5 Health Resolutions Dietitians Won't Make—Plus, 7 They Will
January 1 holds magical powers for some. Unlike the 364 days prior, it offers a fresh start for those of us who live by the calendar. Many of us take this as an opportunity to turn over a new leaf with a New Year's resolution.
Exercise more and eat better are the two most common (very valiant) resolutions year after year. Unfortunately, just 6% of the 26,151 Americans involved in a 2018 YouGov Omnibus survey completely stuck to their resolutions after six months.
Maybe we've just been approaching this whole resolution thing wrong, suggests Michelle Hyman, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., a registered dietitian at Simple Solutions Weight Loss.
"If making a resolution is what it takes to motivate you, then so be it. I much prefer that my clients set short-term and long-term actionable goals rather than resolutions. Setting and achieving short-term goals helps keeps you motivated," Hyman says.
Both Hyman and Ashley Reaver, R.D., a registered dietitian at Ashley Reaver Nutrition LLC in Oakland, California agree that resolutions are fine if they motivate you to make a positive change—just make sure they're realistic, reasonable and specific.
"If someone wants to try to eat healthier and set a new goal, great! Just because they want to start on January 1 doesn't mean they won't have my support," Reaver says. "Resolutions get a bad rap because they are almost always very short-lived. This is typically because they are extreme and require too much time, effort, or energy to maintain. Choose to take small steps—changing one thing at a time—that are attainable and are very specific so you can cross them off a list."
It can be a big buzzkill to drop the ball on your resolution faster than the ball dropped on December 31. So Hyman and Reaver are opening up about New Year's resolutions they've officially vetoed, plus those that they recommend if you're the resolutioning kind. (And before we dig in, here are 16 weight-loss tips and tricks that *actually* work, according to dietitians.)
Resolutions Dietitians Won't Make...Ever
You'll notice some common themes: Extreme. Nearly impossible to stick to. Focused on the effect rather than the cause.
"Resolutions should be on process not progress goals. A process goal is an action that you can do and measure. A progress goal is usually long-term with few measurable steps in between," Reaver says.
1. Cut out all carbs.
Recipe pictured above: Classic Sesame Noodles with Chicken
Simply put, "cutting out all carbohydrates is not realistic, nor necessary," Hyman says. (In case you need more convincing, here are 6 reasons you should absolutely be eating carbs.)
2. Fit in my wedding dress/tux/high school jeans again.
This resolution is not actionable. Think of it like making a goal to be in Paris. How will you get there if you don't book a flight and pack your bag? (Well, unless you live there now. And in that case, bonjour!)
"Instead, lay out actions that will baby-step you closer to reaching a goal," Reaver says. "Set some smaller goals that will let you know you are making progress towards this larger goal. Remember: Your body isn't controlled by your resolutions, it's controlled by your actions and environment. Focus on digging into actionable changes in your routine instead of only looking at the scale or mirror."
3. Stop eating chocolate.
Recipe pictured above: Dark Chocolate Truffles
"Stopping a habit cold turkey rarely works. When you limit yourself, you naturally want what you've limited the most," Reaver says. "A better resolution would be to have a meal or snack before reaching for chocolate. If you are actually hungry, chocolate won't provide the nutrition your body is looking for. Having a meal may be what your body needs. If you still want chocolate, then have some."
4. Lose 50 pounds by spring break.
Losing 50 pounds is a major weight-loss goal, and that's likely about four pounds every week before you take off on vacation.
"Losing large amounts of weight very quickly means you are losing not just body fat but also lean muscle and water weight," Hyman says. "Plus you likely won't be able to maintain the loss if you don't change your habits and behaviors for the long-term." (Not to mention the damage drastically cutting calories can do to your metabolism.)
Instead, try something more practical—say, eating 1,800 calories per day and easing into an exercise routine—and aim for a more reasonable weight-loss goal of 1-2 pounds per week.
5. Exercise every day.
"If you haven't found time to exercise in the last year, 2020 isn't going to miraculously solve the problem. Start with a commitment to go once or twice a week for the first month. If you're successful, increase to three times a week after a month. Successfully go three times per month before trying to go up to four, and so on," Reaver says. "You still have a life to live. January 1 won't change any of that, so set realistic expectations."
And remember: Rest days are important to help with recovery, especially if you do intense exercise, Hyman says.
Instead, Consider These Dietitian-Approved New Year's Resolutions
As an alternative to progress goals like the five above, "focus on process resolutions that you can succeed in doing," Reaver says. "Start small and don't overwhelm yourself with expectations of doing everything at once."
And if you do ever get off track or slip up, remember these wise words from Reaver.
"If you don't follow through on your resolutions, don't beat yourself up. Figure out what went wrong, adjust and continue to try new things. Focusing on personal development or improving your health is not a bad thing and shouldn't be demonized."
1. Start the day with a glass of H2O.
Before you head to bed, fill up a glass of water to wake up to on the nightstand. After your alarm sounds, down the cup before your feet hit the floor.
"I'm a big proponent of waking your body up each more gently with water instead of aggressively with coffee. Think of it as waking up to 'Good morning, my friend; time to start the day' versus 'Wake up you lazy bum!' This is specific so there is no ambiguity of when and what, and this is a behavior that will actually make you feel better physically," Reaver says.
2. Then make breakfast at home.
Recipe pictured above: Spinach & Cheese Breakfast Skillet
Then walk those feet to the kitchen and make your morning meal at home, Reaver suggests. Here are 30 healthy breakfast ideas to inspire your menu all January long.
"Start your day on a great foot, feeling in control of your food choices and save money while doing it. Breakfast sets the tone for the day. This might require you to wake up earlier to do it so you aren't rushing to get out of the door, which is another good habit to start. Since you'll be in control of the choice [rather than resulting to what you can round up from the office vending machine at 10 a.m.], you can make the best decision for your health,"
3. Drink fewer sugar-sweetened sips.
As mentioned in #1, "water really is the best beverage choice," Hyman says. "Aim to minimize your intake of sugar-sweetened beverages, including fruit juice. Chronic excessive added sugar is problematic for many reasons, including heart, liver, and kidney health, as well as for our waistlines."
Don't love the taste of plain H2O? Get creative with fruit- and herb-infused water recipes.
4. Score 3 servings per day of non-starchy vegetables.
Recipe pictured above: Roasted Asparagus Parmesan
Try to add a serving or two to lunch, Reaver says, just to get specific about when you'll make this happen (and to allow for more time to fill in any nutritional holes at dinner).
"Aim for at least three—ideally more!—servings of non-starchy vegetables daily. By making sure you're eating produce consistently, it should help you feel fuller between meals, give your heart and digestive system the dietary fiber it needs, provide antioxidants, vitamins and minerals," Hyman says.
Once you've mastered this goal, tack on a mission of two or more fruit servings per day.
5. Floss after lunch.
This is Reaver's personal all-time favorite New Year's resolution.
"I taped it up on my desk and it was a nice, easy resolution that had nothing to do with changing my appearance," she says.
The benefits of sticking to this totally-doable resolution don't stop at the pearly whites, either. Research proves that a healthy mouth can lower your risk for heart disease, diabetes and acid reflux.
6. Move your body in any way that you enjoy.
Exercise doesn't have to be at a fancy gym to "count."
"Prioritize moving your body. Finding something you enjoy that you can stick with is most important," Hyman says.
Take a walk or jog around the neighborhood, try drop-in classes at local fitness boutiques, sweat along with online or app-based workouts or consider team sports until you find something that you look forward to (well, at least the majority of the time).
7. Prioritize sleep.
"If you're chronically sleep-deprived, you aren't going to feel your best, which may impact your ability to and motivation to make healthy food choices and exercise," Hyman says. (P.S. These nine foods can help you nod off faster!)