If 2020 is like the years gone by, chances are your resolve has already broken down one week into the new year. For those with a little more staying power, next weekend is likely to serve up the first major hurdle: January 19, 2020 will be the day most people give up their new commitments, according to new research by Strava, the social network for athletes. The people behind the app analysed more than 822 million global activities around the world in 2019 to arrive at what they’re calling Quitter’s Day.
The data chimes with previous research; a study by researchers at the University of Scanton in Pennsylvania found that 80 per cent of all new year determination runs out by February, and only some 8 per cent of people actually manage to achieve those goals.
“Resolutions are usually considered synonymous with a negative outcome,” says UAE-based medical practitioner and nutrition advisor Dr Remy Shanker. “They often serve to be unachievable.”
She advises focusing on incremental lifestyle changes rather than drastic modifications that yield little more than stress. “Set small goals you want to achieve every month with a small indulgence you can treat yourself to when achieving it. Incentivising your achievement structure helps you to stay on track or at least serves as a reminder.”
How do you put that into practice when it comes to creating a new eating plan for yourself? We put the question to Farheen Dinda, Clinical Dietitian at Dubai Health Authority. She suggests the following dietary guidelines for creating and sticking to your new diet.
1. Eat healthy at every meal
Forget about fad diets, Dinda says, and focus instead on eating healthy at every meal. The USDA recommends a healthy eating pattern at an appropriate calorie level to help achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, support nutrient adequacy, and reduce the risk of chronic disease. If you’re reading this, you’re well aware of the sort of foods you should be putting on your plate (and into your mouth) — they’re not that far removed from everything your mum told you.
Dinda says, “A healthy eating pattern includes a variety of vegetables, legumes, fruits, whole grains, dairy or its substitutes, a variety of proteins and healthy fats. A healthy eating pattern also limits saturated and trans fats, added sugars, and sodium.” So skip the sodas and junk the fast food in favour of home recipes, and when you can’t, such as if you’re at a work meeting, make nourishing, wholesome choices. Make good food a part of your lifestyle, Dinda says, and you’ll begin to see the changes quickly enough.
2. Focus on variety, nutrient density and portion control
Eating a range of different foods, such as a variety of vegetables for example, keeps things interesting and makes sure your body is able to get the nutrients it needs. Re-examine your portions — you’re likely eating too much. A good way to determine the correct portion sizes is to look at your hand.
The recommended serving of meat or proteins is the size of your palm, or about the size of a deck of cards. Pasta or starches should be half a cup, or the front of your clenched fist. Vegetables should be double that amount, as much as your entire fist, or half your plate at each meal.
“Managing calorie intake is fundamental to achieving calorie balance,” Dinda explains.
“The best way to determine whether an eating pattern is at an appropriate number of calories is to monitor body weight and adjust calorie intake and expenditure in physical activity based on changes in weight over time.”
3. Add in vegetables and fruits
If you aren’t eating five servings of vegetables and fruit a day, you’re not eating enough. Scientists now recommend at least ten servings per day. One serving is about a cup full of vegetables, and juice, no matter how many glasses you drink, counts as one serving.
DHA guidelines are in line with the Healthy Eating Plate guidelines created by experts at Harvard School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School and widely accepted around the world. About 50 per cent of your plate should be vegetables and fruit, beans and legumes, with the rest split evenly between whole grains and protein. Again, Dinda says locally grown vegetables and fruits should be your first choice, while making sure they’re prepared in a healthy way.
4. Support healthy eating patterns for all
When it comes to making a dietary change, it’s important to get everyone on board. Involve the family — even if everyone else is healthy, they’ll benefit from better eating habits. Rope in your friends, too, so you’re not tempted to fall off the wagon at work or on a night out.
“Everyone plays a role in creating and supporting healthy eating patterns across multiple settings, from home environments to school, workplaces and community gatherings and events,” Dinda explains. “Healthy eating habits must be followed by all members of the family. Take the kids along for grocery shopping and allow them to choose fresh vegetables and fruits in order to instil healthy eating habits early on.” A habit can go a long way to keeping you healthy. Follow these guidelines and by this time next year, you won’t need to read another diet article.
5. Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats, and reduce sodium intake
Cut out the junk in your diet and limit anything that’s deep fried or loaded with extra salt or sugar to an occasional treat if you’re serious about getting your diet on track. Eliminate foods and beverages that have added sugars or salt — they’re just not healthy, Dinda advises.
That’s especially true of processed foods such as crisps, cookies, tinned vegetables, breakfast cereals, cold cuts and microwave-ready meals. If they’re not full of added sugars and syrups, they’re likely to be loaded with sodium — too much of which can increase your risk of stroke, heart failure, osteoporosis, stomach cancer and kidney disease. Such foods are also likely full of trans fats such as margarine and vegetable shortening, which are also linked to insulin resistance, diabetes and heart disease.