Healthy Eating Resolutions?

January 8, 2019 in Health, Psychology of Food, Uncategorized, Weight Management by Joyce Bunderson

I’m going to lose ‘X’ (a big number) of pounds. I going to eat healthier in the New Year. I’m going off sugar. I’m going to eat vegan. I’m going to change my eating style. Have you discovered yet that changing your eating style in a big way on January 1st to a completely new style in one fell swoop is an unrealistic idea? Now, having said that, I want you to know that I do believe in goal setting/resolutions. I have a deep belief that we can improve ourselves and that goal setting/resolutions can be a powerful technique to achieve improvement. I personally think an honest evaluation, and plans for creating new habits is well-worth our efforts. I will disclose up front, that it does take effort. Changing an eating style is a relatively complex goal; but it is doable. So, let’s discuss some issues that can help you succeed.

So why doesn’t the ‘one fell swoop’ technique work? For one, attempting an extreme makeover is psychologically daunting; it frequently fails to even launch. Let’s say you decide to be vegan; you run to the store; buy a bunch of veggies; get home; eat vegetables for a day or two; realize that you can eat candy and many cookies and be vegan; discover that you’re fatigued and eventually malnourished because you’re not getting all the nutrients you need. You realize that you need to learn more and take steps prior to such a big change. Working toward small, attainable goals throughout the year, one step at a time, is more sensible than a singular, overwhelming goal, according to psychologist Lynn Bufka. This is true for most major dietary changes, not just becoming vegan.

Second, it’s important to know yourself. You many think that sounds a little goofy; but how many times do people make goals from someone else’s directions or list? Going by someone else’s goals is not generally helpful. For example, if one’s goal is to first get the soda, ice cream, candy, French fries, and chips out of their eating pattern, and you never eat those items – will you just waste the time going by their pattern? The previous example is easy to follow; but really, doing some introspection is very valuable. Do I really want to give up sugar? All sugar? Do I really want to do all that’s involved to be a healthy vegan? Why waste the time and the possible negative self-talk, if you try it and are not fully committed?

Third, get rid of the vague goals. “I’m going to eat healthy.” I’m going to exercise more.” “I’m going to cook all meals at home.”  “I’m going to eat vegan; Mediterranean; no sugar; and so on;” with no idea what’s involved, or the skills of how to do it. How about, I’m going to have one serving of vegetables every day with my lunch? Then follow up planning on what vegetables and how they will be served or packed. Specificity will spell success; not vagueness.

There’s plenty of research that points to choosing mini goals/resolutions with frequent resets, if you lapse. According to some psychologists, making mini-resolutions (weekly or monthly) goals makes it more likely to succeed. The idea is that you can discover what works (and what doesn’t) quickly. If the goal was not attainable, you can reconsider; maybe redesign the goal; adjust; reset. If you choose to start or continue a new goal each Monday, for example, you don’t have to say “I’ve failed” and wait for another New Year. You can begin again the following Monday. In my experience, it’s even better to begin again immediately.  It’s a new habit that you’re trying to make. Just chalk it up to – that didn’t work. But immediately, go back to the goal. Some people like the Monday (or whatever day is chosen) restart. But if you can get past guilting yourself with a failure, then start immediately; call it ‘real life.’ Either way (Monday or immediately), you don’t need to wait till the next year. Once you feel confident in the skill, you add a new skill or goal to focus on for the next week. You can choose to build on the first skill in a related way or choose a completely new skill. It’s a little like juggling. You’ve got one ball going and then you add another. The once a week style of goal setting is a way of easing yourself into a new healthier lifestyle; instead of trying to change too many things at once, which almost always ensures failure.

The other outcome of using the mini-resolutions is that you have the opportunity to create more positive outcomes. Recognizing the positive outcomes can be empowering. Succeeding at the mini-resolutions generates a sense of achievement, feeling positive about accomplishment generates more feelings of triumph. It’s creating a positive cycle. If you’d like to learn more about Monday reset and national Monday programs, you can watch a very short video called Happy New Year on YouTube. The point of mini goals/resolutions is progress oriented; it’s a refining; a revising of habits approach. It’s likely to stick if you do the work.

The more exactly you define your goal the better you’ll do. For example, if you’ve decided to get sugar out of your life (maybe not entirely, but maybe in a big way), these steps will increase your chance of success. First, it may be helpful to decide where you want to start and what’s in and what’s out. You may be tempted to just say, “I want all sugar out of my life;” but be clear what that involves. Will you have sugar in your lemonade, coffee or tea? Will you eschew all cereals with any amount of added sugar? Will you give up on catsup, peanut butter, and processed sauces with added sugar?  Will you use syrup, honey, or products with other types of added sugar? How about sweetened yogurt, jam, nut breads, muffins, many commercial breads, granola bars, or foods using ingredients like grape and apple juice concentrate?  Please notice, there are many questions to answer when making a single decision about sugar. Maybe you want to break a decision like this down in to more than one single decision. Maybe you want to become familiar with the labels of the products that you generally use. Maybe you want to do more food prep in your own home to avoid the amount of processed foods that you are currently consuming – essentially decreasing sugar. Maybe you decide that you don’t use too many processed foods and a little sugar as an ingredient is fine with you. YOU are the one that decides and sets yourself up for success by making the decisions ahead.

If you make a give up all sugar type of goal and discover that some item had a little sugar, do you give up on your goal? Or do you focus on the wonderful progress that you’re making? Thinking ahead about the details of this type of decision can be very valuable. Cutting way down on the consumption of simple sugar can be a very valuable goal. So, if you’ve decided to make a goal to cut back on sugar, go for it; you can do it! It is possible! I’m just trying to illustrate, that it may be a more complex decision than you realize. Maybe you finally decide to give up desserts or regulate the frequency of desserts or sweet snacks. Maybe you decide to eat fewer processed foods containing sweeteners.  Maybe it doesn’t need to be all or nothing. Remember the article about Moderators and Abstainers? You decide what style goal is best for YOU.

Let me share that there are almost endless variations that you can consider. The point is that you design a simple, doable, but specific plan that feels good to you – one that you feel you can be successful with. I’ll share a couple of examples here. One is red meat. At our home we ordinarily do not eat red or processed meat. But if we are served red meat at someone’s home we eat it and enjoy it. We don’t order red/processed meat at restaurants; but if a meal is served to a group, we eat and enjoy. I even will cook red meat for others in my home from time to time. The point is that your resolution can be situational. You’re doing the designing and deciding.

One other example is with sweets. I eat a dessert on Friday and Sunday. Or if there is an event on another day and I really want to indulge in the sweets offered, I will trade my Friday or Sunday dessert for that day’s offering. You could call your plan, “planned indulgences.” It can work for any food that you identify as “not an everyday food.” Let’s say that you want a juicy burger as a special treat but not everyday; just plan for it. One way to do that is to give yourself a certain number of “Planned Indulgences” – or free passes. Again, your resolution can be written any way that YOU want to design it.

If you want to get down to the nitty gritty and are wondering where to start, then let me share a few ideas:

  • Begin by controlling your environment

If you have decided to eat healthier in the year, maybe a good first week goal could start with:

Overhauling your pantry, refrigerator, freezer, snack closet and spend a little time choosing a couple of recipes that will support your new eating style. One thing that happens around our home is that all kinds of goodies seem to pile up around the holidays. I’ll freeze a few special treats for those two dessert nights; but we try to clear out surplus sweets. You can read some of my old posts to learn more about controlling your environment. Little word of caution: be careful not to buy too many veggies and fruit on week one. If you’re not used to eating them, it may be difficult to get them used up before they spoil. Maybe tough it out and shop twice in the first couple of weeks – just to get a handle on how much fresh produce you can manage in a given period. If you’re having to move the amount up each week or two, you’ll know that you’re being successful at getting more fruits and veggies into your diet.

  • Increasing home cooking

By cooking at home more often you will likely gain more control of the portions you eat and the ingredients. This is the best way to cut down on foods with artificial and undesirable ingredients. If you’re presently not cooking, a realistic goal would be to make a goal to prepare and cook one meal a week. That goal quickly translates to two, if you make enough for two meals. The main goal is to make the goal realistic. You can make a different meal each week or every other week or even monthly. It’s a success any way you look at it. All along the way you are gaining new skills. In a month or two, you may feel comfortable with making two meals each week (which, of course, can translate to 4 meals). See how successful this small goal can be?  Do you have the ingredients? Do you have the cooking utensils? Choosing recipes with not too long of an ingredient list, may be an issue that will support your success. Choosing a recipe with cooking techniques that are familiar, may also be helpful. Note: you can learn many skills on YouTube; for example, knife skills, stir fry (note: I never put sugar in my stir fries), and making soup (many very healthy and easy recipes – much lower in salt than canned).

If you’re starting from rarely ever cooking at home, make it easy on yourself. Prepare to feel successful right away. One way might be a jar of Thai simmer sauce. Just take a package or two of frozen vegetables (like mixed veggies; chopped kale or spinach; peas; green beans or carrots) and a can or two of chicken breasts; or cook some frozen chicken tenders or shrimp. You can add a chopped onion if you like. Microwave the veggies or cook in the sauce. Serve the mixture over brown rice and you’ve made a homemade meal in a very short time. I’ve found some nice sauces at the new Trader Joe’s in our community.

Marking your cooking day on the calendar makes it more likely that you will achieve your goal. In addition, you may want to mark your calendar the day before the cooking day, to check the recipe to see if you need to shop for any ingredients. If you say I want to cook once a week, for example, and don’t have a specific day chosen, it increases the likelihood that you’ll get to the weekend and will not have done the needed shopping. That’s only bad, of course, if you’re trying to increase weekday cooking. So again, you choose.

  • A more fruits and veggies goal or moving toward a plant-based diet

Today I’m not writing about all the reasons you may want to move toward a plant-based diet (lower risk of hypertension, heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes and cancer); but if you want to know more about that you can go back and read some of the posts that explain plant-based eating. You don’t need to become a vegan (no animal products) to benefit from eating a diet higher in plant-based foods. Even having a meatless day one time a week is a terrific goal. When you’re preparing your food environment, consider being sure to have a stock of beans, tofu, nuts, seeds, whole grains, veggies, fruits, spices herbs, and healthy oils.

Sometimes all it takes is to switch out the meat. For example, if you/your family likes tacos, you can crumble tofu and/or add black beans or mushrooms to chili/taco seasoning to substitute for the meat. If you, decide to leave out the cheese – great! If you’re really going all out, you may consider using non-fat Greek yogurt instead of sour cream (with its saturated fat). If you want a little more creaminess make chopped avocado available.  If you already cook, you may decide to have a goal of trying a new meatless recipe each month or week, whatever seems realistic.

Of course, one of the outcomes of moving to a diet higher in plants is that fruits and vegetables are lower in calories than most other food choices.  If you’re thinking about adding more fruits or vegetables to your eating style, thinking about it specifically as possible will set you up for success. If you don’t generally have a fruit or vegetable with your breakfast, or you want to get off of fruit juice (raises blood sugar rapidly), then make a goal to have whole fruit each morning. If you have cereal or yogurt for breakfast, just add the fruit to the cereal/yogurt. If you take the train/bus maybe grab a piece of fresh fruit to eat on the way. Give it a little thought; I bet you can find ways to increase your fruit and vegetable consumption. Having a salad lunch several times a week is one thought; or a little dish of fruit with dinner is another. Double up on your vegetable servings. If time is a big concern, consider checking out what kind of veggies come already cleaned and chopped in the frozen food section of your market. If you’re concerned about using frozen produce, you may want to review an article posted in June of 2018.

  • Hydration - Last general idea More water.

If you’ve been using sweetened soda pop to stay hydrated, think about what that really means. Only one 12-ounce soda pop a day (150 calories) translates into about 54,750 calories a year. That one decision alone (switch one can of soda pop to water) could result in about a 15-pound weight loss in a year; if, of course, you don’t eat something to make up for the deleted soda. Since thirst can be mistaken for hunger, it’s worth thinking about your water intake. Staying hydrated can support satiety. This past year, I bought a pitcher with an infuser tube. It works nicely to give water a nice fresh taste. We’ve used strawberries, cucumbers, lemons and limes. It’s nicer than plain water. I find that just putting a thin slice of lemon in a glass of ice water is refreshing, and fast too.  If you need a little review regarding the amount of liquid to take in a day you may enjoy Staying Hydrated.

No matter which improvements to your dietary health you desire, you can increase your chance of achieving your goal by deciding on an attainable goal by knowing yourself; getting rid of vague goals and being specific with goals setting; choosing mini goals/resolutions with frequent resets, which create more positive outcomes that can be so empowering. The more exactly you define your attainable goals, the more likely you will begin recognizing success and creating a lasting new and improved eating style.