The turn of a year offers a chance to make a clean break and finally reboot your diet. Why, 2020 could be the year you finally sort out your eating habits and figure out what works for you and what doesn’t. “Forget about what’s gone wrong before and focus on making the most of this new year,” says Dr Wafaa Ayesh, Director of Clinical Nutrition at DHA, who’s been advising people about dietary changes for several years.
She advises using the moment to adopt new, healthy habits that can protect against disorders such as obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. That does mean committing to eating healthy and regular physical activity, however, she says, which can help you manage your weight and improve energy levels. “If you stick with these changes, they may become part of your daily routine.” She advises stocking your cupboards with healthy foods, cooking wholesome recipes, and even buying cookbooks or magazines specializing in healthy cuisine.
Dr Remy Shanker, a UAE-based medical doctor who is Wellness Programme Specialist at NYU Abu Dhabi, agrees that it’s all about your mindset. “Celebrate your achievements in 2019, however small or large, and build on them in 2020. Doing so offers a way to develop your lifestyle landscape as to what and how you want to achieve in the coming year.”
Anticipate that slip-ups will happen, and when they do, just brush yourself off and get right back on track. Use your slip-up to learn where you are vulnerable, and decide how you will handle the situation the next time.
But if you’ve set yourself a new year’s resolution for 2020, perhaps it’s time to reconsider fad diets and reappraise your goal and motivation. Think about eating sensibly rather than a quick-fix approach, Dr Remy says. “Understand your body’s cues in the face of simple physiological processes like hunger, satiation, thirst and intolerances such as bloating, excessive gas, irregular bowel movements, acne breakouts and lethargy. Being in tune with your body’s signaling system helps you re-engineer your diet and assimilate process food differently.”
If you feel that change is hard, Dr Wafaa suggests making just one change each week, giving you the time to get used to new behaviours and eating habits. Trying too many things at once can be overwhelming, so change up your routine one modification at a time.
Here are seven ways you can work towards achieving your weight goals this year:
1. Set realistic goals
Aiming for the stars is all very well, but goals that are too far from where you are at present can defeat you before you’ve begun. Dr Wafaa says that losing as little as 5 per cent to 10 per cent of your body weight can improve the way you feel, raise your energy levels and improve your health. “Studies show that losing even small amounts of weight can improve overall health.”
2. Reward don't punish
To keep those motivation levels up through the year, reward yourself each time you reach a mini-goal, Dr Wafaa advises. “Making it to the gym five times in a week deserves a pat on the back.” On the flip side, don’t berate yourself when you slip up or don’t reach those goals — remember that you’re in good company.
Everyone makes a mistake sooner or later. “Anticipate that slip-ups will happen, and when they do, just brush yourself off and get right back on track. Use your slip-up to learn where you are vulnerable, and decide how you will handle the situation the next time.”
3. Be aware of your expectations
When it comes to food, think about what you’re eating — and then change the narrative around it. “If you expect a food to taste good, it will. And if you expect a food to taste unpleasant, it will,” Dr Remy says.
“Our perceptions of taste are shaped by our imagination.” So try and rethink your approach. When eating vegetables such as broccoli, take a moment before you eat it to remind yourself that you are eating crunchy, fresh broccoli, and think about its flavour profile and its benefits.
Similarly, when making a fresh smoothie, expect to consume a delicious homemade, hand-crafted smoothie. Reshaping the narrative around a particular food changes your mindset.
4. Love your food
Understand that food is synonymous with pleasure, and don’t deny yourself those little treats. “The problem is that when consciously deny yourself of something, we end up craving that more,” says Dr Remy. She advises small portions of treats rather than cutting foods out completely.
Don’t go gluten-free if you don’t have to, nor should you embrace the vegan lifestyle if you truly don’t want to, she adds.
5. Seek satiety
Your diet isn’t working if you feel hungry all the time. “This shows you are either eating the wrong quality or quantity. If you feel like you really lack control or willpower over your own food choices, that’s another sign that your current nutrition plan is not working,” Dr Remy says.
“During the process of digestion, the stomach relays information to our brain to indicate consumption levels and trigger satiety. That’s when you know you’ve eaten enough. Be alert to these cues.” If you’re constantly hungry, chances are you’re eating the wrong kinds of food. For instance, if you’re eating processed foods loaded with the sort of ingredients that trigger intense saltiness, sweetness, fat, crunchiness and creaminess, they relay a very different message to our brain, she says.
“That’s when you can’t stop eating because you go into stock-up mode.”
6. Seek support
Whatever your goal, you’ve a much better chance of achieving it with a little help. From your friends, your partner, your children.
“Support is an essential part of a successful weight loss, so find a family member or find a friend to join you in your walks or workouts,” Dr Wafaa says. “These people will become a source of inspiration, support, and encouragement on a regular basis — more so when the going gets tough.”
7. Think about emotional triggers
One way to understand cravings is to try and understand why you like a particular food, and think about memories associated with it, Dr Remy says.
“Why do we like or dislike a certain food? All our favourite foods come from an emotional place. Mapping these out help you understand how that food ultimately processes within you. This can help an individual build up one’s own bespoke diet that works for you.”
For example, doughnuts may remind you of childhood, birthday celebrations or moments of comfort. “That emotional connect can help you understand why you’re bingeing on something and allows you to enjoy this as a treat when you want to, gaining nutritive empowerment.”