It’s a new year, which means out with the old and in with the new. This includes unhealthy eating habits we’ve struggled to break throughout the year. For many, the new year signals a fresh start and the chance to make a change. So, what better way to start the new year than by changing your eating habits?
When trying to create a healthy eating routine, several things can make the commitment to eating better difficult. Eating habits develop over a lifetime and many things play a role in why we eat what we eat. From culture to upbringing, to time management and social environment, trying to change these behaviors overnight is nearly impossible.
Instead, set healthy goals and focus on healthy outcomes. Remember, if your goal makes you hate what you eat, belittle yourself, feel shameful, guilty, or lose joy in the food you’re eating, you will not be successful in your efforts.
Trusted Registered Dietitian, Sarah Wilcox, has some helpful tips to help you set healthy goals and change your eating habits the right way:
7 items to remember to help you make healthy goals:
- The purpose of the scale
When you’re on the scale, staring at that number, remember this: The scale can only see the relative mass or amount of matter contained in a body in a numerical form. It cannot tell you if you are healthy, fit, beautiful, handsome, worthy of praise, or meeting your goals. Although it can be tempting to base your progress on your weight, your goals don’t always need to center around weight loss. Changing your eating habits happens progressively and can have a variety of results.
- Start with SMART goals
One of the primary reasons people are not successful in changing their eating habits is because they make goals that are too broad or too strict. When it comes to making healthy aspirations, start with SMART goals. In 1968, Psychologist Dr. Edwin Locke created a way to set goals that produce ideal performance outcomes. He called his goal-setting strategy SMART.
Specific – Make sure there is no room for confusion. Do not say “I want to lose weight.” Say “I want to lose 5 pounds by the end of the month.”
Measurable – Make sure there is a simple way to track your progress. You can use a journal or download an nutrition / calorie counting app to help you keep track of the wins.
Attainable – Challenge yourself but do not set goals that cannot be attained, such as, trying to change everything at once, several goals at a time, or an unrealistic goal like, “I want to lose 20 pounds in a week.”
Realistic – Make sure your goals are within reach and something to which you can make a commitment. For example, if you never eat salad, don’t try to switch to an all-salad diet in your first few weeks or even months of changing your eating habits.
Time-bound – Give yourself a time limit or deadline to meet the goal. Circle that date on the calendar and try to stick to it!
- Focus on What Really Matters.
Obsession with food, weight, a number, a diet plan, or weight loss goals does not lead to a successful outcome. Commitment to realistic goals that don’t make you feel deprived, is one way to fight obsession with strict guidelines and rules. Deprivation most often leads to overconsumption later on and makes it all the more challenging to change your eating habits.
- Practice self-compassion
You are not defined by a number or another person’s idea of what healthy looks like. An easy way to do this is to think of a compassionate person you know, a family member or friend who is kind to you. Then imagine how that person’s voice sounds, the way he or she responds to you, and how their response makes you feel.
Think of how their words are positive towards your progress. When you come to a point of difficulty in a healthy habit goal, remember to not use verbiage they would not use toward you. Practice self-encouragement and calm reassurance as if that person is talking to you.
- Emotional foods
Comfort foods and emotional eating are tied to trying to find an escape from negative emotions. Emotional eating typically leads to more negative outcomes long-term. If you want a way to escape negative internal emotions, it’s important to remember you will likely not find it in an external source.
- Striving for perfection
Perfect does not exist in the world of healthy eating. “Eating clean” is a broad term and its meaning can change depending on who says it. Keep in mind goals change day to day, week to week, and as life changes. Think about your daily activities. Some days you are sitting on a couch binge-watching your favorite streaming service, and other days you are playing a sport or running errands. Therefore, you cannot exactly pinpoint your daily activities because life happens, and things will constantly change your plan. However, you can strive for a few basics:
- Increase your fruit and vegetable consumption
- Be active, even if that means going on a 15 minute walk at any point during the day.
- Change your plan based on your daily needs. If you’re less active, you need fewer calories.
- Get support. Join a group or a phone a friend, but don’t try to do it alone. Big life-changing goals always need a support system. Find a family member, friend, or schedule a consultation with a registered dietitian you can count on to help you reach your goals.
The most important reminder: You can do this! Many people before you and many people after you will successfully change their eating habits toward a healthier lifestyle, and you can too.
Good luck on your new healthy eating journey!