By: Cassidy Hall
Area Agent, Family and Consumer Sciences
NC Cooperative Extension
Johnston & Wilson County Center
A new year is symbolic of a fresh start toward improving areas of our lives that we believe could use a little extra attention. It’s an exciting time as we reflect on the previous year and think towards the future, but let’s be honest- the excitement experienced in the first week of the new year quickly leads to an overwhelming list of changes that seem nearly impossible. By the end of the month, most folks either start this cycle over again or completely give up. While the following can be applied to a variety of resolutions, you’ll increase your likelihood of turning your 2021 healthy eating goals into a new lifestyle by following these three tips.
- Start Small & Prioritize
With the excitement of the new year and motivation to take advantage of a fresh start, it can be easy to create a lengthy list of areas you’d like to improve. This tends to become overwhelming and lead to giving up on your goals because it seems too difficult. When you draft a lengthy list of ideas, it very well may be too difficult to stay focused. Rather than committing to “I want to loose ____ pounds,” consider the ways you plan to achieve this goal. Will you do this by exercising more, drinking more water, eating more vegetables, or cooking at home more often? Prioritize by choosing one idea to focus on each week. Once you have succeeded, you can add the next step. Thinking through how you plan to achieve your New Year Resolution and prioritizing is incredibly important to success.
- Add Rather than Restrict
It is all too common for people to begin the new year with restrictions, particularly when deciding to eat healthier. If healthy eating is part of your 2021 goals, you very well may be on the bandwagon of restricting carbohydrates, soft drinks, fast food, and junk food. When you focus on restricting certain foods, you are often left feeling deprived which can quickly spiral into giving up on your goals- especially when you do not give yourself grace. After all, healthy eating is a continuous journey! Rather than telling yourself that you have to totally remove or restrict soft drinks, try focusing on increasing your water intake. Instead of focusing on restricting potato chips and other junk foods, focus on increasing your fruit and vegetable consumption. Instead of focusing on restricting all fast food, focus on eating more meals prepared at home. With this method, it is crucial to track your progress. Begin a checklist. Each time you succeed, check off a bottle of water, meal prepared at home, or servings of fruits and vegetables. You’ll be able to watch your improvements progress which will encourage you to keep going. Over time, as you continue to add, you’ll in turn reduce consumption of less healthy foods and beverages without feeling overwhelmed or deprived.
- Be S.M.A.R.T. when Considering your Goals
The key to achieving your goals is to ensure the goals are S.M.A.R.T. Your goals should be specific, measurable, achievable and realistic, as well as timely. Rather than saying “I will lose weight” or “I will eat healthier,” make those goals more specific. In order to do this, you’ll need a tactic for measuring to see if you are well on your way to achieving the goal or not. Instead, begin with “I will lose fifteen pounds” or “I will increase my fruits and vegetables.” Next, think about what you can achieve and what is realistic. It may not be realistic for you to loose fifteen pounds in a month. It may not be realistic to eat the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables per day when you are currently eating only one or two servings per day. In order to make your goals achievable and realistic, you need to add a timestamp or perhaps a few timestamps (think back to the first tip to start small). If weight loss is your goal, consider a series of mini-goals that are S.M.A.R.T. For example, if you’d like to lose a total of fifteen pounds, consider how you plan to do so. It is realistic to shed between one to two pounds per week. Your series of goals may look like “I will lose two pounds by January 11th” followed by “I will lose an additional one and a half pounds by January 18th” and so on until you reach your ultimate goal. If healthier eating is your overarching goal for 2021, consider drafting your mini-goals based on what is realistic and achievable considering your current eating habits. For example, if you currently eat one to two servings of fruits and vegetables per day, your S.M.A.R.T. goals may appear as “I will eat one serving of fruit and one serving of vegetables per day until January 18th” followed by “I will eat one serving of fruit and two servings of vegetables each day until January 31st.” Once you have worked your way up the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables per day, you can prioritize your next series of specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely (or timestamped) mini-goals. After all, we refer to these goals as ‘New Year Resolutions’ which indicates we have the entire year to work on them, not just the first few months of the year!
Turning resolutions into a lifestyle takes time, practice, and giving yourself grace. If you have a rough couple of days, get back on track with your next meal. Healthy eating is a continuous journey that is not perfect 100% of the time; however, by starting small and prioritizing your goals, focusing on adding rather than restricting foods and beverages, and penciling down a series of specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely mini-goals, you will be more likely to turn your New Year Resolution into a new lifestyle! For recipes, tips, and videos to stay on track throughout the year, please like N.C. Cooperative Extension- Johnston County Center on Facebook. You may also view our website at www.johnston.ces.ncsu.edu for information regarding upcoming programs in the areas of food and nutrition, 4-H Youth Development, Master Gardener programs, and more.