Non-diet resolutions for the New Year
In January many people start to think about getting back to old habits – or starting new ones – around food and movement. Enter the New Year’s resolution!
And then a few short weeks later: most of these well-meaning habits have been kicked to the curb because they were never realistic or sustainable.
As an Intuitive Eating dietitian, I invite you to try something different. The true path to success is having the RIGHT kind of goals; non-diet resolutions, to be exact.
In this article, I’ll explain to you what non-diet resolutions are and why they’re SO much better than the typical restrictive goals that most of us have set.
Let’s skip the January “reboot”
December is often a time for holiday gatherings and parties. No matter what holidays you celebrate, the shortest days of the year are filled with celebrations that involve many special foods and drinks!
On top of that, many people find that they are so busy preparing for the holidays that they skip regular meals. Often, meals get replaced with holiday treats.
This can often lead to lethargy and frustration.
(For advice on how to nourish your body when life is chaotic, check out my article: 4 Simple Solutions for Delicious Meals When You’re Short on Time.
In the coming weeks, we will all be bombarded by articles and news stories about setting resolutions. Sadly, many of these stories will highlight intentional weight loss as a way to be healthier. This is complicated because most people regain the weight they lose by dieting.
For a large percentage of people, this is a yearly ritual with the same weight being lost and gained again and again. This repeated weight loss and regain is known as yo-yo dieting or weight cycling. I want you to know that yo-yo dieting is not healthy! This article explains many of the problems associated with yo-yo dieting: 10 Solid Reasons Why Yo-Yo Dieting Is Bad For You.
What about trying some non-diet resolutions this year?
There’s been a trend in recent years to avoid all resolutions, and for many people that can be the right decision. Resolutions can increase all-or-nothing thinking and taking a break from resolutions can be helpful for some.
However, other people might find satisfaction in having a goal to work towards and tracking progress.
As an intuitive eating dietitian, I prefer resolutions that are NOT focused on weight loss or following a restrictive diet, that’s why I call them “non-diet resolutions”.
Non-diet resolutions tend to be more flexible. When set and followed in a balanced way, non-diet resolutions can be a great way to satisfy your desire to improve your health without it becoming obsessive.
Benefits of non-diet resolutions
One of the best things about non-diet resolutions is that because they are inherently more flexible, we are better able to stick to them.
In contrast, when we have a diet-focused resolution, they’re rarely sustainable.
Nutrition researchers have voiced their frustration with using weight as the measure of success for research studies of how we can be healthier – I agree with these concerns!
However, research also shows us that these habits themselves, rather than the weight lost, can improve health.
There are many non-diet habits that research has shown to improve health, regardless of any change in weight. These habits include things like exercise and increased intake of fruits and vegetables.
Sometimes these habits MAY cause some weight loss for study participants. However, when weight loss slows or stops, participants usually stop these healthy behaviors too because they think “What’s the point if I’m not losing weight?”
And that’s really a shame because these habits can help improve your health!
What if we could put aside the number on the scale and instead focus on some of these non-diet health habits as resolutions?
I have SO many ideas for habits that improve your health, without a single focus on the scale.
Examples of non-diet resolutions
There are so many ways we can improve our health through non-diet resolutions. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Eating more fruits and vegetables
- Cutting down on distracted eating
- Eating your first 3 bites with no distraction
- Stopping eating your lunch while working
- Setting a timer for one minute and eating with no distraction for that minute
- Exploring a new type of movement that you’ve never tried before
- Planning a 15-minute bedtime ritual that includes stretching, meditation, reading, and/or prayer
- Eating breakfast
- Trying a new food every month
- Drinking a glass of water before your morning coffee or tea
- Sitting down to eat
- Planning meals with at least 3 components (More on this in an article I wrote linked here!)
I recommend picking no more than two non-diet resolutions in January to prevent yourself from feeling like you’re a circus performer trying to keep a zillion spinning plates in the air. More is not better; finding a few things to work on and master is what brings you progress and peace.
Tips for beginning your non-diet resolutions
One particularly challenging element of the most common New Year’s resolutions is that they are not sustainable long-term. They usually involve significant changes to habits. That might work for a week or a month, but by Spring, they are frequently a thing of the past.
Here’s the real secret to success:
small changes when done consistently can lead to big changes and lasting habits over time.
Think about it this way:
A smaller new habit like taking a walk 15 minutes a day eventually adds up to 450 minutes a month and 5,475 minutes a year.
Compare that to the typical New Year’s Resolutions that we set like going to the gym for an hour 3 days a week. For many people that habit might last a month or two, but work and family commitments might prevent you from spending an hour at the gym.
Feeling like a failure, many people quit entirely. So, at the end of the year, you might only spend 720 or 1440 minutes at the gym and feel defeated in the end, leading to frustration.
In the end, the smaller, consistent habit won out by nearly 70 hours!
Slow and steady is how we build habits that stick.
Here are my suggestions for beginning your non-diet resolutions:
- Pick one habit to start. You can always add another in February.
- Pick something that really interests you. Don’t do it because someone else suggested it.
- Start small and build on your success. If your habit is related to an amount of time, I recommend starting with 5-15 minutes a day. If it’s something like eating more fruits and vegetables, see if you can add one serving a day to start. I know that you might not feel like it’s enough, but trust me: small steps are the secret to beginning a lasting habit.
- Avoid cutting out foods or food groups (really!).
- Nutrition by addition. When you make changes to what you eat, add rather than subtract! Want to eat more produce? Eat a fruit or veggie that you love. Don’t eat carrots when you are craving a cookie though! For more advice on increasing your fruit and vegetable intake, check out my article How to Eat More Fruits and Vegetables – And Actually Enjoy It!.
- Give yourself grace if unexpected life events mean you miss the habit for a day or two.
- It’s ok to change your mind. If a habit isn’t suiting you, feel free to find another one! I love experimenting with new habits. Having the freedom to pivot if it doesn’t improve your life makes you more likely to keep trying new ways to improve your health.
2024 can be your best, most joyful AND healthiest yet, with the right kind of resolutions.
Instead of the same-old weight focused goals that won’t last, why not try a different approach this January and focus on non-diet resolutions?
Pick goals you’re curious about that don’t involve restricting or excessive exercise. And stick to a small goal you can still complete next month and beyond. By next January you’ll have a new habit that’s solidly part of your life!
If you want more personalized advice and are curious what it’s like to work with a professional like me, book a complimentary Take Action Call with me today. It’s a great way for us to see if we’d work well together.
Kelly Abramson MS, RD is a dietitian and Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor who works with clients in Alexandria, VA and virtually via telehealth. She guides women as they break free from dieting to find joy in food and their bodies. Kelly blogs regularly at NpowerYou.com and has created a free e-book for download, “7 Steps to Overcome Stress Eating.”