At the beginning of each new year, many of us resolve to eat better, work out more and, yes, lose a few pounds. Getting started is the easy part. Staying consistent throughout the year — that’s the challenge. We reached out to Elizabeth Finch, board certified health and nutrition counselor and former Soirée Woman to Watch, for a few tips and recipes to help us realistically achieve our weight loss goals and maintain a health-conscious lifestyle. Here’s to a healthy and happy 2014!

1. Watch your blood sugar.

Balanced blood sugar is so important for weight loss. Familiarize yourself with the glycemic index (GI) and keep blood sugar levels in check. Foods with a low GI help balance blood sugar, reduce carbohydrate cravings and are effective for weight management. Eating smaller meals every three or four hours can also help balance blood sugar levels.

2. Minimize processed foods.

It’s important to get nutrients from the foods we eat, and highly processed foods lack nutrients and are high in empty calories. When your body doesn’t get the nutrients it needs, you will continue to have cravings, no matter how many calories you’ve already taken in. Eating foods that are high in nutrients will keep you feeling full and satiated.

3. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

This is a tough one to remember, but it’s so easy to do. Oftentimes when you feel hungry, it’s really just thirst. Our minds tend to confuse the two. Drink at least half of your body weight in ounces of water each day. This will help you stay hydrated and can help keep hunger at bay.

4. Monitor exercise and calories.

You may be exercising, but don’t use your workouts as excuses to overindulge. It is definitely possible to exercise a lot and still not lose weight. How? You might fall into the trap of thinking, “I worked out hard today, so I deserve an appetizer, a few drinks and a burger and fries for dinner. And I’m getting up in the morning to work out, so throw in a dessert too.” You’ll likely consume many more calories than you burned in that workout. Eating healthy, low-glycemic meals, along with exercising, will help you to meet your weight loss goals.

5. Rest up.

Getting enough sleep helps your body regulate hunger and lose more weight from fat, instead of muscle. When you don’t get enough sleep (at least seven or eight hours), you produce higher levels of ghrelin, a hormone that triggers hunger and reduces energy expenditure. Sleeping also allows your cells to repair and renew. Here’s an experiment: the next time you get less than seven or eight hours, take note of your hunger levels the next day and compare them to a day after you’ve had a good night’s sleep.

Get Cookin’

Meal planning is another great way to manage your weight. Finch recommends planning your week and putting meal ideas in writing. Need inspiration? Scour favorite blogs, websites and cookbooks, and pick out a few recipes to try each week. Here are a couple of Finch’s favorite recipes for the winter months. Find more at www.Elizabeth-Finch.com.

The Most Amazing Kale & Avocado Salad

Total Time: 10 minutes
Serves: 2-4

Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch of kale
  • 1 large avocado, sliced
  • 1 cup shredded carrots
  • 2 tbsp. rice vinegar
  • 2 tbsp. sesame oil
  • 2 tbsp. tamari or lite soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp. honey
  • 2 tbsp. sesame seeds

Directions:

Wash and dry the kale. Remove the long stem in the center of the leaves (I like to do this with my hands rather than a knife). Tear or cut the leaves into smaller, bite-sized pieces, and place in a large bowl. Add the avocado and carrots.

In a small bowl, whisk together the rice vinegar, sesame oil, tamari and honey. Pour over the kale salad, add the sesame seeds and toss. If possible, let this sit in the refrigerator for a few hours before serving, as the taste gets better. Toss again before serving.

Lentil and Vegetable Soup

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes
Serves: 6

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium carrots, diced
  • 2-3 stalks of celery, diced
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely diced
  • 1/2 pound mushrooms, chopped
  • 2 cups dried lentils, rinsed
  • 5 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes, with their juice
  • 1 tbsp. white or red wine vinegar
  • Pinch red pepper flakes
  • 3 big handfuls baby spinach, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • Ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. chopped dried thyme

Directions:

In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add carrots, celery, onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are translucent. Add the mushrooms and continue to cook until the mushrooms have released most of their liquid, about four or five minutes.

Add the lentils, broth, tomatoes with their juice, vinegar and pepper flakes. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until lentils are tender, about 30 minutes.

Add the spinach, salt and pepper, and stir well. Simmer for just another minute or two more, remove from heat and stir in the thyme. Serve.

Note: You can use any variety of lentils in this soup. I usually buy the small, dark green ones because I like the flavor. You could also add chicken, sausage or any other favorite meat to this soup to add more protein.