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By Kristen Bell, Registered Dietitian
Sports Dietitian for Red Bull North America

People feel more motivated to make changes at the beginning of a week, month, or year.  Starting a new decade?  The motivation level now is through the roof!  How can we take that level of drive and determination that is spewing out of us in every direction and bottle it, so it lasts not only for the first month of this decade, but for a lifetime in this journey of continued self-improvement?  Here are 3 ways to help you stick with your short-term goals to make them long term habits simply by changing your mindset around food.

  1. Do. Something. Every night after dinner your habit is to have a small sugary treat.  As of January 2020, you tell yourself you are never going to eat sugar again.  Well, you are already setting yourself up for failure.  Try to choose 1-3 healthy lifestyle habits and add them onto something you are already doing.  This way, you are forming good habits out of something that is already a routine.  For example; if you wake up every morning and make coffee, add collagen to it for an additional 20 grams of protein and put your vitamins by the coffee maker so you are creating a new habit off of one that is already established.  Another example; every night when you get home from work you take off your shoes, change your clothes, and pour yourself a glass of wine.  Instead of heading straight for the wine glass, drink a can of sparkling water instead.  Just by changing this one habit from wine to water is a difference of 12 pounds in a year.  Now it is up to you to decide which way on the scale you want those pounds to go.  After a couple weeks, analyze your schedule and see what other positive changes you can make to your lifestyle that you know you can stick to long term.
  2. Realize your health is not a destination, it is a journey. If you only set your sights on the number you want to see on the scale, you are setting yourself up for failure.  One vacation, one injury, even one sick kid can throw off your routine to getting to that goal weight.  Having a healthy lifestyle is a marathon not a sprint.  Give yourself some grace when you have a bad day.  No one, and I mean NO ONE wants to be 100% on their diet.  Food is a huge part of our culture, social life and the way we interact with others.  You have to allow yourself a balance in order to keep this journey from turning into constant negative self-talk.  Which leads me to my next point.
  3. Allow yourself two treat meals and a treat snack every week. Notice I didn’t say “cheat.”  The word “cheat” has such a negative connotation to it.  These treat meals should never be habits, they are called “treat meals” for a reason.  They are not something you do every day. This is how you do it…

One day a week, have a planned treat meal.  This may be a meal you share with your significant other, some friends, a celebratory dinner, or something you have planned and accounted for in your day.

Now, the other treat meal and snack are considered “unplanned.”  This takes the guilt out of the equation.  For example; you brought your veggies and chicken breast for lunch and your boss brings in pizza to celebrate a birthday.  You are stressing out because you have been wanting pizza for weeks, but you do not want to derail your routine. EAT THE PIZZA.  Should you eat the whole pizza?  Absolutely not.  Instead, eat 1-2 slices, have a big glass of water, and do not look back.  Enjoy every bite of that pizza and acknowledge that was your unplanned meal for the week.  Eat a clean dinner of veggies, protein, healthy fats, and you did not skip a beat.

An unplanned snack is 200-300 calories that may be a craving or indulgence.  Maybe you added a croissant with your coffee one morning, or your daughter brought home a cupcake to share with you from her Valentine’s Day party.  Acknowledge the unplanned treat, make the rest of the day clean eating, and that is how you have balance.  If you think about it, you may eat 21-30 meals a week.  Do you really think 3 treat meals is going to hurt your progress?  Not a chance.  However I will say this, having the ability to indulge every now and then not only provides emotional balance, but it is what will keep you on this health train to complete the marathon, and not stop after the sprint.

Having this healthy mindset around food will not only allow you to enjoy your meals with friends and family, but you are setting yourself up to have a lifestyle that is sustainable, while seeing the results you want.  Strive to be just a little bit better than you were yesterday.  It is all about striving for progress, not perfection.