The New Year can be a symbol of a fresh start and can often seem like the perfect time to reflect on areas of your diet that you want to improve upon. But it can also be easy to take on too many changes or set too many goals at once, which can lead to burnout and frustration.
Instead, by focusing on making small, realistic adjustments to your daily life, you can reach your health goals and, most importantly, stick with them over time.
Read on to find out the best healthy eating goals to set this New Year and how to make sure they work for you.
Is it important to set healthy eating goals for the New Year?
Although there is no specific time of year where you must set a healthy eating goal or make a dietary change, using the new year as a launching point for goal setting can be helpful for a variety of reasons.
“The New Year is a symbol of a fresh start so it becomes the perfect time to reflect on the areas in your life that you want to focus on and prioritize over the coming months,” explains Courtney McCormick, MPH, RDN, LDN, corporate dietitian serving as the Manager of Clinical Research & Nutrition at Nutrisystem.
After the holiday season, where eating habits and fitness routines may have been altered due to celebrations, travel, and family plans, New Year’s can be a great way to define the start of prioritizing your own self care once again.
Avoid this mistake when setting healthy eating goals
Setting healthy eating goals for the New Year can be beneficial, but you also have to be careful of common pitfalls. If you set goals that are too lofty or too general, it can be hard to actually achieve them. “One of the biggest mistakes I see is that people are not setting goals that are specific and action oriented,” shares McCormick.
If you set a broad goal to ‘lose weight’ or to ‘eat better,’ it can be hard to take action. These goals aren’t specific enough to actually achieve.
Instead, when making a goal for the New Year, focus on setting SMART goals.
SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time bound. When you transform a broad goal into a SMART goal, you are more likely to achieve it and maintain the results.
Here’s how it works. Instead of setting a goal to broadly ‘drink more water,’ make it a SMART goal by changing it up slightly.
For instance, setting a goal to ‘drink 8 ounces of water with each meal daily’ is a SMART goal:
SPECIFIC: Drink 8 ounces of water
MEASURABLE: Both the quantity of water and frequency can be measured.
ATTAINABLE: Drinking 8 ounces of water at meals is a realistic goal can be achieved without extreme effort.
RELEVANT: Drinking more water can help improve overall health.
TIME-BOUND: The goal focuses on achieving this behavior at each meal over the course of one day.
“By being specific not only are you telling yourself exactly what you will be doing, but you also are giving yourself something to evaluate yourself against to see if you are meeting your goals, which can help improve motivation,” adds McCormick.
How to set realistic healthy eating goals in the New Year
As much as we all have big goals for ourselves, it can be unrealistic to expect to achieve those big goals overnight. If you set goals that are unattainable, you are setting yourself up for disappointment and failure.
Instead, using small, achievable goals is the secret to creating a launching pad that will carry you to achieving those larger goals.
Think of it this way, you can’t save for your entire retirement by just saving money for a week. In the same way, you cannot lose 50 pounds or reverse insulin resistance overnight. It takes consistency over time.
If you only focus on those long term goals, it can be easy to miss the small achievements along the way. And that can lead to feeling discouraged and cause burnout.
Instead, shift your focus to what I like to call ‘building block goals,’ or the small, tiny goals that build up over time to allow you to achieve those bigger goals.
For instance, if your goal is to be able to lose ten pounds, you need to take actionable steps each day to make that happen. Step one may be to add 8 ounces of water to each meal. Step two may be to add a five minute walk each day. Each step builds upon the next to take you one step closer to your long term goal. But by focusing on the little achievements along the way, you can build healthy habits while staying motivated.
What are the best healthy eating goals for weight loss?
One of the most common healthy eating goals set at New Years is to lose weight. But just setting a goal to lose a certain amount of weight won’t make it happen. You need to focus on actionable changes you can make over time that will lead to long term weight loss success.
“It is common to gravitate towards the latest diet trends, rather than thinking about whether you can maintain that eating style once you’ve reached their weight loss goal,” explains McCormick, “what works for someone else may not work for you.”
Although it may not sound as exciting as the latest fad diet, focusing on small behaviors you can achieve and stick with long term is the best way to stay consistent over time. And consistency is the real secret to weight loss success.
Focus on your current dietary habits and behaviors and choose just one change that you know you can achieve day after day.
For instance, it may be as simple as adding ½ cup of vegetables to your dinner plate. Or perhaps you will focus on eating more slowly while removing distractions to reduce mindless eating. Then, once this small goal becomes a habit, you can work on the next small goal building up slowly over time.
What are the best healthy eating goals for blood sugar management
When it comes to goal setting, it isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. One of the best ways to identify what goals are best for you is to take a look at your overall diet and lifestyle behaviors and focus on the one that is having the greatest impact on blood sugar levels.
For instance, if you suffer from high stress levels, your blood sugar will remain high because of stress, regardless of improvements in your eating habits. To improve blood sugar, your best bet is to start by focusing on steps to cut stress and building up from there.
Although food choices matter, balance is also key when it comes to blood sugar management. “When it comes to managing your blood sugar, it is important to work towards creating more balanced meals and snacks by pairing carbs with proteins and healthy fats in the right portions at the right times of day,” explains McCormick. “For instance, try pairing apples with peanut butter or whole grain bread with lower sodium turkey deli meat.”
If you need more ideas or help on meal planning to lower blood sugar, be sure to check out my 7-Day Blood Sugar Balanced Meal Plans.
What to do if you fall off track with your healthy eating goals
You set a goal, but fell off track? Don’t stress. Here’s what to do instead. “Shift your mindset from “all or nothing” to “progress over perfection,” shares McCormick.
If you set unrealistic expectations for yourself, you will always fall short. No one is perfect and you cannot expect to be.
Instead, embrace slip ups and learn from them. You ate too much pasta at dinner? Stop beating yourself up over it and instead focus on why it happened. Did you get too hungry? Did you eat too fast? Where you too restrictive with yourself and cravings got the best of you?
When you learn from your mistakes, you can prevent them from happening the next time. That’s how you make progress and eventually achieve those long term goals.
The bottom line on the best healthy eating goals in the New Year
When it comes to setting the best healthy eating goals this New Year, focus on three key things: think small, be realistic, and set goals unique to your own needs.
By focusing on small goals you can build upon over time, you can improve your health, stay motivated, and maintain your results over time.