A month into 2022 is often a place to reflect on goals, ambitions or ideas that many people start off the new year with. Whether you chose to make a new year’s resolution or not, the beginning of a new year can also be a great time to think about new opportunities and possibilities.
However, keeping up with our resolutions can be incredibly challenging. So much so, that Monday the 17th of January is known as ‘blue Monday’ due to a combination of factors including weather, time since Christmas, and time since failing our new year’s resolutions. This is not surprising as, statistically speaking, only 31% of people claim to have kept their 2021 new year’s resolution (1).
A large focus in the new year has always been around food and movement. Whether this involves going on a diet, trying new recipes, or making improvements to your fitness routine. New year’s diets can take many forms, but the ones that most often hit the headlines tend to be the most restrictive. These often involve cutting back on your food intake, restricting food groups and detoxes. Even if your diet doesn’t have a name, it might be a ‘pseudo-diet’ where you are following some of those similar patterns seen in the more well-known diets. For example, rigid rules, exclusions of foods or food groups, eating at certain times of day, ignoring feelings of hunger, and weight loss is often a goal.
If you stated out on a diet, or a pseudo-diet, this new year and you haven’t been able to keep it up, please know you are not alone. Research has indicated just how challenging it is to keep up a diet (2). Not only is it difficult to lose weight, it is also difficult to maintain it (3), which can often lead to what is known as yo-yo dieting (4). All of this can lead to a whole host of psychological and physiological concerns. Such as body dissatisfaction and lower self-esteem. Dieting can also impact your relationship to food. If you think about the times you’ve cut certain foods out of your diet, or imposed dietary rules on yourself. It can leave you feeling like certain foods are good and bad, consequently, leading to feelings of guilt and shame. Studies looking at the effects of food restriction have indicated that it can result in excessive eating once food appears again, preoccupation with food, and distraction or over-focus on food (5).
With all of this is mind, it’s easy to feel confused or unsure about what to do for your health when it comes to making changes in the New Year. Our picture of health is often quite a narrow one, but realistically there are many things we can do to look after ourselves and promote our health.
Alternative ways to look after your health that don’t involve going on a diet.
1. Experiment with new foods
Get hold of a new cookbook or two and try some new recipes. If you’ve been struggling to find the motivation to cook, this is a great place to start. This doesn’t have to be an 8 course dinner, you can start small and pick a new recipe or two. This is a great way to take the pressure away from eating in a way and focusing more on the enjoyment of food.
2. Swap in veg where you can
Lots of things count at 1 of your 5 a day that you may not think of. It’s not just fresh fruit and veg that counts, you can also get a portion from frozen and canned fruit and veg. Things like 150ml of fruit/vegetable juice and 80g of beans and pulses can also count towards your 5-a-day, but only at one portion, no matter how much you eat in a day.
If you’ve got favourite recipes you cook week on week is there a way you can add in a little extra veg? For example, can you grate it into a stew or curry? Or try mashed squash or swede instead of potato.
3. What are you already doing that makes you feel good?
The pandemic undoubtedly brought a lot of challenges to us, but for some, also provide a chance to reflect on our day to day. Before starting to make a new resolution or implement new changes, take a moment to reflect on what you are already doing that makes you feel good. For example, have you taken up a new hobby that you’ve stuck with, maybe you’ve found more joy in walking or taking time with your family.
4. Priorities opportunities for rest
The importance of taking time to rest cannot be overstated. Rest here doesn’t just mean getting a good night’s sleep. Resting can be completely personal to you. For example, you may find taking time out for a cup of tea between work meetings, spending less time on social media or getting some fresh air, restful for you.
5. Explore self-compassion
Have you ever heard that expression ‘treat yourself like you would treat a friend’? Well, this is a great place to start if you want to start practicing self-compassion. Like you would with a friend, start by recognising things that are challenging and that are difficult for you rather than ignoring them and offering yourself compassion for these challenges. It’s not about ignore these times, or pretending that things are okay when they aren’t. It is about offering yourself understanding and kindness when things are challenging, things go wrong or we make mistakes. Equally, offering yourself the same kindness and compassion on all days, when things are going well and when things are not.
1. What New Year’s resolutions are people setting for 2022? [Internet]. YouGov. 2021 [cited 19 January 2022]. Available from: https://yougov.co.uk/topics/lifestyle/articles-reports/2021/12/29/what-new-years-resolutions-are-people-setting-2022
2. Tylka T, Annunziato R, Burgard D, Daníelsdóttir S, Shuman E, Davis C et al. The Weight-Inclusive versus Weight-Normative Approach to Health: Evaluating the Evidence for Prioritizing Well-Being over Weight Loss. Journal of Obesity. 2014;2014:1-18.
3. McEvedy S, Sullivan-Mort G, McLean S, Pascoe M, Paxton S. Ineffectiveness of commercial weight-loss programs for achieving modest but meaningful weight loss: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Health Psychology. 2017;22(12):1614-1627.
4. Brownell K. Medical, Metabolic, and Psychological Effects of Weight Cycling. Archives of Internal Medicine. 1994;154(12):1325.
5. POLIVY J. Psychological Consequences of Food Restriction. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 1996;96(6):589-592.