After a holiday season filled with delicious foods, many people make a resolution to eat healthy once the new year begins.
They have good intentions, but the majority don’t stick with it and give up on their quest rather early in the year.
According to data from the Discover Happy Habits website, an average 9 to 12% of those who make New Year’s resolutions stick with them. In 2018, Strava, the social network for athletes, stated many people fail their resolutions by Jan. 12.
Michelle Campion, a registered dietitian with the Washington Health System Wilfred R. Cameron Wellness Center in Washington, said it’s important not to aim too high.
“Anytime anyone is trying to eat healthier my biggest suggestion is always start slow with manageable goals,” she said. “Oftentimes, I think we just set too lofty of goals. Any small change you can make, can make a big difference in the long run. Set yourself up for success with smaller goals.”
Dr. Michelle Cardel, senior director of global clinical research and nutrition at WeightWatchers, said the goals that are set should be realistic.
“Instead of setting up brand-new habits to develop or goals to achieve in the new year, try building on what you’re already proud of from the past year,” Cardel said. “Define a specific goal you can measure, such as eat two servings of vegetables every day. This way, it’s clear whether you’re tracking toward your end goal.”
Cardel said if a person has a bad day or a bad week in the quest for healthier eating, they shouldn’t give up.
“Think about the reason you set the goal in the first place, how you felt when you were on track and focus on how you can continue progressing,” she said.
Tracey Eakin, a plant-based nutrition counselor from Peters Township, said when people think of dieting, they think of calorie restriction and food deprivation, which often leads to unrealistic expectations.
“It’s ultimately never going to work because we survived for millions of years because that hunger mechanism will eventually overcome willpower,” she said.
Foods recommended are those high in fiber, such as fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, whole grains, lean proteins and plant-based fats. Campion said a good formula to use is the more legs an animal has, the less healthy a food coming from that animal would be.
Eakin suggested taking a limited approach at first.
“Try a calorie-dilute, nutrient-dense, whole-food, plant-based lifestyle for a month and see how it feels, see how it shows up on their scale. Anyone can do anything for three or four weeks,” she said. “With calorie restriction you can only white-knuckle it so far before the survival mechanism of making sure you eat enough kicks in.”
Eakin also said sugar does not have to be an enemy, since there are plant-based variations of popular desserts. Also, tapering down the use of certain ingredients can be helpful, as tastebuds do adapt.
“The choices that are available now that were not available 30 years ago are just amazing,” she said. “There are alternatives for anything.”
Campion says a good method toward a healthier diet is tracking food intake by writing it down or monitoring it with an app.
“It’s accountability within yourself,” Campion said. “It makes you think about what you’re putting in your mouth if you’re going to be writing it down.”
Another recommendation from Campion is consulting with a medical professional. If the person is going to be talking to someone about eating habits on a regular basis, that person may be more apt to stick to a certain diet.
Another key is moderation. There is no need to totally deprive yourself of the foods you like.
“Focus most of the time on foods that will benefit your body, foods that are going to help your body work well,” Campion said. “When we’re fueling our body well most of the time, knowing we can have (a treat) can be a big game-changer. If you know you’re having something at the end of the day, you don’t feel deprived. It’s all about finding balanced meals that can balance us and sustain us.”