It’s a new year, a new decade and a good time to make a new start.
Many of us will have chosen losing weight or going vegan, along with giving up alcohol as one of our new year’s resolutions. But beginning a diet can be overwhelming. There are bound to be challenges whenever you start something new, especially when it involves something you do several times a day – like eating and drinking. But it is possible to start the year with a healthy eating plan – and stick to it. Here’s how:
How to create a healthy diet you can stick to:
- Start with your reasons why
- Follow a healthy eating plan
- Make small incremental changes
- Set realistic goals
- Track your meals
- Add in exercise
If you are just starting out in your alcohol-free journey, check out our blog ‘What to eat when you go AF: the vitamins and minerals you need‘.
Start with your “why?”
We frequently let the outcome – the number on the scales, the steps on our activity tracker – be the sole indicator of our success. But research shows performance-centered goals are unsustainable long term. Instead, you need to set goals that mean something to you, that reflect who you wish to represent as a person. It can be a good idea to write these down so you can refer back to them if you feel unmotivated at a later date, and helps you to solidify your intentions. Ask yourself what you are going to gain by engaging in this new behaviour, rather than what you are going to miss out on. Will it improve the way you look, the way you feel? Focusing on the reward will mean you’re much more likely to engage in changing your habits. So, stop thinking about what you might lose and instead look forward to the wins.
Follow a healthy diet
It sounds obvious, but ensuring you are eating the correct things to give you the nutrition you need is important. Your diet has knock on effects on many other bodily functions such as sleep, meaning what you eat is a big factor in your energy levels and overall health. A healthy eating plan should include foods you enjoy along with plenty of fruit, vegetables, fish, nuts, beans, low fat dairy, lean meat like chicken breast, and whole grains like oats, brown rice and quinoa. Thanks to their ability to satisfy, these low-calorie foods will help you stick to your diet. The most satisfying foods have lots of fibre or low-fat protein in them. You should try to wean yourself off your favourite unhealthy foods that are high in fat or calories and replace them with more nutritious options. One of the most challenging aspects of weight loss is cutting back on calories. Many low-calorie foods can leave you feeling hungry and unfulfilled between meals, making it much more tempting to overeat and indulge. Fortunately, plenty of health foods exist that are both filling and low in calories. These include oats, Greek yoghurt, soup, berries, eggs, popcorn and cottage cheese.
Change is hard. Making small, gradual changes to your eating pattern is the best way to overhaul your diet. On day one we tend to be really motivated. We promise to give up alcohol, go the gym every day, cut down on sugar. But pursuing all of this at once puts us under unnecessary pressure and we are more likely to fail. Adopting healthy habits needs to be a gradual process. Research shows small, simple actions are more likely to become habitual. Plan a healthy snack at 4pm to avoid the biscuit slump, switch to a smaller sized coffee, take the stairs whenever you can. Making small changes can have a big impact on your long-term success. They don’t need to feel too punishing or restrictive and each time you accomplish something minor, you’ll get a sense of satisfaction from the process which will spur you on to stick to your goals.
Set realistic goals
Most people who want to lose weight set goals that are over ambitious – dreaming of fitting into unrealistic clothing sizes or losing too many pounds. Try to set weight loss goals that are attainable and remember slow and steady wins the race – the recommended limit is only 1 or 2 pounds a week. Losing as little as 5 or 10 percent of your body weight can change the way you feel as well as improve your health.
Track your meals
It’s a really good idea to keep a food diary. Documenting what and how much you eat is the key to weight loss success. Research shows that people who log calories lose more weight and are more likely to keep the weight off in the long run. The simple act of writing everything down is a powerful tool that can keep you in control. And these days counting calories is very easy. There are some great websites and apps available that can help you log your meals and track your intake as you go along.
Eating healthily and cutting calories is only half the formula for successful weight loss. Taking regular physical exercise is a powerful tool, helping you burn calories and increase strength, balance, and coordination whilst also reducing stress and improving your overall health. So, as well as healthy eating find ways to add exercise into your day, whether it’s cycling to work, going to the gym or attending a fitness class.
It’s a marathon not a sprint
It’s a myth that it takes 21 days to change a habit – research tells us it can take anything from 66 days or more to make or break a pattern of behaviour. The good news is, as time goes on, it gets easier rather than harder. Once a new habit is formed it will eventually stick and you’ll soon find you don’t even have to think about it – it will become automatic.
One of the reasons we should think about what we can gain from adopting a new habit is that we change more from a place of growth than a place of shame. It’s a myth that if we let ourselves go we’re just going to sit at home in our PJs watching Netflix all day. Ultimately if we accept that we might fail, we’re less likely to procrastinate, we’re more likely to be healthy eaters, we’re more likely to exercise more. It’s about giving yourself space for failure that’s a huge part of habit change – actually accepting that failure is part of your success.