We’ve all done it. On January 1, you’re gung-ho about keeping up that healthy eating regimen. But by mid-month, that resolution to choose kale over cookies has flown out the window. We asked Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, how to succeed at eating better in 2020.
Focus on the short term. While a lucky few can overhaul their diet when the clock strikes midnight, that’s rarely realistic. “For many people, a complete revamping of your diet overnight is not feasible,” says Mozaffarian, who suggests incremental changes instead. Very focused, specific goals with a clear timeline tend to work best, like planning to eat at least one serving of fruit for breakfast five days a week. After you’ve kept that up through January, you can resolve to keep it going for the rest of the year.
Track your progress. It’s vital to have some form of feedback to tell you how you’re doing, says Mozaffarian, who is also Jean Mayer Professor of Nutrition and Medicine. Whether it’s with an app — there’s a multitude to track grocery purchases or meals — or just writing on a piece of paper, having documentation of your choices will help you succeed. Peer support is also incredibly helpful. “Doing this with somebody, especially in your family, works much better,” Mozaffarian says. A doctor or friend can help, too.
Use addition, not subtraction. Rather than focusing on the foods you should remove from your diet, hone in on the nutrient-dense options to add in. “We need to shift to thinking of food as a positive,” Mozaffarian says, “Adding good foods is really a good place to start.” He suggests incorporating fruits, beans, nuts, fish, yogurt, and vegetables into your meal plans. After all, a lot of people are sick because they don’t get enough good foods, not too many bad foods, he says.
It’s about more than the pounds. While many people see eating healthier as a means to hitting a goal weight, Mozaffarian says the benefits go far beyond reaching a number on the scale. “People can have weight goals, but eating healthy is incredibly important regardless of weight changes,” he says. “Even if you don’t lose weight, people are healthier in the long run.” He suggests thinking of a healthy diet, exercise, and weight management as three separate, yet linked, goals. “If you’re thin and you’re eating poorly, you’re at risk of many diseases,” Mozaffarian says. “Weight should be the third priority on the list. If you eat healthy and you exercise more, it doesn’t matter what your weight is — you’re healthier.”
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Megan Johnson is a writer in Boston. Follow her on Twitter @megansarahj. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.