Football player runs to a goal marked in a calendar.

Creating Healthy Habits for the New Year

'Tis the season to be jolly… or is it? Some would say, “Why is this year going to be different from all other years?” Will this coming year be dramatically different than all other years? For most, the answer is no, but it doesn’t mean you can’t make a couple of sustainable changes that make a big difference in your health. I remember when I finally started weight training; it began with dumbbells that I lifted during my favorite show, just a few exercises. Years later, weight training is an essential part of my workouts.

Making healthy habits stick

However, with the stark reality that most diets fail, and knowing most people regain the weight they’ve lost, why bother making weight-related New Year’s resolutions? For some, it can make us feel good to do so. Will YOU be one of the chosen few whose resolutions actually stick for six months and beyond? It’s an uphill battle, but here are a few tips to put you in a good position to achieve your goals:

1. Move the goalpost to the day AFTER the Super Bowl

If you’re not an American football aficionado, you’re probably asking yourself, “What does that even mean?!”

Tip: Delay your food resolution to early February.

Why is the time of year important?

The roughest eating stretch is from Thanksgiving (late-November) to the Super Bowl (early-February). That’s the period when people pack in the extra calories. Think about it, it’s like a cattle grazing throughout the day but instead of fields of grass, it’s get-togethers full of chips & dip and cheese & crackers, before the main course. Not to mention, the succulent side dishes that come out hours later. And then you have five different mouth-watering desserts to choose from (which you may succumb to sampling a few anyhow) on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, and culminating with the grand Super Bowl party spread. More power to you for respectfully saying, “No, thanks. I’ll just have the salad.” But for most of us, we don’t pass the test.

Tip: Admit there will be too many chances for slip-ups, and just enjoy those holiday favorites without getting that over-stuffed feeling! Be mindful and enjoy them in the right portion but don’t fall into that diet mentality. Then you can have a good stretch for your food goals to take effect unencumbered, from February to November. That will put you in a better position to fight those urges NEXT Thanksgiving.

Before you know it, you’ll be like a Jedi knight with nine months of lightsaber experience under your belt. May the force be with you!

2. Pick 3 goals to focus on

We Americans love the idea of things coming in threes. The Motown trio, The Supremes, was a fabulous girl group until Diana Ross decided to pursue a solo career (can’t blame her). Destiny’s Child had a good thing going until Beyoncé thought she was all that (she is!) and split to find multi-platinum success on her own. Ok, maybe those are bad examples. Or maybe just maybe, if you start with three of something at the beginning, one of the three will stick in the end! Here are some specific goals to strive for:

Eat more fruits and vegetables

Two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables every day. That may mean for office or family parties this year, you’re bringing a dish with fruit and veggies!

Avoid sugar-sweetened beverages

If you find yourself grabbing them for low blood glucose, meet with a registered dietitian and/or certified diabetes educator and ask about using skim milk when low blood glucose strikes.

Plan healthy meals

Three plant-based protein dinners per week (e.g., beans, lentils, chickpeas, tofu, tempeh, edamame, seitan, etc.). Other days can include lean animal protein dinners (e.g., fish, (twice a week), chicken breast, lean cuts of steak).

3. Diet & exercise: Every yin needs that yang

As Katy Perry once sang, “You’re hot, then you’re cold. You’re yes, then you’re no. You’re in, then you’re out. You’re up, then you’re down.” It sounds like someone can’t make up their mind in this song. When it comes to improving your health, two lifestyle changes go hand-in-hand: diet and exercise.

Tip: Make up your mind… and choose BOTH: diet (healthy whole food) AND exercise. Work with an expert to embrace and build a healthy diet and exercise habits. It’s not an easy task, or 65% of Americans wouldn’t be struggling with it!

4. Life is a marathon, not a sprint

Admittedly, this is a clear violation of #2’s tip to only have three goals! But please read on if you believe good things can come in fours as well (e.g., The Beatles, Queen, Sex and the City characters).

Tip: Visualize yourself as that 100+ year-old man (Fauja Singh) who runs marathons. He took up running in his late 80’s – it’s never too late to start a healthy habit! Or imagine the 89-year-old woman (a.k.a. the “Iron Nun”), who has participated in 45 Ironman triathlons, since age 55. What an inspiration to us all! Look, it’s easy to go on a diet or change the way you eat in the short-term, but it’s hard to stick with it for years to come. It takes discipline. Do you have that discipline?

Something in between a marathon and a sprint

By the way, the last mantra, “Life is a marathon, not a sprint” was intended as a metaphor. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t actually start training for some running races. Jogging is one of the most efficient ways to burn calories.

Tip: Begin with baby steps. Challenge yourself to first do a 5K (3.1 miles) at a reasonable minute per mile pace. Before you know it, you’ll have built up enough stamina to move onto a 10K (6.2 miles), followed by a half marathon (13.1 miles). You could even be on your way to the NYC Marathon (26.2 miles)!

2020 half-time then healthy habits

Now just kick back and enjoy the spectacular 2020 Super Bowl Half-Time Show with Jennifer Lopez and Shakira, and then get ready to put in the work the next day! Happy New Year! And good luck with achieving your goals! You've got this!

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