7. Increased food consumption and appetite. Research indicates that acute sleep loss enhances pleasure response processing in the brain underlying the drive to consume food.
  8. Increased risk of cardiac morbidity. A number of factors can lead to an increased risk of heart attacks, and sleep deprivation is one of them.

Be realistic about your expectations. Weight loss takes time. You’re going to see dramatic change and then it’s going to plateau for a while.

Look at the big picture. You can’t just adopt a new diet and change nothing else in your life. Be mindful of your sleep, exercise, and stress. When you ignore one, it can sabotage the others.

Forget quick fixes. When you want to lose weight, you need to morph your new dietary changes into lifelong habits. This mental shift will help you spot and avoid quick fixes (juice cleanses) that are not sustainable in the long term.

Master just one habit. Don’t overwhelm yourself. Just start with one: whether it’s drinking a gallon of water every day, cutting out the afternoon bag of chips, or eliminating creamer from your morning coffee.

Don’t focus on the numbers. Hitting your first weight loss target is great—but don’t get too caught up in the numbers. Try to create a few unmeasurable goals as well.

Crowd out the junk. Before you take “bad” foods away, try adding the things that your diet’s lacking. For most people that means eating more vegetables and drinking more water. The more “good” foods you consume, will also improve your digestion, immune system, and overall mood.

Reduce your white flour intake. Replacing refined grains with fiber- and protein-rich whole grains gives you the most fiber and nutrients. Size up your food. Eating reasonable portions is critical for weight loss. Implementing—proper portion sizes will help you reach your weight loss goals.

Persistence is the key. No one experiences substantial weight loss without a few setbacks. It is imperative that you don’t let those little slip-ups derail your progress. When you do have a bad day, it helps to calm down, and recognize this is part of the learning process. Just forgive and move forward.