New year, new me! Seems this day comes sooner with every year passing. Entering my sixth year as a dietitian (I still can’t believe this), I am no stranger to the energy that comes with January 1st. Every year I hear about sweeping changes to overhaul one’s lifestyle: meal prep every week, go to the gym 6 times per week, lose 100 pounds, run a marathon… the ideas are endless. Like I said, this time of year is inspiring. But, a quick Google search suggests that only eight percent of people achieve their new year’s goals. Eight percent! Are those eight-percenters just people with will-power of steel? I’m not sure. But I do know that, having worked with hundreds of unique people at different times of the year, sweeping overhauls often don’t result in lasting behavior change. We can easily get caught up in the energy of the new year and set goals that may be out of our reach.
Now, I’m not here to discourage you from challenging yourself; actually, just the opposite! Here is a list of 10 goals that I have seen, over and over, improve one’s health. From blood sugar and blood pressure reductions, cholesterol improvements, weight loss, increased energy, and overall well-being, the benefits are far-reaching.
1. Drink at least 64 ounces of water per day.
Our bodies are about 60% water. It is true that the eight, 8-ounce cups of water per day is not necessarily accurate for everyone, but it is a good place to start! Every cellular and metabolic reaction takes place within water. Our bodies cannot function efficiently if we are dehydrated. Keep in mind all fluids count toward your daily goal!
2. Aim for 7-to-9 hours of sleep (or 1 more than you usually get) per night.
Lack of sleep is associated with nearly every chronic disease affecting our population. When we are tired, we are more likely to gravitate toward snacks and sweets that provide quick energy. Lack of sleep also disrupts our appetite hormone regulation, potentially leading to overeating.
3. Eat a fruit and/or vegetable every day.
Please don’t let the USDA recommendation of 5-to-9 servings per day discourage you. Something is better than nothing! One-per-day is usually achievable for most people. Some days you might get 5, others you might settle for the lettuce and tomato on your burger. Just keep trying.
4. Eat 3 meals per day.
Skipping meals usually leaves us low in energy, hangry, and more likely to over-indulge at the next meal. It can also set individuals up for undesirable blood sugar fluctuations. Include snacks if you’d like!
5. Self-monitor for a week.
Take a week or two to keep a log of what you eat and drink, when you sleep, and how active you are. Apps and fitness trackers can be helpful, but I am a fan of old-fashioned pen and paper. Investigate where you could make some changes. Be honest with yourself, and compassionate. You don’t have to change all at once.
6. Take movement breaks daily.
2 minutes, 5 minutes, 10 minutes – reach for whatever you can do! Studies have shown that regular movement breaks throughout the day can improve biomarkers, including circulating blood sugar, insulin, and triglyceride levels (1).
7. Try one new recipe per week or month.
If you are trying to build your cooking skills, this is a great place to start. Try websites such as Eating Well, Cooking Light, and Skinny Taste for healthy recipes, or check out a cookbook from your local library. Flip through on your lunch break or while waiting at the doctor’s office, write out a shopping list, and give it a go.
8. Try a new food every week or month.
A characteristic of healthy eaters is that they are willing to try new foods in different ways. Eating a variety of foods is good for your health because it ensures that you get a variety of essential nutrients. Challenge yourself to try something new, or to prepare a previously disliked food in a new way! And yes, blending it up in a smoothie or a soup counts!
9. Cook at home 1 more day per week.
For busy families, cooking at home every night can feel near impossible. Instead, try adding one more home-prepared meal to your weekly repertoire. Soups, sandwiches, salads, and leftovers are all suitable.
10. Practice mindfulness.
Tune into your body, your hunger, and your eating experience. Practice determining what it is that your body and mind need – is it a break, stretch, walk, nap, or hug? Or maybe you’re hungry and need a snack, particularly if it has been a while since you have eaten. Honor these feelings and give yourself a break. We’re all trying our best.
Finally, aim for better, not perfection. You don’t need to do everything on this list to be successful. I’ve seen benefits from the smallest of baby steps. In fact, those smallest of baby steps seem to be the ones that result in the most significant, lasting health changes.
Happy New Year from Avance Care Nutrition Services!
1. Dempsey, P.C., et al. (2016). Benefits for type 2 diabetes of interrupting prolonged sitting with brief bouts of light walking or simple resistance activities, Diabetes Care, 39: 964–972.
Erin Decker is an RDN working at the North Raleigh and Central Raleigh offices. She enjoys running, visiting local breweries, and snuggling with her dog, Lottie. She is passionate about promoting a healthy lifestyle in a non-judgmental environment.