Even though it seems like the year just began, you may not have stuck with that list of goals you made on the first of the month—research shows that New Year’s resolutions tend to fall by the wayside by early February. Perhaps the nutrition resolutions you set were a bit too lofty (cutting out all sugar or carbs may be too difficult to stick to in the long run, especially with your training schedule), or maybe you committed to a strict diet that doesn’t allow enough variety in your meals. It happens to everyone, and it’s not too late to salvage your resolutions. Rather than treating this as a failure, it’s important to keep your energy up and focus on resetting your goals so that they work better for your lifestyle. Three dietitians share more about how to stick to New Year resolutions once and for all.
How to Stick to New Year Resolutions
1. Accept the fact that some goals just won’t work for you
If you’ve started to fall off the wagon with a resolution you set on January first, evaluate why it isn’t working for you and what you could possibly do differently. But be gentle with yourself. “It is okay to move on and replace that resolution with something else that works and helps you feel your best,” says Allison Knott, MS, RDN, CSSD.
Work on acceptance of this small setback and don’t let it lead to a downward spiral. “Give yourself permission to get back on track with the next action or behavior,” says Knott. “If you can stop that cycle, then you can see every new opportunity as one to take a step in the direction you’re hoping to go.”
2. It’s not about depriving yourself
One reason resolutions might be difficult to uphold is the fact that they’re often so focused on cutting certain foods, food groups, or eating habits out of your diet. When you approach resolutions from a strictly elimination standpoint, you’re almost setting yourself up fall back into old ways. “It feels like a deprivation or a punishment and that is not easy (nor recommended) to sustain for a lifetime,” says Knott.
The flip side of this type of goal could be adding more of a certain food group or habit into your diet (like adding a piece of fruit after your meals to satisfy you and prevent you from reaching for sugary snacks, instead of resolving to cut out sugar permanently). “This positive spin can make it easier to sustain the behavior, because you don’t feel deprived,” says Knott. “A healthy diet is made up of the foods you add, not the foods you take away.”
3. Set SMART goals instead
Instead of these big, vague resolutions, set smaller goals. Brittany Modell, MS, RD, CDN, founder of Brittany Modell Nutrition and Wellness suggests setting SMART goals: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based. She gives an example of a person who resolved to cut out carbs in 2020. “Instead, the person can incorporate a complex carbohydrate serving, which is high in fiber, such as beans, lentils, legumes, or fruit and vegetables, with lunch or dinner every day,” says Modell. That’s a goal that is simpler, and will be more measurable and sustainable for the rest of the year.
4. Take small steps toward your goals
With each SMART goal (which Tony Castillo, MS, RDN, LDN, nutrition consultant for RSP Nutrition is also a proponent of), you can set realistic timelines and work your way up instead of the other way around. Go small first, Castillo says: “If someone wants to go to the gym and they haven’t gone in a month, I suggest they carve out one to two days that week first.”
And sticking with the cutting carb example, you can make a shorter term goal out of it in lieu of quitting carbs cold turkey. Castillo advises starting with just one meal a week to zero in on and evaluate your portions. “Maybe have half a plate of veggies, a quarter plate of carbs, and a quarter plate of protein,” he says, especially if you’re used to loading up on pasta, pizza, and other starchy foods.
5. Dietary goals don’t have to be just about weight loss
Just like your nutritional resolutions shouldn’t be all about depriving yourself of certain foods, you shouldn’t look at healthy eating goals as just about dropping pounds. Focus in on a behavioral goal that may lead to maintenance of a healthy weight, Modell says. “For example, I will fill half of my plate with non-starchy vegetables, or I will drink one glass of water upon waking, before breakfast,” she suggests. These are small changes that you can implement into your daily diet that won’t be so oriented toward the numbers on the scale.
6. Get back on track in any minor way you can
If you have missed the mark on your nutrition resolutions, don’t panic. You can restructure and simplify your goal list so that you can feel better about what you are able to achieve. Castillo recommends planning out a grocery shopping list, to start, so that you can have more control over the meals that you’re prepping. Along those same lines, try to eat one more home-cooked meal per week, if you’re used to grabbing takeout a few nights out of the week, Castillo says. Other smaller ways to get on track include drinking one more glass of water than usual per day, or going for a brisk ten minute walk once a day to re-energize yourself and your metabolism instead of sitting down for that period of time with Netflix and the remote.
7. Record your new resolutions to hold yourself accountable
For some people, checking things off a list makes them feel extra accomplished, but for others, that’s too overwhelming. “I recommend experimenting with different ways of keeping up with success,” says Knott. You might want to write your goals down on a sticky note and put it on your wall, desk, or mirror to remind yourself of what you’re hoping to achieve. Or, Knott adds, go digital with a list of goals in a memo in your phone, or an app that tracks your meals, if that feels comfortable. But don’t forget to reward yourself when you succeed. “It could be setting a reminder in your calendar to celebrate a victory, too.”