Even before the Christmas decorations are down, I hear my friends and family talking about how they plan to lose weight, start exercising and eat healthier in the New Year.

Last New Year’s Day, I had the same goal. My daughter was about to turn 1, and I was still 10 pounds heavier than my pre-baby weight.

I considered going on a strict diet – no sugar, fewer carbs, portion-controlled snacks and meals – even though I’m a foodie who believes in moderation not restriction.

Thankfully, I soon discovered the “Body Kindness” podcast  with registered dietitian Rebecca Scritchfield, who promotes health at every size.

One episode I found particularly enlightening was her interview with Sandra Aamondt, a neuroscientist who gave a popular TED talk about why it’s so hard for us to change our body weight “set point.”

In her TED talk, Aamondt highlighted research showing that healthy living – by staying active and eating a balanced diet – was more important to our longevity than weight.

It was also good to hear, in my recent conversation with registered dietitian Rachel Gilman at the Iowa Beef Industry Council, that she also recommends focusing less on weight when making New Year’s resolutions.

Gilman instead encourages Iowans to make small lifestyle changes to improve your overall health. “Anything drastic, you are not going to stick with,” she says.

These small changes include drinking more water and eating a well-balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and dairy, along with protein such as lean beef.

Finding ways to be more active during the day also helps with weight loss and maintenance, Gilman says. Walking is a great activity, and it doesn’t cost any money other than a good pair of walking shoes, she says.

In addition, research shows that eating protein is important as we age to prevent muscle loss, which improves our mobility and helps us stay active and independent.

A 3-ounce serving of lean beef, at 150 calories, provides half your daily protein needs plus 9 other essential nutrients, Gilman says.

In comparison, it would take about 6 tablespoons of peanut butter, totaling 564 calories, to equal the 25 grams of protein in a 3-ounce serving of beef.

“As a protein source, I really look at beef as a calorie saver. To get the same amount of protein as that 3 ounces of beef, you’re eating considerably more calories with plant-based proteins,” Gilman says.

So in 2018, I resolve to focus on what’s really important – getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet, reducing stress and exercising regularly – instead of the number on the scale or the tag on my clothes.

However, if you are concerned about your weight, please talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian. They can help you determine, first, if you really need to lose weight and, secondly, how to make healthier food choices in the new year and beyond.

By Teresa Bjork. Teresa is Iowa Farm Bureau's Senior Features Writer.