It’s that time of year again: New Year’s Resolution time. Did you make any this year? Are you one of the countless people to have joined a gym? Have you signed up for a special meal delivery plan? Or a fad diet? If you did, you aren’t alone. Approximately 21% of people resolved to lose weight or to eat healthier in 2017. Here’s the problem: drastic changes often don’t work. Radical workout goals or diet plans are too difficult to maintain to be successful for most people. That’s why gyms make money—they bank on people joining on January 1 and then never setting foot inside the place again after February.
But you don’t have to be a statistic this year. There are tangible, realistic steps that you can take to become a better you. The key is to avoid doing anything drastic. Making minor tweaks to your lifestyle will result in real change. So instead of juicing for two weeks or eating no carbs or going jogging at 5 a.m. every morning (all of which will most likely result in you reverting back to your old, bad habits tenfold), here are some ideas that you can incorporate into your life that you will want to continue to do once the excitement of the new year is replaced by the dreary, cold winter.
1. Cook your own food most of the time
Clean eating, or eating whole, real foods that are minimally processed, starts with cooking your own food. When you eat at a restaurant (or order out) you have no control over how much oil, sodium, or undesirable ingredients are being added to your meal. When you cook for yourself, you have no choice but to confront exactly what you’re putting in your body. Since we’re talking about realistic goals here, it’s ok to vow to cook your own food most of the time, or maybe 6 days a week. If allowing yourself one day of indulgence will keep you on track the rest of the time, that’s better than falling off the wagon and ordering Chinese every night. This includes lunch—so ideally you should aim to pack your own lunch for work everyday. Doing so the night before makes it much more manageable.
2. Walk for at least five minutes every hour
This might seem silly, but this one is pretty important. No matter how much you exercise, if you aren’t moving intermittently throughout the day, your risk of heart disease, cancer and premature death is increased. So set an alarm or get an app or a health tracking device to remind you to get up from your desk once per hour.
3. Be a mindful eater
Sit down for every meal and snack. When we stand when we eat we actually consume more calories. Sitting will also allow you to eat more slowly and become aware of when you’re full. Read labels. Shrink your plate so that it will feel as if you’re eating a lot when you fill it.
4. Drink more water
With the exception of your morning coffee and afternoon tea, make water your only go-to beverage. We consume an inordinate number of calories when we pick up that can of soda or bottle of sweetened iced tea. So stay hydrated (drink when you’re thirsty), but do so only with water.
5. Cut out added sugar
This can be hard for some people, but there are ways to start simply. Cut out that scoop or two that you add to your coffee in the morning. Snack on a piece of fruit instead of a sweet cereal bar. Opt for yogurt or fruit in the morning instead of sugary cereal. Every time you pick up something to eat or drink, read the label and ask yourself if there’s sugar in it. If there is, opt for something else!
6. Add vegetables to everything
Make sure that every lunch and dinner that you consume has at least one veggie. Bonus points if you have more than that, and if you have a variety of colors on your plate. Not only are vegetables naturally low in calories, but they’re high in vitamins and in fiber—which can be filling and help you to eat less of the bad stuff.
7. Workout for 30 minutes 5 days a week
This doesn’t mean you have to go to the gym every day, pump iron, or run a marathon. Just get that blood pumping. Maybe one day you and a friend walk briskly through the park. Another day when it’s sunny, walk home instead of driving. Take a workout class you’ve never tried before. Play catch with your kids. The options are limitless.
8. Meditate for 5 minutes every morning before doing anything else
Meditation has countless benefits. For starters, it can reduce anxiety and stress, help with depression, increase focus, improve immunity, and improve memory retention. And what is incredible is that even five minutes per day can help with all of this. So before diving into your emails or jumping in the shower to begin yet another hectic day, do yourself a favor and give yourself the gift of five simple minutes of meditation.