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Indulgences of the holiday season and Carnival lead many people to resolve to diet or change their habits. Molly Kimball, a registered dietician and founder of Ochsner Eat Fit (www.ochsner.org/eat-fit), spoke with Gambit about tips to develop successful eating habits and stick to New Years’ resolutions.

Gambit: Why do people have a hard time sticking to New Years resolutions?

Kimball: All over the country, people have all these goals and intentions — ways to better ourselves inside and out. But normal temptations and other things can derail our focus and our good intentions. I think that people have a good idea about it — they try to do their research and get their plan together, but then (do) not actually start. A lot of the research they’re doing now, they might actually start (a program) come Lent.

I also find that (people) make it much harder than it needs to be. We overthink it, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves (to reach) this level of perfection, and we either get discouraged because we don’t achieve that level of perfection or we do come close, but it’s such an extreme that it’s not sustainable.

G: What diets have seen the most success?

K: A lot of the questions I get this time of year are about diets — about [ketogenic diets], about intermittent fasting, about these pre-packaged diet plans. “(People wonder) What can I do and what are the first steps to take?”

To give an overarching guidance on diets, the first thing that I’ll look at is how manageable is the diet and how sustainable is it long term. The easiest way to identify that is to look at how similar (the diet) is to how you already eat, or the types of foods that you like. So, if you eat vegetables and fresh produce and berries, then keto is probably not for you, because those things are going to be really limited. I think a lot of (success) is about finding something that mirrors what your current trends and behaviors are so it has a chance to be more sustainable long term.

If there’s just one thing that you’re going to do, do this: Cut out sugar. If you’re not going to do anything else — you’re not going to think about numbers and you don’t want to think about anything else — then just cut sugar and white carbohydrates. That’s one of the reasons why I think keto and Whole30 and some of these pre-packaged plans are so effective. They’re all different ways of accomplishing the same thing. The common thread in all of these is that you’re not eating processed, white starchy carbs and sugars.

Intermittent fasting is another really good diet. It has a bunch of different ways that it can work. It can vary [in how many days in a row one fasts and doesn't fast], but what I prefer is doing it on a daily basis. You can do a 12-hour fasting window and a 12-hour eating window, or you can do a 16-hour fasting window and an eight-hour eating window. Some people do it really extreme with a four-hour eating window, but that’s really limited. The idea is that you’re not cutting out entire food groups. The intermittent fasting has a lot of science behind it as far as brain health and the reduction of the plaque formation in our brain that’s associated with diseases like Alzheimer’s. It has more health benefits than just weight (control). After doing it myself and seeing all these other people who have done it, it was crazy — to see the increase in muscle mass, the drop in body fat, not being lightheaded or having cravings, and not feeling tired but having a higher level of focus.

G: What about exercise?

K: I’m a very big advocate of exercise. Cardio (aerobic exercise) is good for the calorie-burning benefits and also strength training. As we’re losing all these pounds on the scale, we want to make sure we’re not sabotaging that valuable, high-metabolic, calorie-burning muscle mass. When we lose that, we slow down our metabolisms. There’s a whole host of problems associated with loss of muscle mass.

More important is the stress release that exercise provides. One of the things I see with people who overeat, aside from opportunity and the office kitchen, is that a lot of people turn to food as a kind of numbing agent, a way to numb or unwind through the day.

We hear it all the time, “I know what my problem is: I stress eat.” So when we’re moving and when we’re exercising, that acts as a natural stress reliever and it also displaces us. It gets us out of our kitchen and out of our car. Just that movement — getting the heart rate up — is going to create this cascade of compounds and hormones in our body that is going to leave us a lot less stressed than before. Chances are, once you’re five or 10 minutes in, you’ll end up feeling good and keep with it.