By Angie Kalousek Ebrahimi, senior director of Lifestyle Medicine, Blue Shield of California
It’s a new year, which means many of us are setting new goals for ourselves. These resolutions are often tied to healthier living, such as increasing workouts, reducing screen time or losing weight. However, new habits are hard to keep over time. Nearly half of respondents in a new Forbes Health poll admit that their resolution didn’t last beyond three months!
Let’s make this year different! I’ve spent more than two decades working in nutrition and lifestyle, and over the years, I've learned that small changes in our daily habits, coupled with strategies for sticking with goals, can boost our health for years to come.
5 Tips to Improve Your Health and Nutrition
1. Start with gradual changes: Like muscles that become fatigued, willpower can grow tired too. So, to sustain long-term changes, try breaking down large goals into achievable, gradual steps, then build up over time.
Rather than creating your nutrition plan for the entire year, keep it simple and create a one- or two-month strategy. Instead of quitting sweets altogether, allow yourself to have healthier options, such as dark chocolate every other day. Instead of walking ten thousand steps daily, start with a short walk around the block after every meal. Rather than eliminating alcohol completely, choose two days of the week when you can have a drink.
When you stick to smaller, healthier choices that you can check off every day or week, you’ll start to see changes that I like to call “non-scale victories.” Once these changes become second nature, you can create new goals, allowing you to get ever closer to optimal health.
2. Set SMART goals: Make sure your goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound (SMART), and work back from there.
As you work toward goals, be mindful of your energy levels and how your body is functioning. Weight loss can be an important driver in creating a healthier lifestyle, but if you get too preoccupied with the number on the scale, you’ll miss the point of why you’re doing it, which is to feel better. Beyond pounds, other SMART goals for nutrition include committing to better meal prep, removing certain items from your grocery list, and setting daily goals for sleep, meditation or activity.
3. Make small changes for big impact: Adopt one or all of these tried-and-true nutrition hacks that can make a big difference:
- Swap out salt for nutritional yeast: Nutritional yeast is very flavorful and can be a great salt substitution for people concerned about consuming too much sodium.
- Remove soda from your diet: If there’s one thing I recommend going ‘cold turkey’ on, it’s soda. Try sparking water with a squeeze of citrus instead.
- Reduce your sugar intake: One of the best ways to reduce your sugar intake is to avoid packaged foods and stick to whole foods.
- Eat colorful fruits and vegetables: Look for produce that is bright in color — i.e., leafy greens like kale and spinach, red cabbage, blueberries, raspberries — as they have higher nutritional value.
- Drink more water: Water has many benefits — it lubricates your joints, reduces inflammation, flushes out sodium and more. Most people should drink significantly more water every day for their bodies to function properly.
4. Journal your habits: If you want to make lasting changes, I recommend keeping a journal of the foods you eat and how they make you feel. Journaling doesn’t necessarily mean you have to count calories, which can feel overwhelming for many people — but when you’re committed to honestly tracking everything you eat, you tend to make healthier choices.
5. Seek out support: Wherever you are in your journey, remember that nobody has it all figured out. If you’re a Blue Shield of California member, Wellvolution is our digital health and well-being program that helps you set and achieve health goals with an easy-to-follow plan and coaching.
If you’re not a member, there is no shortage of applications that help you track your food and alcohol intake, share nutritional tips, provide personalized health coaching and more. You can also ask a friend or family member whose lifestyle you admire for advice. Can they share their exercise routine? Do they follow a specific diet or take certain supplements? Can they serve as your health and nutrition mentor? Don’t be afraid to ask for help if and when needed.
Healthy eating can also be delicious
I love to cook and be in the kitchen, and this is one of my favorite healthy recipes to make for a wintertime dinner, Ginger Sweet Potato Coconut Milk Stew with Lentils and Kale, from cookbook author Laura Wright at The First Mess.