Year after year, we make resolutions we can't keep, but it's not because we're not motivated! In fact, it may come down to the fact that we're so motivated, we set ourselves up for failure. When it comes to diet, so much comes into play, from emotional eating to personal dietary needs and preferences — it can be a little difficult to navigate a New Year's diet. Let's channel all that motivation and be on the lookout for top diet mistakes these dietitians have seen year after year come Jan. 1.
1. Focusing on the "Can't"
"Focusing on what you can't eat or do — and focusing on what's 'off limits' — is a recipe for failure," said Lisa Eberly-Mastela, RD, MPH. And you've probably experienced this before: ever gone on a detox or diet and focused so much on the fact that you "couldn't" have that slice of pizza or "couldn't" eat that croissant that you forgot all about your favorite healthy foods? It's a surefire way to backfire on your plans.
Her solution? Focus on what you can eat. "For January, I always recommend keeping a 'fresh abundance' mindset — fill up your belly and feel satisfied with foods that make you feel energetic (think: fruits, veggies, protein) to start off the year and get your energy back postholidays."
2. Restricting Too Much
"Cutting out an entire food group, not eating enough food, and doing a restrictive diet are three of the biggest mistakes I've seen clients make," said Lisa. This includes elimination diets. She told us that, while the Whole30 diet or something of that nature can have a fantastic effect, starting it in January may not be the best idea. "The trouble is that when it's over, you just go back to eating 'normally' — and that's right around Valentine's Day, so there's extra candy around and emotional eating spikes for some people."
3. Going It Alone
Dr. Michelle Davenport, RD, PhD in nutrition and cofounder of Raised Real, told POPSUGAR that "tackling diet resolutions by yourself" is how many people fail at their New Year's diets. "There's strength in numbers," she said, "and this is especially true when it comes to our diets." If you've done diets by yourself, you know this all too well!
"You'll have more success in sticking to your goal if you involve others," said Dr. Davenport. "If your goal this year is to eat healthier, make it a family resolution so that the kids can eat healthy foods and build healthy habits too. If your kids are young, even better. That's when they're forming their eating habits. Everyone wins."
4. Setting Unrealistic Expectations
This one is huge and arguably the most common. Lori Zanini, RD, CDE, and author of the "How to Manage Your Diabetes With Food" seven-day meal plan, says the "biggest mistake" she sees people making "is setting unrealistic expectations" and biting off more than they can chew — figuratively, that is.
"Often people set resolutions that are extreme and the exact opposite of what they are currently doing, which sets them up for failure and, at the very least, disheartening results," she told POPSUGAR. "I encourage clients to create simple, specific goals that they can do on a daily basis. Focus on adding something to your routine instead (i.e., add a serving of veggies at breakfast, half your body weight in water each day, etc)."
This includes the unrealistic expectation of immediate results. "Building healthy habits takes time," says Dr. Davenport. "For adults, studies have shown turning a goal into an automatic habit can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days. It can take a really long time, and you may fail before you succeed, and that's OK."
Start with simpler goals (as Lori suggested), and once they become second nature, tack more on. Perhaps you focus on drinking more water or eliminating soda or alcohol in January. Once you have that dialed in, you add vegetables to each meal. Or eat breakfast every day! Or commit to making all your dinners at home. Whatever it is, keep it small and simple until you've made it a consistent habit. You wouldn't go to the gym on day one and pick up a 250-pound barbell; you'd start with small dumbbells and build your way up. Why would you be any different with your diet?
5. Having an "All or Nothing" Approach
Lisa spoke to us about how many people set these big (often unrealistic) expectations, and then once they slip up they give up entirely. It's the mindset of "Oh, shoot, I forgot the no-dairy rule and just had milk in my coffee. Guess today is a wash" — and then eating whatever you want. Or, "Today is ruined because I had candy; guess I'll start over next week." Both of those scenarios are unhealthy, unrealistic, and unforgiving. A better approach? Accept that slip-ups are going to happen ahead of time, and embrace them when they happen. But hit the restart button immediately and get right back into your goals.