I’m sure you’ve been reading a lot about New Year’s resolutions. Afterall, it’s that time of year. But my hope is that the dialogue will shift. I think the focus should be on habits — little, tiny changes made every day — instead of bold declarations made once a year in January. That was the topic of my latest blog post for WebMD’s Real Life Nutrition. I hope you’ll check it out.
In my post, I wrote about a new study that analyzed online diet searches during the first week of January. You know what rose to the top? The Paleo Diet. This caveman-inspired diet was the plan that most people wanted to learn about. It also happens to be the diet that U.S. News ranked at the bottom of the barrel in their analysis of best diets of 2013. Additional diets rounding out the top 10 diet searches included the Atkins diet, gluten-free diet, 8-Hour diet, Cabbage Soup diet, HCG diet, and Virgin diet (the “food-intolerances make-you-fat” diet by JJ Virgin). The findings from Experian Marketing Services 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.
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.
How about you? Are you working on your habits?
scale image courtesy of healthnewsnet on flickr