2021: The Year You Stick to Your Nutrition GoalsDecember 30, 2020
It’s the new year!
The time when we look at our lives and habits and make resolutions for self-improvement in hopes of a year better than the previous one. For most of us, 2020 was not the year of our dreams, so we may be hoping for many changes in this year to come, some of them outside our control, but many of them within it. Yes, we all understand that January 1 is a completely arbitrary date to launch ourselves into a new lifestyle. But, if the holidays and the changing of the calendar inspire you to rethink whether or not you are functioning optimally, why not capitalize on this moment of motivation?
Health and wellness top many people’s list when it comes to areas for improvement.
We’re all familiar with the cliché of the brand new diet and fitness regime which usually last through about the 3rd week of January. Perhaps the reason why so many New Year’s resolutions fail to create lasting change is that so often they are worded in the negative. “Give up smoking.” “Stop eating so much junk food.” “Cut out the sugar and carbs.” “Lose weight.”
Although the goals themselves are rooted in sound concepts and legitimate health issues, they have such an ominous feel to them. They ring of deprivation and struggle and may even create stress or resistance as the date for knuckling down looms nearer.
As a dietitian, I recognize that many people (me included, if I’m honest) eat foods that aren’t good for them maybe a bit too often. And if it were easy to impose a mandate against refined sugar, processed snacks, fast-food, and soda, it would have happened already. But people need to eat, and they’re going to continue to gravitate towards what they know and crave. Telling anyone, even yourself, to stop, is akin to telling them to starve. There’s eventually going to be a rebellion!
So, what if you looked at dietary changes from the other side of things? What if you thought of what you could add to, not subtract from your diet? What if you created some positive resolutions instead of negative ones? Fill a void rather than create one. A positive change allows you to be proactive in the process of doing something and get excited about trying something new. Here are a few ideas:
Add Fruits and Vegetables
Plain and simple, most people aren’t eating enough produce. The recommendation is 5-9 servings per day – 5 is on the very low end!
Fruit is full vitamins, fiber, and water and tastes wonderful. If you have a sweet tooth, you might be surprised how well fruit can satisfy it. You may find yourself naturally eating fewer sugary treats without intentionally restricting, just by adding fruit to your day. Vegetables, packed with minerals and antioxidants, are also full of fiber which fills up your stomach and slows your digestion. You are not likely to overeat vegetables, so have some with every meal, find new ones to try, and new ways to enjoy them.
Increase Your Water Intake
If you want to stop drinking beverages that are laden with calories and just try to give them up outright, you’re going to feel thirsty! Instead of trying to quit the “bad” habit, focus on getting more water into your day. You can add lemon to it if you need to. You can drink it warm or cold. Just find ways to hydrate yourself with water. Maybe you’re still going to reach for a soda or a juice, but you probably won’t drink as much of it, because you’ll already have met your fluid needs with good old H2O.
Treat Your Gut
Consider trying out a probiotic food such as kefir, yogurt, tempeh, sauerkraut, or kimchee. Choose one to try every day for a week. See if you like it, if not, try something else. You may not see health benefits right away, but over time these foods can support the gut microbiome which connects to so many areas of our overall heath from improving digestion to enhancing immunity to positively impacting our mental health.
Boost Your Intake of Specific Micronutrients
Take the opportunity to consider what might be missing from your diet. Vitamin D is a tough vitamin to get enough of through diet alone, and though we can make it when our skin is exposed to the sun, that becomes much harder to do in the winter. You can get your Vitamin D levels checked by your doctor with a simple blood test to learn if you are deficient.
If you are concerned, incorporate a couple servings per week of fish (such as salmon) in your diet. Or you could supplement if you need to. Omega 3 fatty acids are another dietary essential than many of us don’t get enough of. It is also found in fish, or if you’re a vegetarian, challenge yourself to add a tablespoon of chia seeds or ground flax seed to your food every day. If you are a plant-based eater, other vitamins and minerals you may want to think about include B-12 (found in animal products, nutritional yeast, and fortified foods), Calcium (found in dairy products and fortified plant based milks and some leafy greens), and Iron (plant based sources include greens, beans, and some seeds). Assess your current dietary sources, and if you think you may not be getting enough, seek out others.
To really seal the deal, give yourself specific, measurable goals, have a way to track your progress, and reward yourself for success. For example:
- Have a salad with dinner every night for a week
- Get 4 servings of vegetables every day for a week
- Use a hydration tracker to make sure to drink 6-8 glasses of water daily for a week
- Include one serving of a probiotic food (or a source of Omega 3) every day for a week
- Try a new healthy recipe (or a new kind of produce) once a week for a month
- If you decide to include a supplement (for example, Vitamin D), give yourself a point every day you remember to take it. When you get to X points, you can reward yourself.
A reward can be anything you want, but should support your healthy agenda (ie: not a cupcake). Maybe buy flowers for yourself or a new book or a pair of cozy socks. It shouldn’t be a big expense – these are small rewards to encourage you to stay on track, not a one time prize. One year I made myself a wish list on Amazon of items under $10, and when I met a goal, I would choose something to order. If I missed the goal, I didn’t get anything, but it felt like a game that encouraged me to try my best, and I could always set a new goal the next week.
Finally, don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to do everything all at once.
Real change is made in small, sustainable steps. If you find something starts to stick, move forward. If you fall back a step, reframe your goal so you get excited about it again. The bonus is that, by adding little positive habits, you may eventually start to see some of those not so healthy habits start to fall away to make room for the new, without ever having to focus on the negative.