Use the SMART approach to setting health and wellness goals
Start small and work on one behavior at a time
Eat more whole foods and less processed foods
Cook at home more, using a meal plan to guide healthy choices
Have you been looking to get a fresh start towards healthy eating this year? Like many people, you might have set some goals to improve your health and well-being, with a particular focus on eating better. But you also might wonder how to keep your new year's resolutions.
For starters, make sure you set SMART goals:
Specific: be clear and concise
Measurable: quantify results to aim for
Achievable: be realistic
Relevant: identify priorities
Timely: determine target finish date
So, instead of setting a vague goal to “eat right” this year, define it better. You might, for example, aim to “eat at least two vegetables daily, five days a week” or “drink two liters of water daily.”1
How To Start Eating Healthy
Like achieving most goals, it helps to first take baby steps towards your goals rather than one giant leap. If you try to overhaul your entire lifestyle (especially all at once), you’ll quickly get overwhelmed, lose momentum, and give up altogether. So, when it comes to how to start eating healthy, the best way is to start small.
Choose one behavior at a time to work on, something that you can easily achieve and sustain. For example, commit to eliminating soda from your diet and replace it with water. It’s one simple switch that you can easily focus on and track. It might take a few weeks until you’ve adjusted to the change and this becomes a habit. But once it does, you can build on the momentum of your success by adding a new behavior into the mix, such as eating one piece of fruit with breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Again, it’s one small change and it’s easy to track each day.
As you add each small, new habit, you’re slowly layering in new positive behaviors, one at a time. It won’t feel overwhelming trying to do too much at once. As a result, each baby step turns into a big stride toward having a healthy diet.
To help you stay on track all year, you’ll need some solid strategies on how to eat healthy food every day—especially on busy days when you’re pressed for time. Let these tips guide your goals:
Follow the USDA’s MyPlate recommendations. Focus on healthy eating at every meal by striving to fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables, a quarter of your plate with grains, and the remaining quarter with lean protein. Add a serving of low-fat or fat-free dairy or calcium-fortified alternative.2
Cook at home more often. When you make meals from scratch, you have greater control over the ingredients, such as using herbs instead of butter to flavor your food. You can also choose healthier cooking methods, such as baking instead of frying. To ease the stress of deciding “what’s for dinner,” consider creating a weekly meal plan. Be sure to include some quick, easy meal prep recipes on days when you know you won’t have a lot of time to cook. Planning what you’ll eat throughout the week puts intention behind your efforts to maintain a healthy diet.
Read food labels. Play label detective to compare key nutrition information on food packaging. Choose options with the lowest amounts of added sugars, sodium, saturated fat and trans-fat, and no partially hydrogenated oils.3
Eat fewer processed foods. The healthiest choices in the grocery store typically don’t come in a box. Packaged convenience foods (like cans of soup or boxes of “just-add-meat” meals) usually involve some level of processing. Instead, opt for single-ingredient foods (especially plant-based) such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. To make meal prep easier (and to-go snacks on hand), keep washed, cut produce in your fridge and pantry. This will help you be prepared to eat healthy instead of grabbing convenient snacks void of nutrition.
What To Do When You Slip Up
Always remember that you’re aiming for progress, not perfection. If you experience a bad day or slip up in your healthy eating habit, it’s absolutely normal. For instance, just because you ate a bag of potato chips or drank a soda doesn’t mean you’ve failed. Instead of completely giving up on your goals or chastising yourself, cut yourself some slack. Chalk it up as a minor misstep, accept it for what it is—a temporary setback—and get back on track.4
The Bottom Line
Whether you’re just getting started with New Year’s resolutions or you’re setting goals any time of year, use the SMART approach to defining your health and wellness aspirations. To get started, take baby steps and work on one goal at a time. To maintain a healthy diet all year long, follow the strategies above. Continue to check back on the Nature Made blog for the latest science-backed articles to help you take ownership of your health.
Lisa Beach is a seasoned journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, Eating Well, Parents, AARP’s Disrupt Aging, Optimum Wellness, and dozens more. She also writes for a variety of health/wellness-focused brands. Check out her writer’s website at www.LisaBeachWrites.com.
Lynn is a Registered Dietitian (R.D.) and is a member of the Medical and Scientific Communications team at Pharmavite. She has over 20 years of experience in integrative and functional nutrition and has given lectures to health professionals and consumers on nutrition, dietary supplements and related health issues. Lynn frequently conducts employee trainings on various nutrition topics in addition to educating retail partners on vitamins, minerals and supplements. Lynn has previous clinical dietitian expertise in both acute and long-term care, as well as nutrition counseling for weight management, diabetes, and sports nutrition. Lynn earned a bachelor’s of science in Nutrition with a minor in Kinesiology/Exercise Science from The Pennsylvania State University. She earned a M.S. degree in Human Nutrition from Marywood University in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Lynn is an active member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Sports Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutritionists, Dietitians in Functional Medicine, and holds a certification in Integrative and Functional Nutrition through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.