Make the New Year the healthiest one yet with these 10 practical lifestyle changes you can easily make and stick with all year long.
This post was written as part of my ongoing sponsored partnership with the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance. All opinions expressed are my own.
The New Year is just a few days away, and if you’re like most people, you’re talking about resolutions. Although any time of the year is a great time to reassess your habits, a lot of people view the New Year as a clean slate and the perfect time to start making healthy lifestyle changes.
With so much nutrition information available everywhere you turn and new diets popping up on bookshelves (or on your Amazon home screen!) all the time, it can be challenging to know what’s the right course of action to take to ensure you’re living your healthiest life.
The answer is different for everyone – what works for you may not work for your best friend – but what is the same is that practical lifestyle changes are what stick. The healthy choice is the easy choice, the one you know you can stick to no matter what else falls into your lap.
You don’t have to swear off all carbohydrates, spend hours slaving away in the kitchen, or live at the gym to reach your diet and fitness goals. Instead focus on a few practical lifestyle changes you can commit to, being sure not to overwhelm yourself with too many at once.
Once you are in a routine with a few new habits you can add a few more. But remember, don’t take on more than you think you can actually achieve. Doing so may lead to slacking on some things, and studies show that when people fail at goals they tend to give up entirely rather than getting back on track.
10 Practical Lifestyle Changes For a Healthier New Year
1. Plan your weekly menu.
It should come as no surprise that this is my #1 tip – after all, I share my Menu Plan Monday every week. While menu planning does take some time upfront, it will save you time throughout the week. Start small by planning out what you’ll eat for one to two days of the week and as you get used to it you can add on.
2. Stick to whole grains.
Whole grains not only help you feel full longer, they also keep your digestive system running smoothly and provide you with many essential nutrients like fiber, B vitamins including folate, and minerals like iron, magnesium, and selenium.
If whole grains are new for you, start adding them slowly. For example, try overnight oats for breakfast, use whole grain bread for sandwiches, swap whole wheat pasta for some or all of your regular pasta, and explore a variety of whole grains for side dishes like quinoa salads or farro.
3. Choose lean meats.
Whether you’re cooking at home or ordering at a restaurant, pick lean meats whenever possible. Your best bets: skinless chicken or turkey breast, flank, sirloin, or strip steak, 90% ground beef, and fish. If you’re a little more adventurous, lamb is also a lean choice and is delicious in burgers and meatballs.
4. Load up on fruits and veggies.
If this isn’t one of the most practical lifestyle changes you can make, I don’t know what is! Produce is an important source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. While fresh fruit and vegetables may be preferable from a taste standpoint, frozen fruits and vegetables are just as nutritious and a great option for out-of-season produce like berries in the winter and cranberries in the summer.
If you’re concerned about pesticide use on produce and avoid eating fruits and vegetables because of the high price tag on organic varieties, rest assured that conventional produce is just as nutritious and safe to eat as organic. As I explain in my post Why It’s Okay to Eat Non-Organic Strawberries, research shows that substituting organic for conventional produce does not result in any appreciable risk reduction and the amount of produce you would have to eat to have any effects from pesticide residues is far beyond what anyone could eat in one day.
If you need help adding in more produce, check out these 7 Ways to Improve Your Fruit and Vegetable Intake.
5. Start every day with breakfast.
The longtime recommendation to eat breakfast may be debated by some, but I stand by it. As I’ve mentioned before, there are many benefits of breakfast, most important of which is that it’s a way to jumpstart your metabolism in the morning.
The key to making breakfast a healthy part of your day is to make sure it’s balanced with lean protein and healthy carbs and fats. Breakfast is a great opportunity to boost your fiber intake by focusing on whole grain cereals and breads and adding a serving of fruit to your bowl or plate. Limit those sweet muffins and donuts to avoid having too much added sugar, especially first thing in the morning when your blood sugar is already low.
Check out my 40 Quick & Healthy Breakfast Recipes roundup for some ideas.
6. Read labels on food packages.
Grocery shopping can be confusing with so many products lining the shelves. Your best defense is to turn those packages over and compare the Nutrition Facts Panel and ingredients list. The latter is the most important tool for you to know exactly what’s in the food you’re purchasing. Remember that ingredients are listed in order by weight, so the first three to five ingredients are what make up most of that product.
Many packages are covered with nutrient and health claims like “low-fat” or “heart healthy,” and now more and more food items contain claims about how food was grown, raised, or processed. Some of the popular claims you may see are “raised without antibiotics” and “no hormones added.”
While these claims are regulated by the USDA, the addition of some of them can be misleading. For example, the use of hormones in eggs and chicken is forbidden by the FDA, so a “no hormones added” label is not necessary and may make you think that carton of eggs is better than another, which isn’t necessarily the case.
Similarly, many products are boasting claims about not using GMOs (genetically modified organisms). While some production claims are approved by the FDA, not all are, and many of these claims are put on products that don’t even have a genetically modified counterpart. Check out the FDA’s Food Labeling Guide for more information.
7. Remember MyPlate when filling your plate.
Instead of making carbohydrates the focus of your plate as was recommended years ago, fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables, and divide the other half between lean protein and a starch — preferably complex carbohydrates like the whole grains mentioned above.
8. Stop referring to food as “good” and “bad.”
Eating and enjoying food should not include judgment – it should be an enjoyable experience, perhaps even a memorable one. By referring to food as “good” or “bad” people carry over those judgments onto themselves and start to refer to themselves as “good” or “bad” for eating a certain food.
It is true that not all foods are created equally, and some are healthier than others. Change the lingo and refer to food as “healthy” and “less healthy,” then aim to make the bulk of your diet fit into the healthy realm with room for less healthy choices in moderation.
9. Make time to exercise.
Being active is one of the most important parts of living a healthy lifestyle, but fitting it in doesn’t make it among the most practical lifestyle changes. Finding time to exercise can be a challenge, but planning ahead can help you fit it in. Add a specific time to exercise to your calendar just like you would any other appointment. Lay out your clothes or pack your gym bag the night before to ensure you’re ready to go when that alarm goes off.
No gym membership? No problem! Get your heart pumping with a walk or run, or follow along to a YouTube video or online exercise program. You don’t need to spend an hour a day exercising either. Even seven minute intervals can boost your metabolism and get the adrenaline going (I recently downloaded the Seven app and love it!). Added bonus: exercise is a form of stress relief.
10. Get enough sleep.
You may not think of sleep as a key component of a healthy lifestyle, but it is. And yet so many of us don’t get enough of it (myself included). Those never-ending to-do lists are always there, school lunches need to be made, laundry needs to be folded – I know the drill. But the problem is, without enough sleep we risk chronic health problems, changes in our mood, and weight gain.
If you’re a night owl like I am, start getting more sleep by slowly moving up your bedtime in increments of 10 to 15 minutes. So instead of going to bed at midnight, get into bed at 11:45 and the next night at 11:30. And remember, there’s always tomorrow to cross more off the to-dos.
I hope these practical lifestyle changes are indeed practical for you. Remember – Rome wasn’t built in a day, so take your time going through the list and only incorporate what you can realistically stick to.