Now that the new year is here, many of us tend to give ourselves resolutions and set goals for the year to come. This can be executed in a variety of ways, from making a goals mind map, making a vision board, doing monthly check-ins, or just simply writing down daily goals to keep a pace all year round.
This goal setting mentality is very often intended for the improvement of one’s lifestyle, mentality or diet. Some think psychologically, we do it to test ourselves to get familiar with our limits, abilities and even possibilities.
Personally, I think it’s commendable when someone recognizes that they may need this kind of motivation, or are at least willing to try it. For myself, for a few years now, I have set yearly goals at the beginning of each year, and tend to check in with those goals about every couple of months (if I’m really on top of things). But I know that if I make my goals too grand or even unbelievable, that I’ll only disappoint myself.
And that is the point where these goals can become counter-productive. I was told long ago that creating more attainable goals is appropriate for some people. I believe I personally fall under that category, because I can tend to get down on myself if I didn’t even come close to an unattainable goal. For some, that can be an end-game scenario, and they drop the whole idea of setting goals, and start to be very self-critical, and less motivated. Some experts even believe that the idea of goal setting in itself is a sure-fire way to set oneself up for failure, as, from how I understand the theory, setting goals is actually psychologically just giving oneself RESTRAINTS, limiting oneself of their potential. You can see this theory and the website link in the footnote at the end of this blog. (2) I’m not too sure about that theory personally, at least for myself, but it could apply to some people, I’m sure.
Much like giving food and lifestyle suggestions to my clients, it is different from one person to the next. Some people prefer large goals to strive towards, some like smaller goals, some prefer to keep their goals private, and some like attempting goals with a partner or group of friends.
No shame in the accountabuddy
Goal-setting in a communal environment is not a fault, it’s simply a preference. Fortunately, those of us in a relationship with a partner, already have the potential for an integrated accountabuddy! But, sometimes seeking support form a family member or a friend along this journey can be very effective in continuing self-motivation through the incoming year, and beyond.
Breaking the Tradition of nutrition
Of course, nutrition goals and changes are a great example of goal-setting, especially in the context of a new year arriving. That is pretty much literally what an individual is doing when they decide they want to eat healthier. We say to ourselves: “I want to eat a certain way or certain foods to reach a point where my (Place condition or deficiency here) has improved or been eliminated” And that so-called “condition” could simply be overall wellness.
This drive for wellness upon the turn of a new year is of course, quite common. Possibly because it is an easy bookmark to make in one’s life. Although, I do believe this new year’s drive for wellness is a ‘rebound’ mentality from the perception of ‘falling off the wagon’ during the December holiday season. And that’s ok, there’s nothing wrong with that!
Much like general goal setting for oneself, we execute these decisions (hopefully) to work with our own personality traits, daily schedules or level of confidence. If we execute bringing goals to fruition according to our lifestyle or personality traits, then that’s better, and most often, more productive.
However, making these kind of nutrition changes can be overwhelming, causing stress, anxiety and even a feeling of failure before even getting started. This can often just cause one to quit this ambition, at least until the beginning of next year.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. It is so easy just to go back to one’s normal life without making (sometimes necessary) changes. It is also important to recognize that changing one’s eating regimen is quite difficult! Some of us have such a deeply engrained eating routine from when we were children, that it requires a lot of work to get out of that routine. Most people actually don’t even recognize these unhealthy tendencies we’ve carried through our adulthood, so be proud of yourself for even recognizing that a change in diet will be beneficial for you, and essentially your family. So how can one break this eating habit? Sometimes, making small steps towards this goal can help make a diet change less scary!
Below are a few small (but not inconsequential) recommendations that might help perpetuate the transition into a new eating regimen.
It is important to note, these suggestions are not meant to treat any specific conditions. If you have certain conditions that you are looking to improve or completely rid yourself of, it is best to discuss it with a nutritionist such as myself. This applies mostly to those that just want to take the initiative to change to a whole foods regimen for general wellness
1. Subtraction is the new addition
Focusing on the removal of certain foods is an excellent start to creating a better eating regimen. Some people have tried both removing bad AND adding good at the same time to begin a nutrition shift. However, sometimes that can be overwhelming for many of us. Removal of detrimental foods is a key step for me when assisting numerous conditions with my clients, such as improving digestive issues like Leaky Gut Syndrome, IBS or Ulcerative Colitis, as well as for Elimination diets, and weight loss regimens. A good way to “prep” for a shift in eating regimen, is make a list of about 10-15 foods that you consume on a regular basis that are either generally considered unhealthy, or you know (or suspect) that you are sensitive to. This gives our guts a break from being on “high alert” all the time when reacting to processed packaged or highly allergenic foods.
2. Small, attainable goals have longevity
Many get quite overwhelmed when making a full diet shift, and I totally relate and empathize with that! Often when making a full change, we like to improve or change EVERYTHING about our old diet. For some, it feels that completely cleaning the slate from the get-go is the best way to start. And that can be true, but some have to realize that it takes time and effort to even get to that clean slate. These smaller goals I believe can at least make getting to that clean slate a little easier and maybe less stressful.
Try focusing on one 1 or 2 things at a time, whether its each week, day or month. Solely focusing on cleaning the cupboards and fridge or simply prepping a food list through any given week really will reduce the mental load and reduce the possibility of “failing” in one’s own eyes. If you choose to focus on emptying the cupboards and fridge of the less healthy foods in your house, and are concerned about waste reduction, see the insert near the end of this blog.
3. Plan dinners for the week to come
This falls under meal planning for your household, but try focusing purely on dinners for the upcoming week. You’re more than welcome to focus on another meal such as breakfasts for the week, but dinners have more longevity. For most people, focusing on dinners can also take care of subsequent lunches and other snacks for the week.
Focusing on planning one meal each day of the week ahead of time will lessen any mental load of trying to figure out all new meals for new foods that you might not have ever tried.
This also allows oneself to just dip their toe in to the cold lake that is a new eating regimen, again touching on the idea of one step at a time.
4. Center your attention on the quality of your food
Unless you have been suggested otherwise by a nutritionist, dietician etc, rather than trying to pick a certain restrictive diet to follow such as ketogenic or vegan diets, maybe focus on the quality of the food you eat. Setting a focus on quality of food not only decreases the amount of elements one has to think about when changing their diet, but quality of your food also will naturally lead to a better diet and routine.
Focusing on organic produce is a good step towards more healthful eating. However, some may get a little concerned about the costs of most organic products in the grocery store. That’s totally understandable. One factor to keep in mind is that not all non-organic foods, particularly produce, are harmful to us. If you want to reduce your organic foods budget, consider the idea that pesticides and chemicals have most likely not seeped into any fruits and vegetables that have a tough or thick skin that is not meant to be consumed. Think of avocados, bananas or pomegranates, these I would consider to be safe to consume non-organic. For a quick reference, try checking out the list of the top 12 most important fruits and vegetables to buy organic, website found here.
Become familiar with locally grown produce, or locally raised animals. These are often much more nutrient rich than the meat or produce that travels a long way to be stocked on grocery shelves. Many local farms are open to selling their raised meat products or produce, sometimes this just takes introducing yourself to these farmers!
Lastly, nothing ensures quality produce more than fruits and vegetables that are grown in your own garden! It is convenient to be able to access your own source of produce for dinners, you get the most optimal amount of nutrients, and it will most likely be naturally organic, as long as you don’t use pesticides and use good quality soil. If you are just starting gardening, and also have limited space to work with, check out my Gardening In Small Spaces blog I wrote last year.
5. Don't contemplate the weight
If your goal for changing your meal regimen is for weight loss then, as odd as it may sound, try focusing your attention on your food rather than allowing the amount of weight loss to distract you. Losing weight is very difficult, for some it may seem damn near impossible. And that is demoralizing right from the get-go. The amount of lbs or kg lost is not a direct gauge on one’s improvement in health. But, some can get distracted by daily weigh-ins, allowing any skewing of one’s progress to alter their overall momentum and execution of their wellness goal. Believe me, I’ve done it myself, even when my nutrition goal didn’t revolve around weight loss. For some reason, it was easy for me to get influenced by or obsessed with my daily weight, even if all I was doing was trying to avoid crappy food.
6. Make your favourite take-out meals at home
Michael Pollan (@michael.pollan) is quoted saying “Eat all the junk food you want – as long as you cook it yourself. That way, it’ll be less junky, and you wont eat it every day because it’s a lot of work.”
Now, this one may seem a little out of left field because it kind of seems counter-productive to the idea of eating healthy, but hear me out….
Apart from the points that Mr. Pollan makes in his quote above, my intention with this point is to add a little bit of fun in the kitchen. Some may feel uncomfortable cooking in the kitchen, and this can be accentuated when working with food you might be less familiar with. So, why not mix in a little bit of fun with your cooking?!
Whether your Desert island food list includes chocolate, chicken strips or fries, pizza, potato chips or even sushi, these are all foods that can be made at home, and can be a lot of fun to include a family or group of friends to participate, ESPECIALLY pizza! I still have yet to meet a child that doesn’t like making pizza!
When doing this, you also control the ingredients! If and when you get comfortable making these at-home junk food recipes, then you can tinker with them a bit; like pizza? Why not try making a gluten-free dough with mostly vegetables, or with vegan cashew cheese!
Prefer chocolate? Start adjusting the amount of sweetener added each time you make it, I promise you, your pallet will get more used to the more bitter taste of Cacao, rather than the sweetness.
For some, this could help add a little bit of fun to cooking in the kitchen, maybe even give a little bit of inspiration for creativity!
Worried About Waste?
- If foods have not expired, nor has the packaging been opened, the good thing about packaged and processed foods are that they are made to have a long shelf-life. For these food items, find your local food bank or shelter to donate them.
- If something is close to it’s expiry date, such as a cake mix or even pasta sauce, feel free to actually cook these items, and give them to a friend, neighbour or even a homeless person that you might encounter on a daily basis. There’s a variety of reasons why a certain person may want or need this food, other than poverty. Maybe this friend or neighbour is a single mother, and has very little time to cook anything extravagant for her kids. You wouldn’t be passing on your low quality food onto someone else, it’s a friendly gesture, especially for someone that may benefit from this consideration!
Get back on that horse
All of these recommendations revolve around the idea of not overwhelming yourself when you have such a strong ambition to thrive and change your life for the better. As I often recommend to my clients, maybe following any one of these recommendations can be the key to at least trying to change one’s wellness for the long-term.
Experiencing speed bumps and potholes along the way is very common, in fact its expected. However, some can end up being steered off of the path they were on, causing them to completely abandon their efforts. But, maybe some of the recommendations above can help you get past those speed bumps.
One thing I always remind people of is that no matter what their issues or goals are, achieving wellness is not a race, it’s a marathon. You can not rush wellness, and you can not expect your health or some symptoms to completely change overnight! Some specific diet protocols may require a food restriction program for up to 2 years! However, if you think long-term, committing to this kind of regimen for only 2 years of your entire life for a strong possibility of little to no complications for the remainder of your life, I think that’s definitely worth it.
What seems to support an individual’s perseverance is properly executed goal planning, and knowing what your own tendencies and limits are. I’m a believer, for myself, in planning out goals at a smaller scale, and easily attainable for one’s own standards. And if you stumble and lose focus on any of the goals, that’s fine! Just find that ambition again, and start again! Better yet, this is a wild idea, even try CHANGING your goals part-way through the year! There are no rules against that….in fact, I don’t think there are ANY concrete rules for goal-setting that apply to everybody! And to me, that’s comforting.
Here’s to another year of thriving and having the courage to want to change your life and improve yourself!
- According to Adam Galinsky, a professor of business at the Columbia Business school, noting that while focusing on a certain goal can actually “…blind people to important issues that appear unrelated to their goal. This was written in a paper Galinsky participated in, called Goals Gone Wild: The Systemic Side Effects of Over-Prescribing Goal Setting.