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From dieting resolutions to Dry January, many people feel pressure to greet the new year with ambitious goals revolving around nutrition and wellness after a season of indulgence. And while January 1 might seem like the perfect time to start a new diet or exercise plan, making sudden and drastic lifestyle changes can often backfire, resulting in feelings of disappointment, shame and failure. But regardless of when you choose to start, there are ways to make healthy changes to your eating habits that last — and can leave you feeling better and healthier than ever.
As the end of the year nears, Americans are bombarded with information about ways to lose weight in the new year, which has fueled the popularity of new year’s resolutions — many of which revolve around physical health, weight loss and eating habits. But only 10% of U.S. adults stick with their resolutions, and nearly half of all resolutions are dropped within the first 30 days. What’s more, the number of people setting resolutions is decreasing every year, with just 44% of U.S. adults planning to set one in 2022, compared to 50% in 2021. For 2023, only 29% of U.S. adults plan to set one.
So, if you’re looking to make positive changes to your diet, where should you begin? One approach to consider is making small, incremental modifications that are achievable, manageable and sustainable. Continue reading to learn about why dieting isn’t the answer, how you can make changes to your nutrition habits, and other ways to support your health and well-being year-round.
Whether it’s keto or Whole 30, paleo or DASH, there always seems to be a new diet trend taking the country by storm. While more than a third of Americans are on a specific diet at any given time, the end results are often disappointing — most of the weight lost is frequently gained back within a few months. Dieting can be effective in the short-term, but often, efforts to stay on diets fail for many different reasons.
When you start a diet, you’re likely putting your body under unnecessary stress, forcing it to respond through metabolic, hormonal and neurological changes that can overwhelm your willpower. Dieting can also result in feelings of shame if you stray or fail. When you’re on a diet, you’re more likely to limit or change your social activities to avoid temptation, potentially contributing to feelings of depression and isolation — and you can become preoccupied with the food you eat, which can lead to binge eating.
Over time, caloric restriction can lead to slower metabolism, increased hunger and decreased feelings of fullness. Then, when you do consume high-calorie foods, the activity in your brain’s reward center increases. Trying to adhere to a strict diet can also mean depriving your body of the nutrients it needs — like carbs, for example, which give our bodies fuel and energy.
“There’s mounting scientific evidence to suggest that diets don’t work. Research shows that food restriction just makes you want to eat more. And over the long term, dieting can backfire, triggering your body’s survival defenses, slowing your metabolism and making it even harder to lose weight in the future.”
One study found that the most effective way to lose weight is to “limit, not completely restrict, foods that can cause health issues, like added sugar and processed foods.” Another study found that people with “positive, approach-oriented goals were significantly more successful than those with avoidance-oriented goals” — meaning it can be helpful to think about what you can positively incorporate into your daily eating habits versus what you should cut out.
Before you embark on making changes to your nutrition habits, take some time to become aware of your current behavior. Over time, we develop patterns of eating that can be hard to break. Whether that’s seeking comfort by overeating ice cream after a stressful day — and then feeling guilty about it — or absentmindedly snacking during an afternoon lull when you aren’t hungry, it’s important to notice these patterns without judgment. This will give you a chance to observe what you want to change and to become more mindful of what you’re eating and why.
Helping your brain form new habits around eating can be hugely beneficial as you start to focus on better nutrition. Ask yourself why you’re eating what you’re eating, and what purpose it’s serving for your mind and body. Remember that food is nourishment, and what you eat impacts how you feel. For example, ingredients like vegetables, fruit, fish, nuts, legumes and olive oil can boost happiness.
Once you’ve had a chance to observe your eating habits, think about a few specific goals you can set — and avoid setting any that aren’t reasonable. Once that goal becomes a habit, you can move to the next goal. If you want to reduce the amount of alcohol you drink, instead of cutting it out entirely, consider setting a goal to drink alcohol one less day per week than you do currently. If you have a sweet tooth and want to eat less dessert, start by observing how much added sugar is in the food you buy. Then, set a goal to indulge in no-sugar-added dark chocolate instead of your usual go-to. You can also try eating carbs with protein and healthy fats so that you’ll feel fuller.
When you set smaller goals, you’re more likely to stick to them so they can become habits. This can lead to feelings of empowerment and success, which are likely to motivate you to take on other small goals.
There’s no single solution that will work for everyone when it comes to improving your diet. But keep these tips in mind to improve your nutrition habits throughout the year:
Healthy food can be delicious and flavorful. In today’s digital world, it’s easy to find well-balanced, nutritious recipes online. Choose those with your favorite ingredients and flavors or with products you can source locally. Below, we’ve included a nutrient-dense recipe from our in-house nutritionist:
Recipe from Diana De la Ossa, NeoMedicine Institute nutritionist
1 salmon fillet2 Tbsp basil almond pesto (recipe below)1 Tbsp unsweetened Greek yogurt1 tsp olive oilSalt and pepper
1. Season the salmon fillet with salt and pepper2. Open salmon in half to make a pocket3. In a bowl, combine 2 Tbsp pesto with 1 Tbsp unsweetened Greek yogurt and stuff into salmon4. Preheat a pan and add olive oil, then grill the salmon on each side 5. Serve with grilled asparagus or vegetables of your choice
2 cups fresh basil1/2 cup almonds 2 garlic cloves1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese (for dairy-free version, use nutritional yeast)1/3 cup extra virgin olive oilSalt and pepper
As with anything else in life, balance is key to good nutrition. Depriving yourself of the food you love to eat or trying to adhere to a strict diet aren’t sustainable goals — nor are they necessary. Instead, focus on making small changes to your daily habits and try to incorporate nutrient-dense foods as much as you can. If you’re looking for more support with improving your nutrition, diet and overall health, contact us to learn how we can help.
Diana De la Ossa is an expert in nutrition and dietetics. Her background includes certifications in hormonal nutrition, food, mood and eating behaviors, lifestyle modification program for the control of subclinical inflammation, insulin resistance and chronic diseases, nutrition and sports supplementation, and nutrition and microbiome. She is passionate about using the best ingredients to create personalized meal plans that meet the specific needs of each patient. She loves teaching and transforming the ways in which we learn and live to eat nutritiously. Diana also has experience as a consultant for company employee wellness programs and has mentored professional athletes. She is also an experienced public speaker, TV host, podcaster, content creator and chef.
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