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Six Steps to Healthier Eating

January 2009

Soledad Hearon, Montclair State University Dietetic Intern
Karen Ensle Ed.D., RD, FADA, CFCS, Family and Community Health Sciences Educator
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County

The New Year is an opportunity to set resolutions to improve our lives and overall health. Weight loss is a common goal and where many resolutions for better health begin. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that, in 2007, 30 of the 50 states in the U.S. had a prevalence of obesity equal to or greater than 25%. New Jersey’s obesity rate is 23.5%. That means that almost one quarter of New Jersey’s residents are considered overweight.

Eating healthy and losing a modest amount of weight, as little 5% to 10% of your total body weight, can have tremendous benefits and decrease your risk of chronic disease such as diabetes, stroke, hypertension, heart disease, osteoarthritis, respiratory problems, and even some forms of cancer. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends following a healthy eating plan that allows for gradual and steady weight loss (1 to 2 pounds a week) over a period of time. Studies show that people who adopt a healthy eating plan that includes long-term changes in diet and exercise are more successful than others at keeping the weight off. A solid plan of action can set you on the right path to success. Following are six simple steps to consider:

Make a Commitment – Something as simple as writing a contract for yourself and having a friend or spouse sign it can make a drastic improvement in the success of your goal. Include in the contract: projected weight loss; dietary changes you plan to adopt for healthier eating; the date you start and the day you would like to achieve your goal; and personal reasons for the lifestyle change.

Note Your Starting Point – As an addendum to your contract, write down your current weight and height and clothing size. It is always recommended that you speak to a healthcare provider and discuss your plans and evaluate any health risks. Start keeping a food diary; it will help make you more aware of what you’re eating and when you are eating it.

Set Goals – Start with one longer-term goal and two or three short term goals. Each goal should be realistic, specific, and achievable. For example, if your longer term goal is to lose 30 pounds in one year; the short term goals might be to eat smaller portions or small meals six times a day, walk for 30 minutes a day five times a week, and eat breakfast every day within 60 to 90 minutes of waking up. Be sure to make allowances for occasional setbacks such as celebrations and holidays.

Develop Support Systems – Lifestyle changes are easier when you have resources you can rely on. Ask family and friends to join you, make plans to exercise together, attend weight loss meetings, and share healthy recipes. This may set the tone for the whole family to adopt a plan of healthier living.

Monitor Your Progress – On a weekly basis, evaluate your progress. If you’re having trouble achieving one of your goals, either change the way to achieve the goal or change the goal. For example, if eating 5 fruits and vegetables a day is one of your goals and it is becoming difficult to achieve, consider trying recipes that incorporate more fruits and vegetables in the dish rather than just eating them separately in the day and/or lower the amount to 4 fruits and vegetables a day until you can achieve eating five a day.

Identify Tools for Success - Identify websites with information to help you. There are many websites that can help you plan healthy meals and eating patterns such as

With nearly one quarter of New Jersey residents overweight, it is likely many of us will look to the New Year as an opportunity to begin a weight loss plan. Incorporating these six simple steps into your daily routine will help you achieve your resolution because they provide a solid foundation for a healthier lifestyle. Best wishes for a happy and healthy new year.