Let’s talk about realistic and compassionate resolutions this new year, with resident dietitian Marnie Nitschke.
7 minute read.
It’s that time of year. As we step purposefully into the new year, we’re encouraged to take stock of our health and habits, and declare a fresh, positive start to the year ahead. Again.
And while the New Year New Me idea is inherently problematic (as though we could actually metamorphasize into a new and improved version of ourselves overnight), there is something nice about the idea of starting with a clean slate in January. Taking time to reflect on the year that was, and to set new intentions moving ahead.
As humans, we do well having goals to work toward. And when it comes to our health and nutrition, new year resolutions can be a great source of motivation and inspiration - provided you approach them from the right perspective.
The best recipe? Start with some gentle, non-judgmental reflection. Because if you’re looking to change a habit, it’s important to first understand the environment and context of that habit.
Eg. ‘I’d like to eat more healthily this year’
That’s a pretty broad goal – which is unlikely to be achieved without understanding the complexities of your current eating habits, and then developing specific smaller goals. Let’s break it down.
Firstly you could ask yourself what factors have been barriers to eating well recently. Make a list.
- Is it time, energy, or motivation you struggle with?
- Do you lack confidence with cooking and meal planning skills?
- Do you have access to cooking facilities and equipment?
- Are you confused about what healthy eating actually is?
- Has financial pressure been a big factor in food choices?
Then you could ask yourself how many of those factors are realistically modifiable.
Chances are, not all of them are.
- You’re unlikely to suddenly become more wealthy or have extra hours appear in your day.
- However you may have the ability to improve your knowledge of food and nutrition, develop new cooking skills and work on time management and meal planning.
Next up: What are some simple, achievable and realistic strategies you could employ to break down those barriers and work toward your goal of eating well?
- Could you connect with a dietitian to help you understand your nutrition needs, and practical ways to improve your diet?
- Could you download a template and have a go at weekly meal planning?
- Would an online (or in person) cooking course be a fun way to extend your skills and get you enthused in the kitchen?
Many of us like the idea of positive change, but struggle with broad goals like ‘eating healthier’. Breaking things down to smaller chunks is much more helpful – and instituting new micro habits is a great way of creating lasting change for the better.
Here’s some examples of micro habits that can lead to healthier eating:
- Drinking a glass of water every morning on waking.
- Slowing down the speed of eating, and chewing well.
- Adding fruit to your breakfast every morning.
- Eating a handful of nuts each day.
Still feeling overwhelmed? Remember that resolutions are completely optional! In fact there’s nothing magical about this time of year that necessitates any particular action at all.
If you’d like to set some intentions for next year but are not sure where to start, here’s some simple but effective nutrition and health goals you could consider:
- Aim for at least 5 serves of vegetable or legumes each day. One ‘standard’ serve = ½ cup cooked veggies or 1 cup salad leaves. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get there every day. And if you’re starting from 1-2 serves per day, aim for 3-4 serves to start with. Even aiming for 1 serve is better than none!
- Try to be active on most days of the week – Have a go at a variety of activities to find those you enjoy. Getting active in the morning is a great way to set a positive mood for the day, and can also help with energy and concentration. Whether it’s a walk with the dog, yoga on the back deck, a swim in the ocean or at your local pool, a dance class, pilates or a gym session, plan out those opportunities and schedule them in. Oh - and ditch the ‘go hard go home’ attitude and listen to your body – we all need rest days!
- Instead of aiming to change your body shape or size, how about aiming to improve your relationship with your body? Rather than ‘loving your body’ or ‘embracing your curves’ (although I’m absolutely down for that too), body acceptance and body respect are more helpful concepts to work toward. This type of goal is certainly no mean feat, considering that we exist in a looks-obsessed and fat-adverse society. But if you’re exhausted by dieting and looking to step off the hamster wheel, there are plenty of resources out there to help. Reach out for help from a trained professional, follow non-diet social media accounts and get reading. Here are some great resources to start with.
- What about making sleep quality and quantity a goal? Sleep is one of the most underrated health behaviours, that can make a difference not just to our energy levels but also our mood, concentration, immune system, inflammation levels and even our gut health. You could set up a sleep routine for adequate rest, as well as a routine to help you wind down at night, with screen-free time before bed as a priority.
- Have you ever considered incorporating meditation or mindfulness into your life? Both these practices are accessible, evidence based ways to create improvement in your health and wellbeing. Studies show that people who undertake these practices daily have better mood and mental health. You could look at using an app, or listening to an audio book to help you master this skill. And by setting an intention to practice every day (even if you don’t always get it ‘right’), you’re well on your way to a calmer, more positive and resilient you.
Now, you might notice by now that I’ve not mentioned detoxes, weight loss challenges or cutting out sugar or gluten until this point. And there’s good reason why.
Pick up the paper, turn on the TV or scroll through social media at this time of year, and you’ll be hard pressed not to encounter an article, advertisement or influencer peddling toxic fitspo and body shaming messages . Please remember – the diet and wellness industry don’t care about your health – they exist purely to profit from your insecurities and anxieties.
For the record, detoxes are generally a terrible idea too. There is no scientific research to show that they are beneficial, and any weight loss is mainly due to fluid shifts, which rapidly comes back on once the restriction period is over. Headaches and brain fog are common symptoms reported during detox regimens. And most of all, some can be downright dangerous, causing electrolyte imbalances, low blood pressure, and in severe cases, metabolic acidosis.
Not sounding like particularly great ways to create meaningful changes to your health hey?
In a nutshell, what’s the best message to remember when making new year resolutions?
Self-shaming and bullying techniques aren’t healthy or kind to your body or mind. If you’re serious about creating real changes that lead to better health, self compassion and respect is the first step.