Welcome to Ask A Dietitian, a series where Yahoo Canada digs into food trends and popular nutrition questions with registered dietitian Abbey Sharp.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Contact a qualified medical professional before engaging in any physical activity, or making any changes to your diet, medication or lifestyle.
Does "I'm going to eat healthier this year" sound familiar? As we step into the new year, many are setting resolutions or have already started their journey — and those goals often revolve around adopting a healthier lifestyle.
But it's not always easy to follow through; sometimes life gets in the way, or we simply give up.
To guide you through creating realistic and achievable goals, Yahoo Canada spoke with dietitian Abbey Sharp who emphasized the importance of setting SMART goals.
Here are 6 ways to stay on track with your healthy eating resolutions, and everything you need to know.
1. Set actionable goals for a healthier you
First, expert Sharp claims it's important to set realistic and actionable goals. She recommends steering away from vague resolutions like "I want to lose weight" and instead focusing on specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound (SMART) objectives.
"You need to actually think about the behaviours that are going to result in that outcome," she explains.
Sharp suggests incorporating simple changes into daily routines, such as including protein in every meal, adding fruits or vegetables to all meals, opting for stairs or a daily walk. Even minor new, achievable rituals like drinking two cups of water before morning coffee could help.
"These are actionable action behaviours that you can actually take control over versus the arbitrary end goal of something like losing weight."
2. Monitor progress without obsession
Measuring progress is crucial, but Sharp advises against becoming overly fixated on day-to-day details.
Weekly check-ins offer are a good way to gain a broader perspective on progress. This approach allows you to identify challenges, adjust your goals realistically and avoid the common pitfall of burnout that comes with overly ambitious resolutions.
Any health-promoting behavior can potentially become unhealthy when we start to obsess over doing it 'perfectly.'
Sharp suggests easing off is "far better than going too hard, too fast, and then burning out like most people do with new year's resolutions."
3. Craft a balanced nutrition approach
For those focusing on healthier eating habits, Sharp recommends adopting a balanced nutrition approach centered around what she calls a "hunger-crushing combo." This means combining fibre, protein and healthy fats in meals and snacks.
"You don't really want to get into these really hard sets of rules, or diets, or restrictive detoxes... which ultimately, is never going to be appropriate for everybody," she says.
It's always about adding — not restricting.
Her approach emphasizes adding nutritious foods to meals and snacks, to promote satiety and improve overall nutrition, which naturally helps to edge out some less nutritious options.
It's best to stick to guidelines that can ebb and flow to fit your unique needs and lifestyle, Sharp says.
4. Make healthy choices in social settings
Navigating social gatherings without derailing healthy habits can be challenging.
Sharp suggests to start by avoiding arriving to events on an empty stomach. "I think one of the biggest mistakes people make because that they try to save calories for the big meal," she claims.
By eating normal, balanced meals throughout the day, you can make better choices during outings.
At a restaurant, for example, focus on fiber, protein and colour when choosing your meals. Her advice is to order a vegetable-forward appetizer, and for the main course focus on protein and fiber.
Staying hydrated is key.
"My tip for everybody who is indulging in alcohol is to just make sure you're getting in at least two big sips of water for each sip of alcohol," Sharp says. "Don't rely on your wine as your sole source of hydration for the evening, it's absolutely going to backfire."
5. Distinguish hunger from cravings
Sharp says it can be difficult to differentiate between genuine hunger and emotional cravings. "If you've been dieting for a long time throughout your life... you've basically become used to ignoring your body's true needs and hunger cues," she explains.
The expert highlights the gradual onset and accompanying physical sensations of true hunger (irritability, lack of concentration, rumbly stomach). Cravings, on the other hand, can emerge suddenly in response to external triggers and often indicate desire for a specific flavour or texture.
It's far more effective to find ways to include your favorite foods into your routine.
Sharp advises against overtly restricting favorite foods, and instead having a balanced approach that combines enjoyable foods with fiber, protein and healthy fats to avoid the pitfalls of binge-eating.
6. Avoid extreme diets and unrealistic promises
Finally, Sharp warns against the allure of fast results promised by extreme diets, detoxes and cleanses. She says programs offering rapid weight loss with minimal effort rarely result in sustainable health improvements.
"If you can't imagine yourself doing a diet for the rest of your life... then don't bother starting. Because the moment that you stop, or you go back to eating in a more comfortable way for yourself, a more intuitive way of yourself, all of that weight is going to come back — all of the potential health benefits that you may have experienced are going to be reversed."
What's most important, she says, is to stick to something you feel is realistic, that you can enjoy for the rest of your life.