If you are one of the 50% of UK adults that made New Year’s resolutions, chances are that you might have fallen foul to temptation by now. But don’t worry – you’re not alone. In fact, 2% of those that set resolutions don’t even make it to the end of January 1st without giving up! Unsurprisingly, the most popular resolution is to lose weight, closely followed by increasing exercise and fitness levels. Certainly the gym seems ever so busy at the moment with new January joiners!
So what’s the answer, a quick fix in January, or a resolution to be a healthier you for the whole of the year? There’s no doubt that short periods of abstinence (such as Dry January) can kick start a healthier new year, but sticking to a strict diet plan longer term can often be tricky. Remember the hare and the tortoise? Well, the same applies to being healthier - slow and steady really does win the race.
Long term health should be our goal, so although a January resolution is a good place to start, making plans for life should be the ultimate aim. Here are my top tips for getting on a healthier road this year :-
1) Evaluate your goals – think about what you want to achieve. Is it weight loss, toning up, getting fitter, clearing up a specific ailment, reducing cholesterol? There are so many ‘goals’ you could set, but it’s best to stick to one thing (chances are you’ll achieve others at the same time!).
2) Be realistic – any goal you set must be achievable (and in a short amount of time). Set smaller, reachable goals and celebrate your achievements. If weight loss is your goal, a realistic rate is 1-2 pounds per week. Any more than that can be hard to stick with in the long term.
3) Keep a diary – writing down what you eat, and the exercise you do, can really help to find any ‘Achilles Heel’ areas of your life. You can do this in the traditional way or there are a whole plethora of apps and websites out there to make use of. It can be a real eye opener to see where your calories are coming from – be truthful and you can start to make small changes to your diet and lifestyle.
4) Eat regular meals – evidence shows that regular eating and spreading out your calories can really help to provide a template for healthier eating. Plan ahead so you know what you are going to eat, and try not to deviate from the plan. If you’re using a food diary, fill it in in advance to give the motivation you need.
5) Breakfast like a King – our circadian rhythms do have an impact on how we use our calories, so eating larger meals earlier on in the day may have an impact on calorie burning, but also on blood sugar and fat levels too – indicators of conditions such as heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.
6) Eat more fruit and veg – it’s an old cliché but everyone should have more fruit and veg! Fill up your plate with veg or salad first, leaving less room for the less nutrient dense foods. Or why not invest in a blender to find a novel way of consuming fruit and veg – green leafy veg can be whizzed up with fruits and seeds for a nutrient rich breakfast smoothie. If you’re not into all that, aim for a range of different coloured fruit and veg – at least 5 (more if you can!) every day.
7) Go Mediterranean – with snow on the ground, and muddy puddles everywhere it’s hard to imagine the summer, but try a bit of sunshine by opting for a Mediterranean inspired diet. Concentrate on oily fish, lean meats, fresh fruit and veg, nuts, seeds, beans and olive oils. The Mediterranean diet has been associated with good health, including a healthier heart.
8) Cut back – healthy eating will only be successful if you include a little bit of ‘naughtiness’ now and again. Try out the 80:20 rule – eat healthy options 80% of the time, but allow yourself 20% of less healthy options. So it’s about cutting back, not cutting out. Change the way you approach food and don’t think about ‘bad’ foods or sins. All food is good, it’s how much we eat of it that is the crux. Cut back on less healthy options such as alcohol, red meat, high fat foods, sugary snacks, sugary drinks, and increase the healthier alternatives such as lean meat, fish and wholegrains.
9) Reduce your portions – for many of us, the food we choose is healthy enough, but we just eat too much of it. Think about eating a portion that is just right for you. Did you know there has been a 5cm increase in the average dinner plate size since the 1980s? So choose a smaller plate and you’ll automatically be eating less. Or why not try single serve portions of your favourite meal?
Becoming healthier this year isn’t about quick fixes, or January resolutions. Think about the bigger picture, and how you want to feel and look in the summer months or at the Christmas party in December! Opt for a longer term goal and think 80:20 all year round.