There’s no one way to approach the start of a new year. For some, it can feel a bit melancholic, as it’s a major marker of the passing of time and perhaps the closing of some chapters. For others, it may offer a sense of hope — particularly if you’ve got plans for the future and are ready to start manifesting. Whichever category you fall into, most everyone can agree that this time of year can present a ton of pressure to become your “best self ever” (whatever that means), and that can feel especially stressful when it comes to your diet and nutrition habits, which likely took a hit during the always-indulgent holiday season. But if you’re looking to kick off 2023 with a body reset, there’s good news: The best health goals shouldn’t feel scary or include drastic and restrictive eating. In fact, according to nutrition experts, your best bet for New Year’s wellness resolutions are restriction-free, making you all the more likely to stick to them.
While many popular resolutions include things outside physical health, these types of goals often end up at the top of the list. In fact, in Statista’s survey of 2022 New Year’s resolutions, “living healthier” was the most common response — above “personal improvement or happiness,” and followed closely by “losing weight” in the third spot. Those surveyed found these resolutions more important than things like “career or job goals,” “financial goals,” and “improve relationships.”
There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to eat better and improve your physical health — but the pressure that comes from this time of year can often set you up for failure, especially when combined with pictures of “wellness” illustrated on social media. “Around the new year, many of us feel the need to detox, reset, and refresh,” explains Brooklyn-based dietician Maddie Pasquariello. “We’re faced with countless such messages around this time every year, especially via social media. [Concepts] like ‘detoxing’ your body or overhauling your diet can actually lead to eating patterns that won’t be sustainable in the long run.”
So what makes most wellness resolutions ultimately unsustainable? Well, a few things, according to Jen Scheinman, registered dietitian and nutrition affairs manager for Timeline Nutrition. “In my experience, there are four reasons people’s New Year’s resolutions don’t stick,” she tells TZR. “Their goal is not realistic or achievable, they don’t have a plan in place to achieve their goal, they lack motivation, or they lack support. Creating a resolution that includes all, or at least some, of these elements can really help with making goals ‘stick-withable.’”
If you’re still determined to improve your physical well-being in 2023, it might be time to reassess some of these restrictive diet resolutions. Ask yourself if the goal you’re setting is something you can actually commit to — without sacrificing your sanity or self-care. And above all else, give yourself some grace. “Real behavior change takes time — months to years,” says Pasquariello, who recommends a more digestible approach. “This can look like implementing a morning and evening routine, learning to ‘habit stack,’ and giving yourself plenty of time — rather than saying ‘I’m going to achieve this by the end of the week.’ For example, aim to hit your goals most days of the week or most weeks of the month. This gives you more space to ease into your new habits.”
Another way to revaluate your wellness goals for the new year is to consider a more holistic approach. Instead of thinking about trying to make your body a certain shape or size, focus on lifestyle changes that affect your overall well-being and how you feel. “While most of the messaging you’ll see will focus on nutrition and physical activity, your other habits are just as important: sleep, mindfulness and stress management, social interaction, work-life balance, and hobbies,” Pasquariello explains. “As important as nutrition is, it’s not the end-all-be-all, so if you’re feeling a little unfulfilled or lackluster, some of these other realms might be worth diving into.”
Ready to write out those resolutions? Ahead, Pasquariello, Scheinman, and other wellness experts sound off on goals that will set you up for success in the most sustainable way — so you’ll soar through 2023 and beyond feeling renewed from the inside out.
Add, Don’t Subtract
If one of your goals is to “eat better” in the new year, it’s easy to assume that involves being restrictive. But according to Taryn Mattern, a registered dietitian and nutrition coach, that often backfires. Instead, she and other nutrition experts recommend thinking about what to add to our plates rather than what to remove. “Instead of thinking about restriction, deprivation, and taking away specific foods, what if we flipped the script? When we’re not restricting, we’re actually making our body feel safe,” she tells TZR. “When your body feels safe, your metabolism works much more efficiently.”
One of the simplest ways to think about adding to your diet for the better is by “eating the rainbow.” In other words, incorporating whole foods in a variety of different colors for an array of nutrients. “Think about adding more vegetables and fruits to what you’re already eating,” Mattern says. “The fiber, antioxidants, phytonutrients, and variety will go a long way for your health and how you feel each and every day.” Think leafy greens, squash, berries, citrus fruits, beets, and so on.
While you’re introducing new foods, Meg Gerber, functional medicine dietitian, bestselling author, and founder of Grounded Nourishment, suggests adding some bitter foods like broccoli family veggies, cauliflower, radish, endives, dark leafy greens, and raw cacao to the mix to optimize digestion, ignite liver function, and reset sugar cravings. “Some of my favorite ways to sneak them in include frozen cauliflower rice in smoothies, broccoli sprouts on avocado toast, or wilted dandelion greens into soup!”
Been skipping out on grain foods? Registered dietitian Elana Natker recommends adding them back in for a more nutritionally complete diet. “Not only do grain foods provide energy to fuel our bodies and brains (the brain depends on glucose for energy, the sugar that comes from carbs), but grain foods are filled with nutrients that we need to feel and perform at our best,” she says. Whole grains like quinoa, wild rice, millet, and amaranth are all great options that will keep you satiated and regular while reducing your risk for illnesses like heart disease and diabetes.
And finally, don’t skip out on snacking! Experts believe that mindful snacking (eating when you’re actually hungry versus out of distraction or boredom) can help regulate your blood sugar and energy levels. That said, if you’re looking to give your snacking habits a makeover, follow Pasquariello’s advice and swap in nutrition-packed foods. “Changing up your usual crackers or popcorn for a nutrient-dense option from a snack brand like Moonshot, Spoonful, or Lil Bucks,” she suggests. “Keep a couple of healthy dips or salsas stocked in your fridge for easy access. Some of my favorite brands include Siete, Brami, and Ithaca Hummus.”
Become Your Own Chef
If you’ve fallen into the trap of takeout or delivery over the past few years, you’re not alone. However, one of the best ways to take control of your nutritional input is to make your own meals. This doesn’t mean restricting yourself from enjoying a dinner or brunch out every now and again, but becoming a master in the kitchen has so many benefits (including saving you money). “Studies show that people who cook meals at home more than those who dine out often tend to have healthier diets,” Scheinman explains.
If you’re trying to dine at home more in 2023, start by setting yourself up for success when you’re shopping. “Give yourself a goal of hitting the grocery store twice a week to grab a new veggie and fruit (and write down what those are before you go, so you stay task-oriented),” Pasquariello offers. “Or, check out a company like Misfits Market that ships sustainably sourced produce to your door each week or month.” You can also improve your chef skills in a fun and social way by enrolling in a cooking class, and if you’re influenced by social media, follow along with the culinary influencers who keep you inspired with fresh recipe ideas as opposed to encouraging restriction.
Savor Your Meals
With a hectic schedule, it’s easy for healthy eating habits to take a back seat. If you’re skipping breakfast or cramming in bites of your sad desk lunch while chatting on Slack or answering emails, chances are you’re not really relishing in food the way you could and should be. “Too many of us are eating while doing a million other things,” explains Marissa Meshulam, registered dietitian nutritionist and the founder of MPM Nutrition. “This makes our meals way less satisfying, causing us to need more food. Eating while using a smartphone can [...] create digestive distress, since digestion begins with slowing down and chewing our food, and distracted eating tends to mean we are going faster and not chewing as well.” So while you’re writing out your health goals this year, consider what the expert calls “monotasking” when it comes to your meals: Put your devices away, eat mindfully, and really savor every bite to make them feel so much more satisfying.
How’s your mineral intake these days? According to Gerber, getting enough minerals is key when it comes to bodily functions like energy production and optimal liver detoxification. “Think of minerals like jet fuel for your bodily reactions,” she explains. While eating foods such as beef liver, grass-fed beef, oysters, starchy winter squash, potatoes, coconut water, raw carrots, and tomatoes can help, the dietician suggests a few other fun ways to make sure you’re getting the max. “I recommend sipping one of my mineral mocktails daily (my recipe here) and adding topical magnesium oil or Epsom salt baths daily.”
It may sound simple, but actively choosing joy when it comes to your health resolutions can make them so much more sustainable. This means what you eat, the movements you make, and other lifestyle choices. “The true key to health comes from consistency and if we focus on behaviors we hate, we will never find consistency,” Meshulam says. “Kale grosses you out? Skip it and try spinach! Running feels treacherous? Try out spinning or walking. Lean more into enjoyment this year to help you figure out what works best for you.”
Sara Kashlan, Los Angeles-based registered dietitian nutritionist, certified eating disorder specialist, and intuitive eating coach, also endorses the idea of prioritizing pleasure when it comes to your methods of movement. “Instead of viewing exercise like a chore, explore joyful ways of moving your body,” the expert shares. “Joyful movement does not mean engaging in the same exercise regimen day after day. Instead, joyful movement is about finding new ways to move your body. Consider activities that feel more grounding, like doing a sunset yoga class or going on a nature walk while taking the time to appreciate the beauty of the outdoors. Tapping back into childhood forms of movement is another way to transform your relationship with exercise, such as rollerblading or taking a dance class.” So mix things up this year, keep the workouts that make you feel good, and leave the rest behind.
Start A Self-Care Routine
When jotting down those resolutions, take into consideration the impact stress can have on your overall health. One way to combat this is by making time for self-care. “Stress can wreak havoc on our bodies (and of course our cortisol levels), so choosing one small daily act of self-care can help to negate the stress you’re having on a daily basis,” Mattern says. “You can think about deep belly breathing, journaling, walking outside, talking with a friend, coloring, or anything that makes you feel happy!”
Think you don’t have time for self-care? Think again. According to Kashlan, simply changing up your morning or night routine with a five-minute practice may be all you need to reduce stress. “Something as small as reading as opposed to automatically scrolling on social media before you start or end your day can shift your mood and overall well-being,” she says.
Don’t Beat Yourself Up
Last but not least, make it a goal to be patient with yourself when it comes to the other resolutions you set. “Forget the all-or-nothing thinking,” Meshulam encourages. “It doesn’t matter what you ate yesterday; today is a new day. Every meal is a new opportunity to feel better. Instead of beating yourself up, come from a lens of curiosity versus judgment. Ask yourself ‘What about this worked for me? What didn’t work? How can I use this information next time?’” With a little bit more grace, you’re much more likely to find success in improving your health in the long run — not just for the year.