The new year is always an opportunity to reset our diets after a holiday season of indulgent treats, but it’s especially important after a year like 2020. So many variables worked against healthy habits:
- Stress and uncertainty led many of us to reach for fast, convenient foods or less-than-nourishing treats long before the holidays.
- Working from home gave many easier accesses to food and it disrupted our exercise routines.
- Many of our communities banded together to support our local restaurants through takeout purchases, which led many of us to eat out more often than we normally would.
The list goes on and on. Whether you’ve found yourself eating to relieve stress, gravitating towards foods that make your brain feel sluggish, or not eating as much as you should be, the pesky habits you picked up in 2020 could hamper your ability to focus on your big goals for 2021. Now is the time to form new diet habits that promote energy, productivity and peace of mind.
Eat Consistent Meals
When our diets feel out of control, it’s easy to let cultural influences convince us that the best courses of action are to skip meals and severely cut calories. That line of thinking is self-punishment disguised as discipline, and you’ll burn all of your energy trying to discipline yourself into an unrealistic “healthy” habit. Your body needs food to function, and the sudden decision to eat less (or less often) can send it into a tailspin.
Research shows that skipping meals, particularly breakfast and lunch, can negatively impact the quality of your diet. If you struggle to maintain consistent mealtimes, time block your daily meals like you would an important meeting. You don’t have to take a long, luxurious midday lunch, but dedicating time to nourishing your body with protein and vitamin-rich foods will improve your mood and focus.
Track Your Takeout Habit
Most of us love eating out, especially if it means contributing to our local businesses. The downside is that eating tons of foods from restaurants allows little control over the amounts of salt, oil, sugar and other indulgent ingredients going into the food we eat. (Plus, a major takeout habit can eat a significant portion of your budget.)
One smart way to form more nutritious and thoughtful eating habits is to put a cap on your weekly takeout. Like every big goal we set, start small and set realistic expectations for progress. If you know that you eat out five times a week, it’s unrealistic to expect yourself to start cooking every meal. Set a goal that you can be satisfied with at the end of the month, like maybe capping your takeout at three meals out per week, and stick to it until you feel like you’re ready for a bigger challenge.
If you know your local restaurants are still in need of support, you can also buy gift cards for later use while you cook a cheap meal at home in the short term. When your takeout meals are less frequent, you’ll have more control over what’s going into your body, and the times you do order in will be that much more enjoyable for their rarity.
Meal prepping is a powerful tool to keep nutrient-rich foods in your daily diet, save time on busy weekdays, and save money from last-minute takeout decisions. Still, it’s not as easy as Instagram health influencers can sometimes make it look. If you meal prep aspirationally (“This is what I should eat” or “I should try to see if I can cook this”), you could end up discouraged and reaching for your delivery app.
Good meal prepping, like any other goal, starts with the smallest domino. If you’re not already in the prepping habit, start by prepping one meal, breakfast, lunch or dinner. Pick something you know how to make and love to eat, rather than stocking up on unusual vegetables that may end up rotting in your crisper.
When you’re ready for a change, put a time block on your calendar to find a few new recipes to try. The point of meal prep is to create consistency. Putting more thought into just one meal a day can have a huge, positive impact on your schedule, productivity and budget.
Nothing worthwhile in our lives is an overnight success, and the food we put into our bodies is an ever-changing, lifelong journey toward wellness. Even if 2020 wreaked havoc on your diet, you can still choose to build a few small habits that prioritize nourishment. Over time, these small habits will become big improvements in your energy, focus and ability to enjoy food.