A Blueprint for Lasting Change With Healthy Eating Plans
As the holiday season concludes, along with its festive gatherings and indulgent treats, perhaps it’s time to consider a healthy eating plan for weight loss.
Often the start of the New Year, involves thinking about diet-focused New Year’s resolutions. However, breaking these resolutions within a few weeks is a tradition almost as common as setting them in the first place!
Before delving into this more let’s celebrate the fact that you want to improve your nutrition, fitness, and health, especially after the holidays. This often goes hand in hand with the “fresh-start effect,” where most people set goals at the beginning of the New Year (1).
It’s good that you want to look after yourself so let’s just look at some tips to help you incorporate a sustainable and effective healthy eating plan which goes beyond the typical New Year’s resolutions.
Rethinking New Year's Resolutions for Long Term Healthy Eating
Research shows that lots of people abandon their New Year’s resolutions, including those centred on achieving a healthy eating plan, by the end of January (2,3). It’s crucial to recognise that the struggle to stick to these resolutions is not your fault; it’s that these resolutions are often too ambitious, inflexible, framed negatively, and are tried without the necessary support.
Let’s look at an alternative approach to setting health goals—one that prioritises achievability, sustainability, and the cultivation of lifelong habits, especially when it comes to a healthy eating plan for weight loss.
Did you know? Among all personal goals set as New Year’s resolutions, two out of every three focus on eating habits, physical health, and weight loss (1)
For diet-focused New Year’s resolutions, it's crucial to keep in mind:
Firstly, there’s no physiological reason to delay taking a step toward better health, including adopting a healthy eating plan for weight loss, until a specific date.
Your “fresh start” goal can begin right now, whether it’s choosing to eat slower, including more fruits and vegetables, or listening to your body and recognising when you are full at your next meal.
Secondly, the motivation behind many diet-focused goals, such as striving for a healthy eating plan, may stem from unhealthy origins, such as
- a desire to fit in with others or peer and social pressure,
- feeling guilty about your current health status (“comparisonitis”), or
- using resolutions as a justification to overindulge during the holidays (2). (we’ve all been there!)
Thirdly, diet-focused goals often lean towards the unrealistic and unattainable. [which means that the problem lies with the goal itself, not the individual.] Goals like these can result in disappointment, shame, increased guilt, and potentially worsened health habits and outcomes.
Research has suggested links between specific diet-focused New Year’s goals, including those related to a healthy eating plan, and actual worsened well-being (3). Additionally, unrealistic health goals may trigger a common yo yo dieting scenario.
A Strategic Approach to Setting Your Healthy Eating Plan
Setting smaller, sustainable changes makes it easier for success in the long term. Research shows that certain types of goals will support our overall well-being rather than the unwanted negative effect. Consider these research-backed strategies to help you set health goals at any time of the year.
The Art of Flexible Goal Setting
A 2021 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health discovered that people who had flexible New Year’s resolutions consistently noticed higher levels of well-being than those who were more rigid to their goals (3).
But what defines goal flexibility? Researchers characterise it as “the ability to view setbacks with equanimity and adjust goal pursuit as required.”
The positive effect of flexible goal setting is so important. When we are faced with challenges, the ability to adjust the goal itself plays a vital role in sustaining a sense of well-being. According to the study authors, this adaptability fosters a feeling of autonomy in relation to oneself and the future (3).
Fostering flexibility for a Healthy Eating Plan
In that same 2021 study, the researchers explored the concept of “goal tenacity,” highlighting the need to just keep going (be persistent!) when overcoming obstacles. Surprisingly, the study revealed that excessive goal tenacity doesn’t make it easier to achieve a long term healthy eating plan. Instead, the inflexibility and rigidness of that approach to reach certain nutrition goals proved detrimental to some, damaging their sense of well-being (3)
The insistence on a strict and rigid method, without flexibility just makes it harder in the long run. This relentless tenacity may lead to an “all-or-nothing” mindset, with some of us just giving up entirely on a healthy eating plan because it gets difficult to maintain – instead of adapting our plan to overcome challenges. This inflexibility in healthy eating goal setting has been linked to issues such as perfectionism, depression, and anxiety (3).
Positive Outcome vs Negative Outcome
A study from 2020, featured in the journal PLoS One, revealed that those with “approach-oriented goals” achieved far more success compared to those with avoidance-oriented goals (1).
An approach-oriented goal is a goal where you are wanting a positive outcome (4), such as wanting to become fitter and stronger. This is more likely to be reached rather than an avoidance-oriented goal, like preventing diabetes.
Some suggestions to help with your healthy eating plan
Here’s some small, flexible healthy eating goals that can become part of your long term healthy eating plan. Regardless of the goals you set, ensure they come from a place of self-love.
Choose Nutrient-Rich Snacks (on most days)
Replacing healthy snacks from pre packaged, processed snacks is a good start. For example, including fruit and nuts into your snacking routine three or four times a week could be a positive start. Numerous studies have shown the positive healthful benefits of eating fruit and nuts, yet many of us still don’t eat nearly enough of these. .
Opt for Water
Drinking water is an excellent way to stay hydrated while lowering your sugar intake and needless empty calories found in sugary drinks. Hydrating with less sugar is always a positive outcome for your overall health.
It’s recommended that you drink eight 8-ounce (237-mL) glasses of water per day (the 8×8 rule). There are so many other benefits to drinking water such as improved energy, brain function, reducing headaches, supporting our digestive system and easing constipation – along with supporting weight loss.
Practise Mindful Eating into Your Daily Lifestyle
Apart from focusing on WHAT you eat and drink we need to focus on HOW you eat and drink. By slowing down, savouring the smell, taste and texture it not only improves the experience it also improves the digestion.
Consider having meals at a table, (rather than on the go) – free from screen & phone distractions, chewing your food thoroughly, and taking breaks between bites. Practising mindful eating can help you become more aware of when you are full, curbing unnecessary overindulgence (2)
Prioritise Self-Care: Listen and Be Kind to Your Body
Part of health and well-being lies in how you treat both yourself and your body. Achieving health goals doesn’t guarantee happiness or increase your worthiness of love and kindness—it’s essential to recognise that you are enough and deserving of respect. Set yourself goals of self-love, self-care, and kindness regardless of any challenges or setbacks you have. (5,6).
You can feel gratitude and appreciate yourself every day, regardless of whether you achieve other goals or not. Avoid being too hard on yourself; there’s no failure, and there’s no need to give up. Keep prioritising listening to your body and being kind, no matter the circumstances and just adapt and keep going(5,6).
Closing Reflections on Your Healthy Eating Plan: A Final Takeaway
The choices we make when setting health goals are linked to how long we’ll stick with them, how they affect our well being and our overall success. Facing challenges is inevitable and it‘s not a reflection of personal failure.
As we come across these obstacles remember just to be kind to yourself and allow flexibility in your health goals.
Why not make this decision and just start today?
New Year Reset
Why not kick start your healthy eating plan with our New Year Reset online program. Run by qualified Nutritional Therapist (MSc) Sonia Hollis
Want to be the first to know of offers and nutrition goodies?
(1) Oscarsson, M., Carlbring, P., Andersson, G., & Rozental, A. (2020). A large-scale experiment on New Year’s resolutions: Approach-oriented goals are more successful than avoidance-oriented goals. PloS one, 15(12), e0234097. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0234097
(2) Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. (2019, January). Re-thinking your New Year’s resolutions. The Nutrition Source. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/2013/12/20/re-thinking-your-new-years-resolutions/
(3) Dickson, J. M., Moberly, N. J., Preece, D., Dodd, A., & Huntley, C. D. (2021). Self-Regulatory Goal Motivational Processes in Sustained New Year Resolution Pursuit and Mental Wellbeing. International journal of environmental research and public health, 18(6), 3084. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18063084
(4) Pychyl, T. (2009, February 8). Approaching Success, Avoiding the Undesired: Does Goal Type Matter? Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/dont-delay/200902/approaching-success-avoiding-the-undesired-does-goal-type-matter
(5) Canadian Mental Health Association. (2022, December 7). Rethinking your New Year’s resolutions. https://cmha.ca/news/rethinking-resolutions/
(6) Bradley, G. (n.d.). 7 New Year’s Resolutions That Will Actually Make You Feel Good. National Eating Disorders Association. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/blog/7-new-years-resolutions-will-actually-make-you-feel-good