It’s that time again! Before you know it, we’ll be making and breaking (and then re-making!) another round of New Year’s resolutions.
Think about it: How many years have you resolved to lose a bunch of weight, exercise every day, or never touch junk food again? And how many years have these big, life-overhauling plans fallen off-course after a few weeks? (It’s okay—us too).
As a dietitian, I help people reach their health goals every day, and I promise you that reaching yours can be much easier than you think. This year, I want you to try a different approach: Instead of making a grand, Hollywood-style New Year’s resolution about your health, focus on small, actionable changes that will make you feel accomplished on a daily basis, boost your health, and help you both feel and look your best.
Put the following eight mini-resolutions (straight from nutrition pros) to work for you and you’ll have your healthiest year yet!
Don’t look for a ‘new you’ in this New Year. There’s nothing wrong with the current ‘you’! Sure, we could all improve, but I encourage you to celebrate your strengths instead of focusing on your shortcomings. Breaking bad habits and forming healthier ones can be tough, but having the right attitude is half the battle—so I want you to applaud every little victory (like making time to eat a healthy breakfast, bringing lunch to work one day a week, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator). Keep a running list of even your smallest accomplishments to ensure you give yourself credit for every change and see just how much these little wins add up.
A good breakfast sets the tone for the rest of your day and fuels your body for whatever tasks you have coming your way. That’s why incorporating a healthy breakfast into your morning routine is a worth resolution this year, says dietitian Brynn McDowell, R.D. Take it one week at a time and make it easier by keeping your meal simple.
Try plain oatmeal with a spoonful of almond butter stirred in or a slice of whole-grain toast topped with cottage cheese and a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar. When a healthy breakfast is a part of your routine, you’ll have a fresh start every morning—even if a day ends with a late-night snack and an extra glass of wine.
Not only does protein helps to keep you feeling fuller for longer and less likely to reach for lower-nutrient foods, but protein-rich foods—including dairy, eggs, meat, seafood, legumes, and nuts—are packed with many other nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. Your task this year: “Try eating enough protein (20 to 30 grams) at every meal and including some in your snacks,” says Elizabeth Ward, M.S., R.D. That’s roughly a three-ounce serving of meat (like chicken, which packs 21 grams of protein). Bump up your protein intake between meals by adding a tablespoon of chia seeds to your smoothie or dipping fruit slices in Greek yogurt.
“There are so many benefits to meal planning, including saving time and money, reducing food waste, and ensuring a healthier, more balanced plate,” says Jessica Levinson, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N. Start by planning out one day of meals per week and bump it up to two when you’re ready. As you start to see the benefits of thinking ahead, you’ll naturally want to plan out more, and before you know it you’ll be planning the whole week, she says. (Quick tip: Take stock of what you already have in the fridge, freezer, and pantry so you can plan meals that use what you already have on-hand. This way, you can save money on groceries and prevent food waste.)
No, you don’t need to ring in the New Year with a three-day juice cleanse. As many resolutioners know, fad diets and cleanses may seem to work in the short-term, but inevitably end in weight gain after we call it quits. That’s why dietitian Sharon Palmer, R.D., warns against getting caught up in fads—especially if they eliminate whole food groups. Instead, find a more sustainable way of eating by focusing on upping your intake of whole plant foods like whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
When we want to shed fat—as part of a New Year’s resolution or not—we tend to get caught up in calories in versus calories out. But not this year! “Fixating on the number of calories in food not only makes your overall eating experience less enjoyable, but can also welcome the wrong choices,” says Mandy Enright, M.S., R.D.N., R.Y.T., creator of Nutrition Nuptials. Instead, your food decisions should be based on the foods’ overall nutritional value. When considering what to eat, ask yourself: Does this food contain vitamins and minerals? Does it have fiber? And, does it add to my health? Taking this approach will encourage you to eat more healthy foods like veggies, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins, beans, nuts, and seeds, and save the nutritionally ‘less valuable’ treats for special occasions.
Related: 6 Tips For Losing Weight Without Counting Calories
Your stomach is about the size of two of your fists put together—and it probably gets full before your mouth and mind are satisfied. It’s so common for us to eat more than our stomach’s natural capacity—which is easy to do when we’re scrolling through our phones or eating foods loaded with added sugars and fats—that many of us have lost touch with the sensations of hunger and fullness. So, this challenge is two-fold. First: When you eat, just eat—no distractions! And second: Focus on the feeling of fullness as you eat. When your stomach is satisfied, stop eating. The more in-tune you are with your body’s sensations, the more physically and emotionally satisfied you’ll feel after eating—without going overboard.
Related: ‘Mindful Eating’ Is Everywhere—Here’s How To Actually Do It
According to a 2016 Harris poll, 40 percent of Americans gather for family dinner three times a week, or even less often. As busy as we may be with work, after-school activities, doctor’s appointments, and more, finding the time to come together for family meals has major benefits—especially for kids. Family meals are linked to better eating habits, healthier body weights, stronger academic performance, and lower risks of disordered eating and substance abuse, says Liz Weiss, M.S., R.D.N., of Liz’s Healthy Table. Even if it means having breakfast together instead of dinner or focusing on eating together over the weekend, every meal families share together makes a difference, she says. To make meals as enriching as possible, involve the kids in meal planning and prepping and put phones away.
Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N., C.D.N., is an award-winning author, spokesperson, speaker, consultant, and owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC. She has been featured on TV, radio, and print, as well as in digital media, including Everyday Health, Better Homes & Gardens, Women’s Health, and U.S. News & World Report. She is a recipient of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Media Excellence Award and author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You From Label To Table.