It’s a new year, which means out with the old and in with the new. This includes those unhealthy eating habits that 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.
Changing your eating habits can be challenging. When trying to create a healthy eating routine, several things can make the commitment to these habits difficult.
Eating habits develop over a lifetime and many things that 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, you have to 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.
That’s why we have our Registered Dietician, Sarah Wilcox, here to share some helpful tips to help you set healthy goals and change your eating habits the right way:
- The purpose of the scale
Remember that 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 that number, it is important to remember that 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 major issues as to why people are not successful in their journey to 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 actually can 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. For example, make sure there is a simple way to track your eating habits.
Attainable – Challenge yourself but do not set goals that cannot be attained. Generally, this starts with 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 goals are within reach and something that you can commit to.
Time-bound – Give yourself a time limit or deadline to meet the goal.
- Unhealthy obsessions
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 do not 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
Remember to 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 that 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 or what is good for you is defined by the person saying it. Like other broad terms, these words are different depending on who and what they are. Keep in mind that 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 around doing errands. Therefore, you cannot estimate your daily activities as exact because life happens, and things will constantly change your plan.
However, you can strive for a few basics:
- Increase your fruits and vegetables
- Be active
- Change your plan based on your daily needs, like less active means fewer calories.
- Get support
Big life-changing goals always need a support system. Find a family member, friend, or someone you can count on to be your support system.
Overall, if you need help in changing your eating habits, consult with a registered dietician or your healthcare provider to help determine your goals.
Remember it’s important to not strive for perfection when it comes to changing your eating habits. Striving for perfection will only cause you to create unrealistic goals and increase pressure on yourself.
Good luck on your new healthy eating journey!
Sarah Wilcox MS RDN LD
Registered Dietician Nutritionist