If the new year rolls around and you’re ready to swear off alcohol, chocolate, and bread… for life, you’re not alone. It’s totally normal — and really exciting — to create health resolutions following the overindulgent holiday season.
According to Statistic Brain Research Institute (SBRI), a statistical survey and research organization, the number one New Year’s resolution people made in 2015 was, not surprisingly, to lose weight. Interestingly, SBRI estimates that of the 45 percent of Americans who make New Year’s resolutions, only 8 percent of those individuals achieve their goals successfully.
Real talk: It’s tough to stay motivated come mid-January.
This year, instead of giving up on your goals two weeks in, try implementing these easy (and surprisingly fun) strategies to help you stay on-track to weight-loss success. New year, new you — for real.
1. Create SMART goals.
Think about what you’d like to accomplish — whether it’s losing weight, eating more whole foods, consuming less sugar, cooking regularly, or starting a new exercise plan — then create two to three challenging but achievable goals. The best goals pass the SMART test, meaning they’re Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely.
“It’s important to create goals you can stick with, so start small. If your goal is too far out, it’s easy to lose momentum and procrastinate,” says Paige Benté, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D. Instead of committing to lose weight, a goal that’s well-intentioned but too broad, Benté suggests making a more specific goal to lose 10 pounds in five weeks.
For every goal, write down several easy, actionable steps you can take each day, week, and month to achieve it. When you crush the original goal, sit down and assess what you need to do next to meet the next milestone on your weight-loss journey.
2. Make a vision board.
A vision board (remember bulletin boards?) is literally a visual representation of your resolution, with illustrated ways you plan to achieve it. It’s like a real-life, tangible Pinterest, only more focused and personal. Include encouraging quotes to inspire, yummy and healthy recipes to make, photos of exercises you plan to do, images of parks or trails you plan to hike or run on — whatever empowers you to take control of your health and remind yourself why you’re doing these things.
Focus your vision board on how you want to feel, not just how you want to look (so nix the sexy swimsuit model photos, just in case you were going to go there). The more you can visually represent how exercising, eating clean, sleeping more, enjoying life, etc., can make you feel like a better version of yourself, the more effective it will be at inspiring you to actually become that person.
Hang it where you’ll see it every day.
3. Make meal prep part of your routine.
Invest a few hours of your time each weekend or at the start of each week to plan and prepare as many of your weekly meals as possible. “Keeping healthy foods on hand makes sticking to your goals way easier,” says Benté. “If you have cut veggies, grilled protein, and pre-made grains in the fridge, you never have an excuse to cheat.”
Research shows that deciding what you’ll eat well ahead of the point where you’re ravenous and prone to eating whatever you see first, or you’re in a restaurant and about to order, can help you make healthier choices that are aligned with your weight-loss goals.
If you’re new to cooking, particularly healthy cooking, you don’t need a lot of fancy kitchen gadgets to get started. Basics such as measuring cups and spoons, a decent (sharpened) knife, cutting boards, pots and pans, a blender, wooden cooking spoons, and a spatula can get you up and running. Watching cooking shows and gathering a variety of healthy, easy-to-follow recipes can provide a quick culinary crash course.
4. Exercise regularly.
Exercise and eating right go hand in hand. The more active you are, the more energized and empowered you’ll feel. Krista Haynes, R.D. and Openfit nutrition manager, says: “If you make other positive lifestyle choices [such as working out], then general health and self-care becomes top of mind and you’re more likely to carry it over into all areas of your life, including what you eat.”
While you need to clean up your diet and eat appropriate portions within a specific calorie range to lose weight, working out can rev your metabolism, increase your amount of lean muscle mass (read: you’ll eventually look fit, not just thinner), and help you maintain an overall healthier and high-functioning body. Exercise and increased daily activity (walking, taking the stairs, cleaning the house, riding a bike) can help improve sleep quality, mental outlook, self-esteem, and productivity.
5. Schedule cooking dates with friends.
Eating healthy doesn’t have to be a chore. To make it easier and way more fun, set a weekly dinner date with a friend, or invite your neighbor over for a weekly meal-prep sesh. Chip in for ingredients and test out new healthy recipes you’ve both been wanting to try.
If you make seemingly mundane tasks, such as grocery shopping, chopping vegetables, and stocking the freezer with make-ahead meals, more social, you’ll make catching up productive and positive for you and your friend.
6. Use an app to stay on-track.
You’re on your phone all day, anyway — you might as well use it to help you reach your weight-loss goals.
MyFitnessPal is a great option. “You can look up foods, create recipes, and make sure your macros are in check,” Benté says.
7. Eat a nourishing breakfast.
Habits — both good and bad — have a domino effect, which is why it’s crucial to start your day off right by eating something healthy and satisfying. “I truly believe that if you set the stage early with a healthy breakfast, you’re more likely to make nutritious choices throughout the day,” says Haynes.
Some examples of hearty and healthy breakfasts: chia pudding, breakfast quesadillas, egg muffins, and super seed energy bars. While you’re at it, revamp your morning cup of joe with healthier versions of a pumpkin spice latte, salted caramel cold-brew coffee, peppermint mocha latte, iced french vanilla swirl, or banana milk coffee.
8. Build a support group.
Find friends who have similar nutrition goals as you — or at least just a desire to practice healthy eating — and start a group email chain. Send an email once a week that invites everyone to share their current struggles and successes, no matter how small. Having a space where you can encourage one another, ask questions, and dispense advice makes you feel less alone.
Similarly, use social media as a positive outlet to support your fitness journey. Post before and after photos on Instagram, pin photos on Pinterest of healthy recipes you cooked, connect your workout results to Facebook via apps, and follow health and fitness figures who inspire you on Twitter.
9. Record your progress in a journal.
Each day, take two minutes to jot down what you ate, how you moved, and how your body felt as a result. You can also include notes about dishes you loved, new recipes you tried, cravings you had, soreness you felt, how many reps you completed, or challenges you overcame. “[Journaling] can not only help you lose weight or discover food intolerances, but it can also help you fill in nutritional gaps you might not otherwise notice,” says Haynes.
Recording your journey can help you track your progress over time, and hold you accountable when your motivation lags. If you have a streak of clean eating and workouts logged, and you have to break that for no good reason, marking a zero in your journal can feel depressing. You won’t want to look back on the past year and see a bunch of donut holes, er, zeroes. If you can get in the habit of keeping detailed notes on how you respond to the diet plan or exercise regimen you’re following, you’ll start to see what works for you and what doesn’t. And, if it you need to make tweaks to your routine if you hit a weight-loss plateau or fall off the health wagon for a little bit, you’ll have a great place to start.