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Trying to lose weight for the new year; eat healthy on Mondays

Many people will be trying to lose weight, eat healthier and get in shape for the new year.
Many people will be trying to lose weight, eat healthier and get in shape for the new year.

It is time to make our new year’s resolutions. For many (if not most) Americans, eating better is at the top of the list.

Obesity rates in the U.S. are at an all-time high, and many of us are aiming to make 2020 a healthier year. As a registered dietitian and obesity researcher at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, I know that it is hard to eat healthy with all of the competing priorities in life. I also know that there is no shortage of advice related to dieting.

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Eating healthier in 2020 is a great new year’s resolution, but in practice it may be a bit daunting to change what you eat. Most people who make goals for the new year don’t always stick with them. Do you remember your goals from last year? And making changes to your diet is especially hard. If you slip up, should you wait until next year to try again?

Instead of a new year’s resolution, consider a different approach. Why not make a mini-resolution? Try eating healthier just one day each week — and make it Mondays. That way, each Monday you get the chance to tackle your mini resolution. If you struggle during the week, you can reset on Monday.

There is growing scientific evidence that Mondays are the day of the week adults are more likely to think about their health. It’s called the healthy Monday effect. In fact, scientists have observed a weekly rhythm across a number of human processes and behaviors, including sleep patterns, asthma attacks, suicide attempts and internet searches for health information. Emerging evidence also suggests that U.S. adults are more willing to make health behavior changes on Mondays — especially those related to diet.

There is a growing movement to make Mondays a day for health. The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health is collaborating with The Monday Campaigns, a non-profit public health initiative based in New York, to make Monday the day for a fresh start. Decreasing calories and eating healthier on Mondays is a good first step, and if we do well on that day, these behaviors may be more likely to persist throughout the week.

The idea of a healthy Monday may sound familiar. You may have heard of the highly successful Meatless Monday movement that encourages a global reduction in meat consumption. Meatless Monday was founded in 2003 by Sid Lerner in association with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for a Livable Future. The Meatless Monday movement is present in more than 40 countries worldwide. The goal is to reduce meat consumption by 15% to impact individual health and the health of the planet.

There’s also Move it Monday, another initiative from The Monday Campaigns that encourages people at any fitness level to start the week with some exercise. Physical activity is another great way to improve your health and often goes hand in hand with a healthy diet. But, if you aren’t getting much physical activity now, easing into regular exercise is best. For those of you at Johns Hopkins East Baltimore campus, join us for the Monday Mile. We meet every Monday at noon at the Hospital Administration Building at 601 N. Broadway for a quick walk around campus.

There are many ways to be healthy on Mondays. Most of us could benefit from eating fewer calories, even just one day per week. Average portion sizes in the U.S. have increased dramatically in recent decades and have contributed to the rising prevalence of obesity in adults. Several studies have demonstrated that large portion sizes have a powerful effect on calories consumed — we tend to eat more when there is more food in front of us. However, what we eat may be just as important as how much we eat.

So, if we are going to reduce our calories, why not eat less of something less healthy, like foods high in salt and sugar? Focus on healthier foods like fruits and vegetables, which may also help cut calories. Reducing calories by 10, 15, or 20 percent on Mondays may not have a huge impact initially, but over time those reductions add up. And, eating better on Mondays is an important first step to eating better in 2020.

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Sara Benjamin-Neelon (sara.neelon@jhu.edu) is an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

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