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Begin a New Approach to Food in the New Year

Begin a New Approach to Food in the New Year

As the holidays come to a close, it’s time to think about the New Year and of course those resolutions. Like many people, you may resolve to lose weight every year, only to find yourself back to your same old habits halfway through January.

“I really encourage people to focus on eating a diet filled with a variety or healthy food options rather than just focusing on losing weight,” said Matthew Sciamanna, a registered dietitian and director of Food and Nutrition Services at Washington Hospital. “What you eat is a major component to healthy living. If you can stick to a diet filled with a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean sources of protein, you will feel better and the weight will likely come off as a result of the lifestyle changes you make. Rather than only focusing on weight loss, focus on developing a healthier way of eating that you can live with long term.”

Sciamanna continued, “To be successful, you need to have a reason for eating healthier that is meaningful to you,” he added. “It could be to set a good example for your kids, to have more energy, or to better manage a chronic illness like diabetes. Losing weight could be another one, just don’t get too caught up in it. Keep the focus on healthy eating. There will be barriers to success, so you need to know what’s in it for you.”

He suggested setting small goals that you can accomplish and then write them down. Start by picking something you know you can do right away.

“If your goal is too big or global, you make it more likely that the incremental progress you make will not meet the expectations you have. This will be discouraging and leave you more likely to pick up the older habits you were trying to change,” he warned. “It also won’t work to just make a laundry list such as, eat more fruit or eat fewer desserts.”

For example, you may decide that once a week you will have a vegetarian dinner. This is something easy you can incorporate into your life immediately.

“Having something you can be successful at right away helps you get on track,” Sciamanna emphasized. “Then start setting goals that can be measured, such as deciding you will eat a serving of vegetables at lunch every day for two weeks.”

He said another goal may be to say for the next week, you will have three food groups at breakfast every morning, such as fruit, protein and grains. That could include a banana, some egg whites and whole grain cereal.

“When you start getting these wins, you can build on them and it becomes easier,” Sciamanna explained. “That’s why you should write down your goals and keep track of how well you do. Measuring success is important.”

Getting Back to Basics

Eating healthier is really about getting back to basics, Sciamanna noted. That means avoiding highly processed foods as much as possible and eating more fresh foods. His advice extends to grocery shopping tips. “Have a list to avoid impulse buys and try not to go to the store hungry. Fill your cart with items from the perimeter,” he recommended. “Then you can venture into the middle to find some of the other items on your list. The middle is where you will find more of the highly processed foods you are trying to reduce, including cookies, crackers and potato chips.” It’s not to say you can’t have these in moderation, but rather it’s important to focus on a balance of foods from the major food groups.

Sciamanna said to stick to fruits and vegetables that are in season, if possible; that way you can enjoy the benefits of locally grown, sustainable food choices that offer great taste.

He also suggested eating more fish, which is a great source of lean protein and for some varieties, a source of healthy fats. Whole grains and low fat or nonfat dairy or dairy alternatives also play a role in a healthy diet.

When you decide to buy packaged products, it’s important to read labels, Sciamanna said. Avoid foods with hydrogenated oils and high levels of sodium. Look for products with whole grains rather than processed. You can see this by looking for the words “whole grain” in the ingredients list or shop for raw whole grains like brown rice or quinoa.

If you want to eat a more healthy diet, you need to plan around some of the barriers so you don’t get derailed. For example, if time is an issue, buy fruits and vegetables that are precut so you can just grab them and go. The extra cost is worth it if it helps you stay on course.

“Get the whole family involved, or maybe a co-worker,” Sciamanna recommended. “That way you don’t have to do it alone. You can compare notes and share ideas on how to stick with your plan and reach your goals.”

For information about programs and services at Washington Hospital that can help you stay healthy in the New Year, visit If you are looking for a primary care physician, visit and review physician profiles.