Pledging to improve your eating habits in the coming year? If so, you’re not alone: Roughly 1 in 3 Canadians will make a similar New Year’s resolution, reports a 2017 Ipsos survey conducted for GoodLife Fitness.
Of course, as many of us have learned year after year, navigating such fundamental transformations successfully can be easier said than done.
The good news is a slight shift in perspective may very well yield better results: While it can be tempting to overhaul your entire diet in the quest for better health, that’s not always the best route to real, sustained progress. “For some people, the all-or-nothing approach works,” says Kristen Yarker, a registered dietitian based in Victoria, B.C. “But for most of us, we’re much more successful when we choose something small.”
These 3 popular resolutions might actually be holding you back, so here’s what to replace them with for better long-term results:
Skip: Cutting out all sugar
Cutting out sugar entirely ignores the fact that food brings us pleasure. Depriving yourself of all the sweets you enjoy could negatively affect your mental health over time.
Instead, choose moderation. “The reality is that most people do eat far too much sugar,” says Yarker. “So there should be a focus on eating less sugar, but you don’t need to go to absolutes in order to be healthy.” So rather than absentmindedly noshing on chocolate while you work, save sweets for special occasions – a New Year’s fête, say, or the upcoming Valentine’s celebration. And when you do indulge, be sure to really, truly enjoy your treats.
Skip: Avoiding restaurant meals altogether
The urge to cook more meals at home is a noble one. After all, homemade meals do tend to be easier on your wallet and waistline than restaurant fare. Resolving to forego eating out entirely, however, can set you up for failure. “Whenever we say we’re never going to do something again, it makes us want to do it,” says Yarker.
Instead, set an attainable goal. If you typically grab lunch 5 days a week, try switching to a homemade meal 3 of those days. “It’s not that you’re getting rid of eating out,” Yarker explains. “You’re adding the habit of bringing your own lunch.” When you’re motivated by a few months of success in sticking to your resolution, you might be able to up it to 4 or even 5 days a week without feeling overwhelmed.
Skip: Launching into a drastically different diet
Whether it’s vegan, paleo or another diet you found scrolling through your Pinterest feed, if it’s a vast departure from the way you eat now, you should think twice before diving in headfirst.
“Often people say to me, ‘I’m stuck in a rut. I know I’m not eating healthy,’” says Yarker. “And it is tempting to try a whole new diet. But if you’re making brand-new recipes for every lunch and every dinner, it becomes overwhelming and you’re likely to fall off.”
Instead, take it slow. Incorporate aspects of your desired diet into your meal plans gradually. Resolve to try out just 1 brand-new recipe each week – whether that’s a vegan meal for Meatless Mondays or a paleo-friendly skillet dinner – to shift your diet slowly, without abandoning all your old favourites. “You’ll build up your repertoire of meals, and maybe you can move up to 2 days a week or more,” she says.
The bottom line? Small changes make for big results
“If you can stick to 1 small change, that will build up your confidence so you can make another one,” says Yarker. “That 1-step-at-a-time approach ends up being more successful, even if it doesn’t seem as exciting as some of the big, sweeping changes.”
Simple resolutions – such as packing a veggie snack to sneak in 1 more serving of vegetables a day, or resolving to turn off the TV when you eat to avoid mindless munching – not only help you eat more healthfully, but also foster a healthier relationship with food that can make you happier overall.
And isn’t health and happiness the real key to a brighter new year?