The new year is a great time to check-in with your goals and set new ones, but it’s important to remember you can make small changes to improve healthy habits, create (and reassess) goals any time of the year. If you’re looking to lose weight, these expert-approved tips will help you avoid common diet pitfalls and get on the right track in January so you can lose weight all year long.
“Losing weight” is a common aim, but the key is to focus more on the journey than the destination. Namely: What are you going to do to make it happen? “Focusing on small behavioral modifications is a much more effective approach to make changes,” says Lisa Moskovitz, RD. The more specific, she says, the better. Instead of “eat more vegetables, make a goal to eat at least 2 cups of vegetables per day; instead of drink more water, drink at least 60 ounces of water daily; rather than exercise, it might be exercise for 3 hours per week,” she says. Having goals that are time-bound and specific makes it easier to stick with them and feel motivated to make progress.
Staying super strict with your diet feels ferocious at first — you’re launching yourself toward your goals head-on. However, “following a fad diet that’s not sustainable is a common mistake,” says Amy Shapiro, RD. “Often, people hit the ground running but peter out by Valentine’s Day,” she says. This often happens when you’re eliminating an entire group of foods, namely carbohydrates. If you don’t eat quality carbs, your body will look for the energy in other ways, leading to cravings for sugary foods. Similarly, you might think a juice cleanse is a great way to “detox.” However, once you start eating food again, you’ll likely gain that weight back and possibly more, says Shapiro. Juice cleanses also promote hormonal imbalance that affect your health and can make it harder to reach your goals. Instead, it’s important to track your nutrition with an app like MyFitnessPal so you can pay attention to portion sizes and include all of your favorite foods in a well-balanced diet.
It’s tough to go cold turkey on something you really enjoy — like banning all desserts, giving up wine or beer or saying pasta will never end up on your plate ever again. Over time, “it will likely backfire, leading you to crave those foods even more,” says Moskovitz. If this has already happened to you in the past, you might think this is the year you’ll be able to overcome these cravings and rely on willpower. Instead, make this the time when you plan ahead and find suitable substitutes that still bring you joy. “Vowing to completely stop eating your favorite foods is unrealistic, but subbing in different options, so you still feel satisfied, can set you up for that long-term success,” says Moskovitz. That might be making a homemade lower-sugar version of your favorite dessert, lightening up your go-to casserole, or changing up your pasta dish (tossing whole-wheat pasta with more veggies or choosing higher-protein pastas with alternative flours like chickpea or quinoa).
It’s tough to live a life where you move through your day thinking about everything you’ve told yourself you can’t have. Creating a more positive energy with “cans” rather than “can’t” is better for creating lasting change. For instance, “look at filling your plate at least half-full with fresh veggies and adding a heart-healthy fat to each meal,” says Shapiro. Similarly, you can focus on other things to add to your life to lose weight, such as a mindfulness practice and types of movement you look forward to doing.
It’s one thing to set a goal, but it’s another to be ready for what it really means in practice. “No matter what, resolutions are easier said than done,” says Moskovitz. “They require commitment, self-awareness and a lot of stamina,” she says. In practice, it means you’ll change your diet in ways that may feel uncomfortable initially. You’ll go out for an energy-boosting power walk when you’d rather lay on the couch. You’ll cook a meal at home rather than ordering in or alter your lifestyle in other ways that affect your eating habits, like prioritize sleep or stress reduction. Regardless, it takes work and acknowledging consistency always beats perfection.
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