A daily treadmill habit can be a difficult thing to acquire, but Dr. David Katz offered his tips on how -- and why -- health changes can become permanent.

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A New Year's Resolution With Real Resolve Behind It

January 6, 2014

The first few seconds after the ball drops in Times Square is a wash of emotions — wistfulness for the year that's come and gone, jubilation for the moment of celebration, and maybe resolution, too, at the prospect of a fresh start in the new year. Many Americans see diet and exercise as the gateway to that fresh beginning. Gym memberships spike every January, and exotic diets and workout plans are auditioned with a vigor rarely seen during the normal course of the year.

Dr. David Katz is the author of Disease Proof and founding member of Yale University's Prevention Research Center. Katz has seen fad diets come and go, especially around the new year — resolutions are often bent, twisted and broken until they're simply discarded. Katz joined Jim Braude and Margery Eagan on Boston Public Radio to orchestrate personal wellness that lasts longer than a new year's whimsy — maybe even a lifetime.

How do we start again even if we've already blown our new year's resolution?

Thomas Edison said that 'genius is one percent inspiration, 99 percent perspiration.' (...)  A reasonable resolution would be, I'm going to learn everything I need to know to cook wholesome, tasty, nutritious, economical meals for my family. That would be reasonable because you can actually learn how to do that. A resolution to lose 30 pounds — you take off, but there's nothing to sustain your flight.

Everybody goes on the "see food" diet: 'I see food, I eat it.' --Dr. David Katz

How do you reward yourself even if you're doing well cutting out bad foods and exercising more?

You make changes to your diet, your physical activity that do result in some immediate gratification — you step on the scale, you look in the mirror, you're getting some reward. But at the same time you say, What are the challenges that come up between now and a year from now, so I'm not making the same resolution this time next year? (...) We want to enjoy good food. Good health is pleasurable, so is good food. We shouldn't have to buy the one by giving up the other.

Are food labels good reminders for us about calories?

I think calorie counts are a useful reality check. We've done the research, it's been published, people are clueless about calorie levels. Frankly, yes, it's fairly obvious that a Snickers bar is going to have a lot of calories. But what's not obvious that a salad with bleu cheese dressing and croutons may have even more. People routinely fail to account for sauces, spreads, dressings condiments.

Can the average person diet and exercise by herself and be successful?

None of us is an island. We're part of something bigger. (...) We need neighborhoods, communities and a culture that make health the path of lesser resistance. It tends to be the road not taken. We're surrounded by all the wrong foods in all the wrong quantities and encouraged to eat them by marketing. We have days that systematically jettison physical activity.

We really need a culture that says, These are top-priority items. We need to engineer physical activity into everybody's day, both in school and at work, and make that the norm. We need to put nutritious food at people's fingertips. We need to tell the truth about food, we need to give people true food, and make the better choice the easier choice.

Some of us can do this on our own, some of us need help from healthcare professionals, but I think we call could use help from one another.

Pizza is useful because most of time, parents are busy, or they don't know how to cook nutritious things quickly enough. Most of us aren't good cooks!

You can learn healthy recipes, learn healthy shopping. Think about what you need to have in your refrigerator and your pantry. (...) Do some advanced planning so you know what recipes you're going to make on which day. There have been studies to show where, if you have that skillset, it takes no more than 10 additional minutes to make a wholesome, home-cooked meal than it does to run out to a fast food place. So we're talking about a very small investment, and a really big return both in terms of health, and in terms of financial savings. You win every which way.

But again, I think we need some help from our culture at large. We should all learn how to cook. We need to bring back home economics. Essentially, learning how to prepare food is a life skill, and none of us get that skill in our education.

It's the sixth day of January, people are either teetering on the edge of failure, or already there. What should we do then?

Start with the decision-balance. Maybe we're talking smoking cessation or something unrelated to diet and physical activity. Change, don't-change pros and cons, fill out that table and try to be comprehensive. Make sure what you're up against, and what your motivation is. (...)

If we're talking specifically about diet or physical activity it's a simple as start going for a walk. Every time you have a chance to go for a bit of activity, go for it. In terms of food I would say, get an insulated snack pack, put healthy foods in it and take it with you everywhere you go so when you get hungry, you choose what your options are rather than some nincompoop who stocked a vending machine. (...)

Let an apple be your "umbrella." If you don't want your head to get wet in the rain you take an umbrella. If you don't want to get fat in this world you've got to take charge of the stuff you put into your mouth.

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