by Lisa Shettle, MS, RDN, CD-N
For many of us, January is all about resolutions. Maybe you’re planning to stop eating meat and try a vegan diet, or you’re ready to kick excess sugar to the curb after a holiday season of too many cookies. Perhaps you’ve committed to avoiding fast food.
Starting the year with goals for eating well is done with good intentions, but it’s just as common to ditch those grand plans within a few weeks.
This year, how can you do it right? If you’re pledging to make better food choices, which strategies can help you stick with them?
Start by setting S.M.A.R.T goals. S.M.A.R.T. stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based. S.M.A.R.T goals define the steps you’ll need to take to reach your intended target. Here are some tips to achieve your goal efficiently and effectively.
Start small: Make goals measurable and manageable
It’s tempting to begin with dramatic gestures, but the key to lasting change is setting goals that are small enough that we won’t ditch them by Valentine’s Day. Manageable, measurable goals can create long-term change. When people set lofty goals, they can get discouraged after a couple weeks. If you don’t feel confident in your ability to make the change, you’re going to discontinue trying.
An example of a specific, measurable, manageable change might be swapping an afternoon candy bar with something healthier, like a serving of fruit or vegetables. If it eliminates 200 calories per day, that behavior will make a difference over time.
Next, track that change for three weeks. It takes at least 21 days to create a habit. If you make that one good shift for three weeks, congratulate yourself. Then work on maintaining that behavior before you add another small change.
It’s tempting to try making a half-dozen changes all at once, but long-term success comes from focusing on individual behaviors that you’d like to change and identifying the triggers that lead to those behaviors. Looking at one behavior at a time makes the process much easier.
If your goal is to lose 10 pounds, for example, it will likely take two to four months — losing up to a pound a week is really the maximum for sustainable weight loss. Making small behavioral shifts like using apps, fitness trackers, and maintaining a food diary can identify places extra calories are sneaking in. Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Tell everybody you know that you’re making a change – social support is huge! If you’re going out to eat and your friends or family members know that you’re trying to change your diet, they can help choose a restaurant that will accommodate your needs. The need to save face may keep you on track.
Don’t be too hard on yourself
Accept that mistakes are a normal part of building a new habit. Accept that you may not be perfect, but you can still aim for consistency. Strive for progress – not perfection!
Make an appointment with a registered dietitian nutritionist
A registered dietitian nutritionist provides medical nutrition therapy and is your best source of reliable and evidence-based nutrition information. An RDN can also help you determine measurable and achievable goals within your individualized plan for your best health outcomes.
BONUS: Services are covered by most health insurance plans!