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Making New Year’s Habits, Not Resolutions

By Janet Helm, MS, RD

Woman Eating Healthy Breakfast

The start of January brings with it bold declarations about what’s going to be different in the coming year.  As we all know, these resolutions frequently involve losing weight.  So it’s not surprising that folks are turning to the Internet in search of the best diet to help them reach their goal.

It turns out, The Paleo Diet was the plan that most people wanted to learn about, according to a new survey that analyzed online diet searches during the first week of January. This is also the diet that received the lowest score in the recent U.S. News diet rankings.  The experts that evaluated many of today’s popular diet plans had multiple problems with The Paleo Diet.  “Regardless of the goal – weight loss, heart health, or finding a diet that’s easy to follow – most experts concluded that it would be better for dieters to look elsewhere.”

Additional diets rounding out the top 10 diet searches included the Atkins diet, gluten-free diet, 8-Hour diet, Cabbage Soup diet and HCG diet.  The findings were based on searches that contain the term “diet” for the 1-week period ending January 5, 2013 from a sample of 10 million U.S. Internet users.

Why is it that people are always searching for the next big diet?  No wonder there’s always a new crop of diet schemes each year because none of them really work in the long-run. That’s why new bright and shiny diets sweep in each year to take the place of last year’s best-sellers.   For many dieters, the complexity of some plans makes it difficult to stick to the proposed regimen, according to a 2010 study in Appetite.  Other diets are just so darn restrictive, monotonous and totally joyless that it’s tough to continue for any length of time.  Feeling like you’ve failed just fuels the diet merry-go-round.

That’s why I wish people would focus on changing their habits and coming up with an easy and enjoyable eating plan that they can stick with for life.  No gimmicks, no fads.  That’s the premise of my new book The Food Lover’s Healthy Habits Cookbook, that I was thrilled to work on with the editors of Cooking Light. You’ll find an action plan for achieving 12 healthy habits – such as eating a healthy breakfast every day, making seafood the centerpiece of two meals a week, eating three servings of vegetables each day, and going meatless one day a week – along with recipes to make it all deliciously doable.

My hope is that people will abandon their past beliefs about diets and redo their New Year’s resolutions.  Rather than broad sweeping goals – such as losing 20 pounds – it’s better to focus on the specific ways you’re going to get there, rather than the end result.  Focusing on your health – and not just your weight – and keeping pleasure part of the picture will help.

Here are some ways you can begin to change your diet mindset:

  • Start cooking. So many of today’s popular diets seem to demonize certain foods and give you a long list of items to avoid.   I’d much rather switch the emphasis and celebrate all the wondrous foods you get to embrace – fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains,  beans and legumes, healthy fats, lean proteins, lowfat dairy – and find new ways to prepare them at home.  Cooking more often is one of the best new habits you can adopt in the New Year.
  • Be positive. Believing that you can make a change is a powerful force.   It’s what behavioral scientists call “self-efficacy.”  You’re much more likely to reach a goal if you have the confidence that you can do it. Failing to stick to a restrictive diet plan – or jumping from one approach to the next – may damage your self-confidence, which will just work against you.  Have faith in your ability to succeed.
  • Celebrate little victories. Breakdown your resolution into attainable, bite-size nuggets.  For instance, think about one specific change you’ll make every day, such as adding a fruit or vegetable to every meal or getting up 15 minutes earlier in the morning so you can go for a walk before work. Give yourself some credit for making these positive changes – no matter how small.    When you begin to succeed you gain self-confidence, which leads to greater success.
  • Find your “keystone” habit. For many people, making one change often leads to other positive changes.  A keystone habit is a behavior that can kick-start this cascading of other new habits.  You may find that exercising is your keystone habit.  If you schedule time to walk in the morning, sign up for yoga class or begin training for a 5K, perhaps that will trigger other changes.  Sometimes just getting started is the hardest part, but one healthy habit can lead to the next.

Photo: Stockbyte

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