very year, millions of people start off the new year with a resolution to lose weight, and every year, millions throw in the towel well before they reach their goal. Often, it’s because people are trying to make too many changes all at once.
We all have watched many eager souls attempt to give their lifestyle a complete overhaul literally overnight — once the clock strikes midnight on January 1, every aspect of their normal daily routine is transformed. They put themselves on a new, strict eating schedule, buy all new foods and toss the old ones, devote an hour a day to food prep, go from never exercising to six planned workouts per week, and avoid all their favorite foods.
It’s no wonder most of these resolutions are doomed to fail; this dramatic 180-degree turn is completely unsustainable.
It is a much better approach to adopting healthy habits is to view it as a skill-building exercise; it’s best to start slow and tackle one new challenge at a time.
When you’re first learning to drive, you start off slow on abandoned side streets, not zipping down a major interstate at 100 km per hour. Rather than focusing on the end goal (losing excess pounds, for most people), concentrate on learning the skills that are going to help you get there. As you master one goal, move on to the next. By gradually making changes, you’ll create a healthier lifestyle that meshes with your everyday routine. What’s more, the process won’t be nearly as overwhelming and stressful.
To help you get moving in the right direction, I’m suggesting a few starter goals that can dramatically improve your diet and overall wellness. Pick one that speaks to you and make it your mission for January. When you feel confident that you’ve mastered this challenge, move on to another.
1. Prep Healthy Lunches and Dinners at Home Sunday through Thursday
When you cook at home (or brown bag your lunch), it’s easier to eat better because you have full control over what’s served and how it’s made. I like this particular goal because it leaves you some flexibility to eat out on the weekends, or grab lunch with your colleagues on a Friday (of course, you can modify the days of the week to match your personal schedule). Make sure you’re including a lean protein and plenty of vegetables at each meal.
2. Replace Your Snacks With Whole Foods
The word snack tends to be synonymous with packaged foods, which are typically higher in sugar, salt, and unhealthy fat than unprocessed or minimally processed foods. Rather than nibbling on cookies, crackers, pretzels, and bars (even the healthier brands), reach for whole food alternatives like a piece of fruit, a handful of nuts, yogurt, edamame, or cut veggies with or without a healthy dip. These snacks are more nutritious and more filling than most packaged snacks.
3. Make Vegetables a Top Priority in 2020
If you struggle with eating enough produce, this is the ideal issue to target in the new year. A simple starter goal is to add at least 1 cup of veggies to lunch and 2 cups to dinner. At lunch, supplement your usual sandwich or soup with a cup of baby carrots or bell pepper strips or a side salad. At dinner, pile on the roasted, sautéed, or steamed veggies. Some of my weeknight favorites are sautéed spinach, roasted cauliflower or parsnips, baked sweet potatoes, and steamed broccoli or green beans.
4. Create a Healthier Default for Your Least Healthy Habit
Zero in on the one eating pattern that tends to do the most damage to your diet (and tack on the most excess calories). Is it late-night eating, alcohol, your daily coffee shop visits, huge portions at dinner, lavish restaurant meals, or a stubborn sweet tooth? Now, create a plan to solve that particular issue. If you love dessert, maybe your plan is to have fresh fruit with whipped cream six days a week, and a special treat on the seventh day. If pastries and coffee drinks are costing you hundreds of calories a day, change your daily order to a skim latte and a banana. Consider this nutrition triage — by targeting your worst food habit, you’ll have a significant impact on your overall diet, while causing minimal disruption to your routine.