Dec. 26, 2018 -- It’s the headline on all too many magazine covers this time of year: New year, new you. But do you have to become a whole new person just to make positive changes in your life?
Research suggests that a whopping 46% of New Year’s resolution-makers break those promises to themselves by mid-year. But, psychologists say, you’re more likely to stick to those goals when they’re realistic.
“It’s not all or nothing. When you make doable, achievable small changes, you get the satisfaction of being successful at your goals and you get the motivation that comes with that,” says Alisha Chasey, a registered dietitian who runs Innocent Indulgence in Phoenix, AZ. “Every little step matters. It all adds up.”
So if you want to be a fitter, healthier you in 2019 with changes you can actually make, do this, not that.
NO: Lose 100 Pounds YES: Lose 5% to 10% of Body Weight
You don’t have to aim for 100 pounds of weight loss or set your sights on your skinny jeans from high school to start feeling better. “Start with 5% or 10% of your body weight,” says Tanya Lopez, a dietitian at Medical Associates of the Hudson Valley in Kingston, NY. “That will already make a great impact.” That’s as little as 10 pounds for someone who weighs 200 pounds. And that’s all it takes to start to lower bad cholesterol and increase the good kind, lower blood pressure, and improve blood sugar control. After you hit your first goal, you can shoot for another 5% loss if you need it.
NO: Go Vegan YES: Enjoy Meatless Mondays
Eliminating all meat from your diet might be a stretch if you’re used to eating it at most meals. You don’t have to go ... ahem ... cold tofu to enjoy some of the health benefits of a vegetarian diet. Semi-vegetarians, also called flexitarians, tend to eat meat at least once a month and at most once a week. People who eat only fish fall into this group, too. Research shows that people who eat meat between once a month and once a week tend to eat fewer calories in a day and typically weigh less than their carnivorous counterparts. They’re less likely to die at any given time in part because of their lower risk for colorectal cancer, diabetes, and hypertension.
Not sure how to start? “Try one new plant-based recipe a week,” Chasey says. Besides reducing meat intake, this will add much-needed variety to your diet. “We don’t eat that many different foods, and you can very quickly change your whole menu just by adding one new thing a week.”
NO: Cut Out Carbs YES: Choose Healthy Carbs
Not all carbs are created equal. When you cut them all, you lose healthy, fiber-rich foods including fruit and whole grains. You need fiber to help control your cholesterol and blood sugar and to keep you regular. The carbs that you can do without are simple carbs, which include white breads, white rice, and sweets.
Rather than deprive yourself of carbs, feed yourself more fiber. Women need 25 grams a day and men need 38. “Include a whole grain or fiber at every meal,” Lopez says. “At breakfast, switch from a white to a whole wheat English muffin. At lunch, add beans, whole wheat crackers, or popcorn to your salad. At dinner, a quarter of your plate should be complex carbohydrates, such as brown rice or quinoa.” Fiber keeps you fuller longer, so this is one strategy that could help you snack less.
NO: Cut Out Fat YES: Choose Heart-Healthy Fats
Just like carbs, not all fats are the same either. Eliminating all of them would deprive your body of valuable nutrients. Instead, look for ways to replace saturated fats -- think full-fat and 2% dairy, beef, pork, fried foods -- with unsaturated fats like nuts, avocado, fatty fish, and olive oil. You should get 15% to 20% of your daily calories from monounsaturated fats found in avocados, olive oil, and peanut butter. Another 5% to 10% of daily calories should come from polyunsaturated fats found in salmon, mackerel, herring, albacore tuna, and trout. A gram of fat has about 9 calories. “If you’re a chip-lover and you want something crunchy,” Chasey says, “go for a handful of nuts instead.” Nuts are a good source of healthy fats, fiber, and protein. You’ll get more bang for your handful of nuts than chips.
“Make your cheeseburger an avocado burger,” Lopez adds. “And swap your creamy salad dressing that contains saturated fat for a vinaigrette that contains healthier olive oil.”
Healthy, unsaturated fats can help reduce bad cholesterol and lower your risk for heart disease and stroke. Oils rich in unsaturated fats provide vitamin E, an antioxidant that most Americans need more of. In addition to these benefits, polyunsaturated fats in particular provide omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, which your body needs.
NO: Cut Out Sugar YES: Eat Less Sugar
Unlike fat and proteins, you don’t actually need sugar. Well, not added sugar. The natural stuff found in fruit is great. It’s the teaspoons and teaspoons added to your coffee, cereal, cookies, even ketchup, that you don’t need.
Most experts agree that adults should get no more than 6 teaspoons, or 25 grams, of sugar per day. But most adults get about three times that much. Just four pumps of syrup in your coffee bar drink adds 19 grams of sugar. That doesn’t leave much sugar allowance for the rest of the day.
If sugar is a big part of your daily life, you don’t have to drop down to 25 grams on Jan. 1. Instead, try to reduce the amount of sugar in a few of your everyday treats.
“If you’ve got to have your mocha latte, go down to just one pump of syrup,” Chasey says. “If you’re a chocolate lover, switch to dark chocolate. That will save you some sugar.” Chasey advises against replacing sugar with artificial sweeteners. The idea, she says, is to retrain the taste buds to expect less sweetness. Artificially sweetened treats are just as sweet as their natural counterparts.
Other good swaps include opting for cereals with less sugar in them and cutting down on sugar-sweetened beverages. A single, 12-ounce can of soda has 39 grams of sugar or more.
NO: Complete an Iron Man YES: Get More Exercise
An Iron Man may not be such a leap for some people. But if your real goal is to make exercise a part of your routine, you don’t have to sign up for a 140-mile triathlon to make that happen. In fact, you don’t even need to dedicate long stretches of time to exercise. The CDC says that even 5 minutes of physical activity has benefits and counts toward the recommended 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week. Resolve to add any additional physical activity to what you already get. No goal is too small. Start with a walk around the block a few days a week or even a few laps around your workplace throughout the day.
“The main reason we don’t exercise is because we’re too busy, but once we stop what we’re doing and go outside for just 5 minutes, we think, ‘I could go 10. I could go another time around the block’ because it starts feeling good,” Chasey says.
NO: Wonder Why You Bothered YES: Know Your ‘Why’
As the New Year gets older, if you begin to lose enthusiasm for your healthy habits, remind yourself why you adopted them in the first place. Why do you want to be a healthier, fitter you? Is it to live to see your grandchildren graduate from college? Is it to look great at your high school reunion? Whatever your reason, keep it front of mind as you work to keep those resolutions.
“Know your why. Stop and think about it,” Chasey says. “Why are you really doing this? You have to know why, so you have something to aim for.”