By Ayanna DeVance and Lauren Ranley, MS, RD, LDN
As we welcome the new year, our resolutions start to make us feel motivated and ready for a fresh start. Most of us vow to “get on track,” “be better,” and “get in shape.” Resolutions are often based on improving physical appearance to “get healthy” or prepare for summer or upcoming vacation. Diet companies know the new year is prime time to make sales with promises of quick results and magic solutions. The truth is that any product or diet plan won’t be effective long-term and will ultimately harm your relationship with food and your body. Diets are out, and we’ve got better resolutions this year that will help you love your body and appreciate the food you consume.
A New Year’s Resolution To Lose Weight Never Goes As Planned
Understand that diet plans do not work, regardless of whether you include them in your New Year’s resolution or attempt to execute them at any other point during the year. Starting a diet often means restricting calories or entire food groups. Success rates with this approach are low because diets often involve extreme changes that aren’t sustainable long term. Also, our bodies typically work against restrictive diets by increasing our drive to eat and amping up cravings, which leads to things like “cheating” or “failing” to follow your new diet. Instead, commit to rethinking traditional resolutions and come up with goals that you can incorporate into your daily activities.
Instead Of Setting Weight Loss Milestones, Focus On Your Health
Weight is not a good indicator of our health despite our society emphasizing smaller bodies and promoting weight loss as a way of being ‘healthy.’ Being in a thin body does not equal health. And vice versa is true – being in a larger body doesn’t make you unhealthy. Realistically, there is no one determinant of health, meaning your weight alone can’t predict whether or not you will get sick. There are other factors, such as genetics and lifestyle, that we have to consider. Also, when it comes to seeking routine or preventative medical care, the negative stigma around weight can deter people from seeing a doctor, leading to medical issues going unnoticed or untreated. But instead of the lack of medical care being considered, it’s usually the person’s weight that gets blamed. All of this is to say that you can be healthy in a variety of body shapes and sizes.
So when establishing a New Year’s resolution, remember that health objectives don’t necessarily have to involve weight loss. Rather than obsessively focus on weight or changing pant sizes, focus on things other than physical characteristics.
Here are examples of other resolutions you can implement that will focus less on how you look:
- To be less busy and do more creative things
- Go swimming with my family instead of just watching from the sidelines
- To incorporate a running/walking routine
- Reignite your passion for cooking
- Reduce the number of purchases made and be more mindful
Love Your Body and Yourself
Everybody is different; what works for one person may not work for another. A “healthy” lifestyle promoted by someone on social media isn’t going to be realistic or the best option for everyone. Accept your genetic blueprint. Just as a person with a shoe size of eight would not expect to squeeze into a size six realistically, it is equally futile to have a similar expectation about bodies. But mostly, respect your body to feel better about who you are. It’s hard to reject the diet mentality if you are unrealistic and overly critical of your body shape or size. All bodies deserve dignity.
You will discover that you’ll be more motivated to stick with new habits if your intention stems from love rather than shame or fear. Giving your body everything it needs to function properly, such as nutrient-dense foods, an ample water supply, and regular movement, will help you feel your best. Look after your mental health by taking walks or doing self-care activities to feel content and balanced.
How to Start a New Habit
A habit is something that we do automatically and is often developed as a response to a problem or new situation. When we find a rewarding solution to that problem or situation, our brain gets that feedback and stores that information. So, when repeatedly exposed to the same problem or situation, the brain automatically tells us to perform that rewarding action, creating a habit. To make changes that will become a regular part of our life, we must understand how our behaviors are influenced.
When we create habits, our brains undergo an actual process: Cue, Crave, Response, and Reward. This process constantly occurs and is continually giving your brain feedback about your environment. A cue will trigger a craving, leading to a response that provides a reward. This reward then satisfies that craving and becomes associated with the original cue. It’s a constant loop. This Cue, Crave, Response, Reward process is critical when changing your habits, whether implementing new ones or trying to ditch old ones.
Adapted from James Clear’s Atomic Habits, we have the four laws of behavior change. When starting a new habit, you want to:
- Make it Obvious – you want to establish cues for yourselves that will lead you to your desired habit
- Make it Attractive – your brain has to want the new habit
- Make it Easy – habit formation requires repetition of the behavior, and the simpler the task, the easier it is to repeat it.
- Make it Satisfying – this is where the reward comes in! Habits stick when our brain feels rewarded for performing a specific behavior.
Choose habits that are small changes—trying to make a lot of drastic changes at once can be overwhelming and lead you to feel guilty for not sticking to your new habit. Set yourself up for success by making small, manageable changes.
Next, we have the concept of habit stacking which, as it sounds, is the idea of “stacking” a new habit onto an already established routine. Actions or behaviors don’t happen alone; each behavior becomes a cue for the next behavior. You can use this concept to stack your desired habit onto an existing one. BJ Fogg created a habit-stacking formula: “After I [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].”
After my shower, I will meditate for 5 minutes.
After I get home from the grocery store, I will wash the produce.
After I take off my work shoes, I will change into workout clothes.
Now let’s discuss what makes these new behaviors stick. When you rely on goals as a marker of success, that gives the message that you haven’t made any progress until you’ve reached your goal. We know that’s not true because every new habit we establish and step we take towards our goal is a success. Instead of using the goal as a motivator to change, focus on the steps. The small changes you make with your habits make up these steps. You will see more sustained changes by shifting your focus away from the goal and solely to the process. It is also important to note that making small changes to your habits won’t provide instant results, making those small rewards you get from establishing a new behavior vital to long-term success.
- Habits are behaviors we continually repeat, often automatically
- Our brain creates habits through a four-step process
- To establish a new habit, we must Make it Obvious, Make it Attractive, Make it Easy, and Make it Satisfying
- Stack the desired habit onto an already existing one
- Focus on the steps of reaching a goal rather than the goal itself
Make This The Year You Give Up Trying To Be Good At Dieting
So now it’s time to rethink that weight-loss goal you wanted to set as your New Year’s resolution and consider making small, manageable changes that support your well-being. Let’s make this the year that you finally ditch diets and learn how to establish new habits that will become a lifelong part of your routine.