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Reboot diet without turning to fads


Stacy Zarin Goldberg/The Washington Post
Honey Mustard Glazed Salmon With Endive and Green Apple Salad can help you make a shift toward eating better in a way that is so simple and pleasurable that it will feel good to go there.

After you’ve been sitting awhile, it feels good to stand. Eventually your body aches to unfurl from the chair: Your muscles announce what they need loud and clear. It works on the flip side, too; when you’ve been standing for hours, your feet bark for a break.

The same kind of internal cues can apply to eating. After weeks of holiday feasting it feels good – a relief, even – to eat lighter and more healthfully again. But complicating what might otherwise be a gentle shift toward healthier fare this time of year are the judgment and guilt we often shackle to our food choices.

That culturally ingrained notion that we need to repent after indulging is one reason the diet industry booms in January. Another reason is the social-media-amplified rallying cry that going keto or paleo or doing some kind of “cleanse” is THE ANSWER. If you feel untethered eating-wise and uncomfortable in your clothes, and if you’ve sworn to yourself that you’d start getting healthy in January, you are especially vulnerable to the promise of these diets.

That’s the veneer, anyway; the reality behind it is a lot more nuanced. While there are valid rationales for going on certain diets, there are just as many – if not more – for going on no diet at all. If you haven’t noticed yet, or you forgot from when you were on one last year, diets can mess with your head. Many are so restrictive that they set you up for failure, which you inevitably pin on yourself and subsequently feel so bad that you binge on all the forbidden foods and spiral down from there. The truth is, in the long run, no single plan has proved to be markedly better at keeping you fit than any other.

So instead of punishing yourself in a dietary straitjacket this year, try pivoting in a healthy direction that gives you room to move more freely. Take a path you can realistically stay on, one that allows for the occasional “unhealthy” food so you can finally get off the all-or-nothing diet seesaw. But without the prefab instruction manual of a formal plan, where do you start? How about by checking in with the person who knows you best? You.

Take a moment to think about your usual eating habits, the patterns you have settled into – and do it with a kind, nonjudgmental mind-set. What are your major stumbling blocks for eating well in your typical day? Are there healthy habits that have worked for you in the past that have slipped away? More vegetables, fewer sugary foods, less snacking while watching late-night TV, eating more slowly and mindfully: It’s not as complicated as it’s often made out to be.

Write down three changes that you believe will propel you in the right direction and make them specific enough that you can check them off as “done” each day or week. Then anticipate obstacles and decide on the tools you need and the prep you have to do to put these new habits into play.

The accompanying recipes are designed to address a specific habit that can help you make a shift toward eating better in a way that is so simple and pleasurable that it will feel good to go there.


3 tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons honey

Juice of ½ lemon

Four 6-ounce skinless salmon fillets, preferably center cut

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 medium Belgian endive (about 1 pound)

½ large Granny Smith apple, cored

About 20 fresh chives (2 tablespoons finely chopped)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

¼ teaspoon salt

Position an oven rack in the upper third of the oven (five or six inches from the broiler); preheat to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil.

Whisk together the mustard, honey and ½ teaspoon of the lemon juice in a small bowl.

Arrange the salmon fillets on the baking sheet, skin sides down, then use half the pepper to season each one. Drizzle a tablespoon of the honey mustard sauce on top of each fillet. Roast (upper rack) for 10 minutes per inch of thickness.

Increase the oven temperature to broil; broil for a minute or two, just until the fillets are lightly browned. Watch them closely to avoid overcooking.

Meanwhile, pour the remaining lemon juice into a medium bowl. Cut the endive crosswise into half-inch pieces and add to the bowl, discarding the endive’s tough ends. Toss to coat.

Cut the apple into thin wedges, then cut the wedges into half-inch pieces; add to the bowl and toss to coat.

Cut the chives into half-inch pieces, then add to the bowl along with the oil, salt and the remaining ¼ teaspoon of pepper, tossing to incorporate.

Divide the salad among individual plates, then top each portion with a salmon fillet. Serve warm or at room temperature.

PER SERVING: 490 calories; 30 g total fat; 6 g saturated fat; 95 mg cholesterol; 420 mg sodium; 19 g carbohydrates; 5 g dietary fiber; 13 g sugars; 36 g protein


MAKE AHEAD: The pack can be frozen for a month.

1 medium-size very ripe banana, cut into chunks

Shifting your eating pattern earlier while eating less at night has multiple benefits including heart health, blood sugar control and weight management. The Breakfast Smoothie Pack makes it easy.

¾ cup fresh or frozen cut fruit, such as berries, pitted cherries, mango, peaches

3 tablespoons old-fashioned rolled oats

3 tablespoons sliced almonds

1¼ cups milk of choice (whole, low-fat or plant-based milk)

Combine the banana, fruit, oats and almonds in a lidded plastic container. Seal and freeze.

When ready to eat, empty the contents of the container into a blender. Add the milk and blend until smooth. (Even when well blended, the smoothie will have some texture from the oats, nuts and fruit.)

PER SERVING (using 1 percent low-fat milk): 330 calories, 8 g protein, 57 g carbohydrates, 10 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 0 mg sodium, 9 g dietary fiber, 29 g sugar


MAKE AHEAD: The vegetables can be prepped and refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

½ teaspoon paprika (sweet)

Roasted Vegetable Trio is a simple way to get more vegetables into your life. Serve hot, alongside rotisserie chicken one night; topped with fried egg on another night; and at room temperature, as a snack with hummus.

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon ground cumin

¼ teaspoon granulated garlic (garlic powder)

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

4 cups cauliflower florets (one 12-ounce package) cut further as needed into 1-inch florets

3 large carrots, cut on the diagonal into 1-inch-long pieces, thicker pieces halved lengthwise

1 medium red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and cut into 2-by-1-inch pieces

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil if desired (for easy cleanup).

Whisk together the oil, paprika, salt, cumin, garlic and pepper in a mixing bowl. Add the vegetables and toss to coat.

Spread them out on the baking sheet; roast (middle rack) for about 20 minutes, stirring once or twice, until they are tender and browned in spots, about 20 minutes.

PER SERVING: 120 calories, 3 g protein, 12 g carbohydrates, 8 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 360 mg sodium, 4 g dietary fiber, 5 g sugar


MAKE AHEAD: The pilaf can be refrigerated for up to 4 days, and it can be reheated or served at room temperature.

3 large scallions

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Stacy Zarin Goldberg/The Washington Post
Quick Quinoa Pilaf is ready in less than 30 minutes. Whole grains keep you fuller longer, help keep your blood sugar steady, and have more antioxidants and other nutrients than refined grains.

1 cup quinoa (rinsed)

1¾ cups water

¼ teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted (see note)

Thinly slice the scallions, keeping the white/light green parts and dark-green parts separate.

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the white/light green sliced scallions and cook for 1 minute, stirring occasionally, until they have softened.

Add the quinoa and cook for 30 seconds, stirring, until evenly coated. Add the water and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 15 minutes, or until the water is absorbed. Remove from the heat and allow to sit and steam (covered) for 5 minutes, then uncover and fluff with a fork.

Stir in the salt, pepper, almonds and the sliced dark scallion greens, and serve.

NOTE: Toast the almonds in a small, dry skillet over medium-low heat until fragrant and lightly browned. Cool before using.

PER SERVING: 230 calories, 7 g protein, 26 g carbohydrates, 11 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 160 mg sodium, 4 g dietary fiber, 0 g sugar


MAKE AHEAD: The dish can be refrigerated for up to 4 days.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 small onion, coarsely chopped

Pasta Fagioli With Zucchini is a feel-good comfort food powered by plant protein, chock-full of vegetables. Make a pot of it on a weekend to have in the refrigerator for busy weeknights.

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 large or 2 medium zucchini (about 12 ounces total), quartered lengthwise and then cut into ½-inch chunks

15 ounces canned, low-sodium cannellini beans

14½ ounces canned, no-salt-added diced tomatoes and their juices

3 cups low-sodium chicken broth

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

½ cup dried whole-wheat elbow macaroni or other similarly shaped pasta

1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Heat the oil in a medium pot over medium-high heat. Once the oil shimmers, stir in the onion and cook for 2 or 3 minutes, just until softened. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more.

Meanwhile, coarsely chop the zucchini.

Drain and rinse the beans, then add to the pot along with the tomatoes and their juices, the broth, salt and pepper. Once the mixture begins to bubble at the edges, stir in the zucchini and pasta. Once the mixture begins to boil, reduce the heat to medium and cook for about 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is tender (if the pasta is thicker than elbow macaroni, it may need a few more minutes).

Serve hot, topped with the cheese.

PER SERVING: 280 calories, 14 g protein, 35 g carbohydrates, 11 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 490 mg sodium, 8 g dietary fiber, 7 g sugar