With the holidays here and a new year on its way, many of us, at the very least, are thinking about how to get back – and stay – on track with a healthier diet and lifestyle. But with plenty of holiday get-togethers and celebrations still on the horizon, you may think it doesn't make sense – or you just don't have the time – to make any meaningful food or fitness changes before January hits. I beg to differ!
To help motivate you to make some changes, even small ones, in what (and how much) goes into your mouth and how you move your body, here's a roundup of five of my favorite tools. I have no doubt that if you try them, you'll not only get on a more healthful eating and lifestyle course, but you'll be motivated to stay on it well beyond the start of the new year.
• "The Pinterest Diet: How to Pin Your Way to Thin" (Price: $19.95)
Written by registered dietitian and fellow Eat + Run blogger Mitzi Dulan, a Pinterest superstar with more than 3.5 million followers, The Pinterest Diet provides an alternative to what Dulan calls the 3 D's of diets – discipline, denial and deprivation.
The book teaches readers how to develop healthier and sustainable eating and fitness habits and shed unwanted pounds using Pinterest, a virtual pinboard that enables users to organize and share images and information found on the Web. Throughout the book, Dulan shows readers how in only 10 minutes a day, they can create their own motivating and empowering Pinterest boards tailored to their unique goals, preferences and passions.
Asked what it is about Pinterest that helps people lose weight or simply get healthier, Dulan replies in an e-mail that "Pinterest makes it fun. A big part of my book is integrating my nutritional and fitness philosophies that have worked for years with clients, and I have found Pinterest to be a perfect vehicle for doing just that."
In The Pinterest Diet, readers can expect to find Dulan's top food recommendations, which include "MSF (Most Satisfying Foods) Factor Foods" that contain protein, fiber and healthy fats along with more than 50 recipes and 30 days of workouts, each lasting anywhere from 4 to 30 minutes.
• PortionMate (Price: $14.95)
This set of brightly colored cylinders is an easy-to-use meal and snack measuring tool and comes with a nutrition and meal-planning guide that follows American Diabetes Association and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommendations. Small enough to stash in a kitchen or desk drawer or to bring with you when you travel, it allows you to quickly and easily measure appropriate portions of carbohydrate- and protein-rich foods including fruits, vegetables, cereals and other grains, meats, cheese, nuts and seeds directly onto a plate or into a bowl.
Each cylinder has a color that corresponds to specific food groups. To use the tool, you simply choose the desired color cylinder, place it into your plate or bowl, fill it with food, lift and remove the cylinder and voila – you have perfect-sized portions for meals and snacks.
The tool is praised by many registered dietitians, among them Rebecca Bitzer of Maryland, who calls the measuring devices and accompanying nutrition guide "great tools to help people learn about the foods they're eating and how much they're eating." She suggests people use the rings as "measuring cups or just as visuals for how much to put on their plate, in their bowls or in their mouths!"
(Full disclosure: I was sent a complimentary PortionMate several months ago but made no promise to mention or positively review.)
• Meal Makeovers app (Price: $1.99)
Available for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch, the Meal Makeovers recipe app was created by The Meal Makeover Moms – registered dietitians Liz Weiss and Janice Newell Bissex of Massachussetts. This handy and useful app is designed to help families everywhere get healthier (but still delicious) versions of classic recipes on the table without sweat or tears.
Meal Makeovers features over 50 recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert. Each "makeover" recipe describes the dish, makes suggestions for how to tweak it and provides simple, straightforward ingredient lists and step-by-step instructions. You can also find recipes that accommodate gluten-free, vegan and other types of diets or find those that work well for Christmas or other holidays.
Jen Rehberger, executive producer and host of www.VickyandJen.com, a podcast and website with tips for families on simplifying life, is a longtime fan of The Meal Makeover Moms. "Since downloading the Meal Makeovers app on my phone, I have used it a lot! I have 'favorited' several snacks and meals for quick retrieval, since I usually have my phone on me," she writes in an e-mail, noting that she accessed a recipe list on a recent trip to the grocery store. "The convenience of the app and the confidence I have in the recipes make it a winner."
• Fooducate website and app (Price: Free)
Hemi Weingarten, a father of three who was concerned about buying and preparing healthy food for his family, decided to take the task into his own hands in creating the Fooducate app. I think of the app as a grocery store appendage. It counts calories, grades your food, explains the ingredients you'll find in various products and offers healthier alternatives.
With an impressive database of more than 200,000 unique products, the app won first prize in the U.S. Surgeon General Healthy App Challenge. A fan of the app, Jeff Berman writes on Facebook, "Since I started using Fooducate, I'm down 40 pounds and maintained that weight loss for eight and a half months so far. After years of dieting, I owe my new healthy lifestyle solely to Fooducate. I don't look at it as a diet but rather a lifestyle change of making healthy choices via clean eating principles. My wife is also now on the Fooducate journey, and we are making and eating healthy food together daily as a family for the first time in four years."
• Geocaching app (Price: Free or $9.99, depending on the app)
Ever hear of Geocaching? This global treasure-hunting game, in which people search for geocaches – camouflaged containers, often with small trinkets for trade – is played by millions of people worldwide. According to its cofounder, Bryan Roth, "Most people in the U.S. live within just a few blocks from a geocache – or 'hidden treasure' as most geocachers call it – and might not even know it."
As a game, sport, hobby – whatever you call it – geocaching delivers outdoor discovery, exploration and adventure for families, retirees or anyone who likes to play. There's even some evidence it can improve health. Preliminary results from a 14-month Texas A & M study called Geocaching for Exercise and Activity Research (GEAR) were presented last month at the annual meeting of the American Pubic Health Association in Boston. In the study, participants were given devices to track their movements and a logbook to record their level of geocaching intensity. The first results suggested a link between geocaching and improved health.
According to one of the researchers, "GEAR participants who report geocaching once a week or more are more likely to meet national guidelines for physical activity and are more likely to report good or very good health status compared to those who geocache less frequently." Geocachers also reported fewer days of poor physical and mental health compared to state level data. When asked about geocaching, devotee Neil Moore writes on Facebook, "I started geocaching two years ago. Within six months, I lost 25 pounds just from walking and biking on the trails. Plus my cardio has improved, and I generally feel better. I definitely sleep better."
Which app, gadget or activity helps you eat better and move more?
Hungry for more? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions, concerns, and feedback.
Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN, is the founder and president of Zied Health Communications, LLC, based in New York City. She's an award-winning registered dietitian and author of three books including Nutrition At Your Fingertips. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and New York University, Zied inspires others to make more healthful food choices and find enjoyable ways to "move it or lose it" through writing, public speaking, and media appearances. She writes the twice-weekly blog, The Scoop on Food, for Parents.com, and her new book, Younger Next Week, will be published by Harlequin Non Fiction on December 31, 2013. You can connect with her on Twitter (@elisazied) and through her website: www.elisazied.com.