New Year resolutions – do you manage to stick to them?  Whilst admirable in intent, they often simply set people up for failure. Maybe because resolutions, to be worthy of the tag, often involve a real departure from one’s normal behaviour, which end up being challenging to maintain. They often involve abstinence, like ‘alcohol-free January’, or a diet that leaves you feeling desperately hungry while promising abundant energy with guaranteed weight loss.  The trouble with ambitious changes of behaviour is that very quickly the resolve diminishes and we return to our former ways, undoing much of the good achieved.  So what is the alternative?

Small, achievable, smart goals.

Focusing on small, more easily achievable changes of behaviour, pertinent to your lifestyle, sets you up for success rather than failure.  Most people have an idea of where their focus needs to be, and by setting realistic goals in the ‘easy to achieve’ band, you have more chance of success.  Avoid the sort of grand gestures that draw admiration from your friends, aim instead for small changes that over time, could have the power to make a measurable difference to your health and well-being.

5 small, smart, achievable goals to improve your diet in 2016

1) Eat something GREEN twice a day

Why? because dark green salad leaves and vegetables provide so many important nutrients including magnesium and B vitamins that support energy, liver function and mental health. Studies show a correlation between low vitamin B intake and depression. We need them daily as they are not stored by the body, and are fragile so steam your veg lightly.

Have a rocket or watercress salad with your lunch, or throw a handful of spinach or peas into your soup. Add a portion of broccoli or green beans with your dinner.

2) Don’t skip breakfast

Why? because skipping breakfast leaves blood sugar very low which can induce dizziness and irritability and lead to raids on the biscuit tin, as you struggle to keep going till lunch.  Far better to choose a breakfast that includes some protein that will keep blood sugar on an even keel, sustaining energy levels till lunch.  Research shows people who eat breakfast are better at maintaining weight loss.

Start the day with an egg, and if you add some mushrooms and a tomato, you’ve ticked off 2 portions of veg too! If you’re a cereal devotee switch to a low sugar variety, and add some nuts and milled seeds for healthy fats and protein, which will keep you feeling fuller for longer making mid-morning snacks less likely. Try it – start the day with an egg and feel the difference.

3) Cook from scratch, occasionally

Why? because simple, ‘whole-food’ ingredients deliver the nutrients your body craves, without the manufacturer’s additives that it can do without. Cooking from scratch does not have to involve huge amounts of time and skill, check out some of the recipe books aimed at students for simple, fast dishes requiring minimal cooking skills, but using natural, whole-food ingredients.

If you rely solely on ready meals and take-away food, add some fresh veg to go with it. Look out for supermarket ‘cook from scratch meals’, where all the ingredients have been pre-assembled. If you rely on shop-bought sandwiches for lunch, invest in a lunchbox and make a nutritious salad to have with them, or cook a little extra protein the night before, to save for your lunchbox, and build the salad around it.

4) Drink water

Why? Because our bodies need regular hydration, many headaches, tiredness and foggy thinking can be caused by dehydration. Other drinks do count towards your overall fluid intake and men should aim for 2L/day and women 1.6L/day.

Start the day with a glass of water to wake up your metabolism.  And avoid sodas/fizzy sweet drinks which are addictive and full of empty calories. The jury is still out as to whether it’s the phosphoric acid in sodas that affects bone mineral density and calcium reserves, but there is a strong association between those that drink colas/sodas and osteoporosis. 

5) Forget ‘Low-fat’

Why? because our bodies need healthy fats to make hormones, neurotransmitters, brain tissue and to repair membranes. The previous dogma that vilified dietary fat has been discredited, whereas the sugar, now used in low fat products in place of the fat, has been shown to be the real problem.

A low-fat yoghurt will have 16 – 20 g of added sugar and modified maize starch (which digests to sugar), which if eaten with a piece of fruit, could bring your RDA for sugar very close to the 30g/day upper limit set by the government’s health advisors.  Sugar, fructose, hydrolysed starch, call it what you will, too much of it and our bodies convert it to fat and store it around our middle.

All of the above represent small, very do-able changes, improvements that could easily become part of your everyday lifestyle.  Over time they will make a difference.  Pick one or two to start with and to help you, set reminders on your phone or put sticky notes on your fridge/desk, as any change is difficult to maintain initially.  Once these have become the norm after a few weeks, pat yourself on the back and look to adopt another.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”.