Lose weight. Cut out alcohol. Get a raise. We make the same New Year’s resolutions every year, yet we never manage to keep them, or we forget about them altogether by February 1st. Seriously – is it just me, or do New Year’s resolutions never seem to work? I suspect we make resolutions that we think we want, not resolutions that will make us healthier and happier. Losing weight should make us feel confident, avoiding alcohol will make us healthier or getting a raise will make all of our problems disappear. But do these resolutions really make us feel good, or are these “goals” actually distracting us from a healthy lifestyle?
In 2024, I’m ditching the typical resolutions. They leave us feeling stressed out or let down year after year. Instead, let’s opt for resolutions with a process we’ll enjoy. Ones that make us feel so good, you’ll have no trouble sticking with them. We deserve to feel accomplished, confident and happier.
Take small steps to reach your goals
Even before midnight on December 31st, we come across “new year, new you” marketing everywhere we turned. Whether it’s on social media, headlines or commercials, we’re encouraged to become a new person right off the bat. But it’s not that quick. It’s never that quick.
What about a “new year, same as me, but slightly improved” mantra?
Earlier this year, I travelled with a group of Canadian journalists to Kananaskis, near Calgary, with MyFitnessPal. We learned about how to set realistic New Year resolutions that stick. This is the main reason why MyFitnessPal launched a mini seven-day plan in partnership with Kate Hudson that is more achievable than say a three-month plan.
According to the press release, Hudson said, “This seven-day program includes great strategies like swapping out high-sugar foods and habit-stacking hydration. It’s empowering to learn more about how your body responds to nutrition and I hope users will join me on this health journey.” Hudson added, “I’m excited to partner with MyFitnessPal because we share a vision to help inspire people to get healthy and just take those small steps to get them started. This is something I’ve been passionate about for years so developing the Small Steps, Big Wins Plan with them was a natural next step after using the app for years to track my nutrition.”
The small-step challenge is meant for Canadians looking to make a lifestyle change but don’t want to completely overhaul their lifestyle or routine. Hudson inspires users throughout the entire week to encourage them to stay on track for the week. This plan is all about easy tips and advice to start the process on their fitness journey while helping them stay motivated throughout the year – not just for January.
How to set realistic goals
If you’re anything like me, you want everything and you want it now. Should you have a long list of health goals and feel overwhelmed by wanting to achieve them all, categorizing your resolutions is a great place to start. We all want to better our health, but it doesn’t happen overnight. And doing too much too quickly can lead to burnout and defeat.
Categorize your health goals by physical health, mental health, sleep, nutrition, and so on – you get the idea. Then pick one goal from each category to start with, and start slow. By separating your intentions into different categories, it’ll help create balance in your wellness routine.
By focusing on one goal at a time, it can help get you closer to reaching others. For example, improved mental health will likely give you more energy for exercise, and eating a well-balanced meal after a workout can help with muscle recovery.
Goals give us direction, motivation and a clear plan to follow. They turn our desires for better health into actionable steps. The MyFitnessPal app has a whole section dedicated to goals which includes nutrition and fitness goals.
Not sure how to set goals? Try using the SMART framework to make them more effective.
- Specific: Instead of thinking “I want to exercise more,” try something like “I plan to run for 30 minutes every morning before work.” How specific is that? It includes the action, time and routine.
- Measurable: Swap that classic goal of “I want to eat healthier” with “I will eat five servings of fruits and vegetables each day.” That’s measurable (if you only eat two, then you know you missed the mark), and yummy.
- Attainable: Replace an overwhelming goal like “I want to lose 20 pounds in two months” with “I aim to lose half a pound per week.” This makes weight loss achievable, and it won’t leave you desperate for anything weird like the cabbage soup diet or munching only on lettuce.
- Relevant: Let’s say you want to improve muscle tone but you don’t love weights. Consider: “I will do a 20-minute bodyweight workout three times a week.” Heavy dumbbells need to be involved, but it’s still totally relevant to your goals.
Keeping yourself accountable to your goals is one of the biggest challenges and why so many resolutions fail. Experts say that tracking their progress (without shame or pressure) while staying curious about intention can help maintain motivations as the newness of resolutions wears off.
How to succeed with nutrition resolutions
Yes, you can have your cake and eat it, too. It’s called the 80/20 rule. While in Calgary, I spoke with nutritionist, Michaela Sparrow. She told me: “This [rule] is the way to long-term results and sustainable health. The 80/20 rule encourages a mindful balance between nutritious 80 per cent and flexible 20 per cent.”
That 20 per cent allows you some freedom. “Strict diets often leave us feeling deprived and susceptible to overeating or binging.” This foundation, she says, sets the stage for sustained energy, improved metabolism and overall well-being.
By focusing on the nutritional foundation of 80 per cent while allowing for flexibility and enjoyment in the remaining 20 per cent, people can strike a balance that is not only realistic but also maintainable. This balance, in turn, reduces the likelihood of feeling deprived or restricted, which are common pitfalls that often derail New Year’s resolutions.
Here are some more tips from Sparrow:
- Check-in with your body before and after every meal to see how you feel physically
- Focus on adding more nutrients (instead of eating fewer calories/carbohydrates, etc.) to your overall eating plan
- Eat leafy greens alongside two meals a day
- Drink more water – the Institute of Medicine recommends that women aim to consume 2.7 litres of fluids daily, and 3.7 litres for men
- Eat more water-rich produce, like watermelon, romaine lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, and pretty much anything you can put in your juicer
- Try new-to-you fruits and vegetables that you’ve never eaten before
- Diversify your nutrition plan by eating a rainbow with a variety of fruits and veggies in every colour
- Prepare meals ahead of time to make healthy eating choices on a busy week easier
- Eat what’s in season – although in Canada, winter months can be very bleak food-wise, so eat what looks ripe!
- Replace your favourite indulgent meals with plant-boosted alternatives, like cauliflower pizza crust, chickpea pasta, and so on
Incorporating tools like MyFitnessPal can be a game-changer when applying the 80/20 rule to your daily routine. Logging your meals on MyFitnessPal allows you to track your nutritional intake, helping you stay accountable to the nutritious 80 per cent while still enjoying the flexible 20 per cent.
How to succeed with fitness resolutions
I know how tempting it can be to have an all-or-nothing mentality. Thoughts like, “I’m going to use on my Peloton seven days a week” or “I’m going to target 10,000 steps a day.” Yeah, right… Been there, done that. The turn of a new year can bring on an ambitious attitude, but that mentality can be the reason our fitness resolutions don’t pan out.
Here are some more tried-and-true tips I trust:
- Exercise in ways that feel exciting and fun to you
- Add an outdoor activity to your routine (going on a walk counts)
- Be active in ways that don’t feel like exercise (play sports with friends, go ice skating, swim in the summer, jump on a trampoline, whatever gets you moving)
- Prioritize rest and recovery just as much as you prioritize workouts
- Try a new activity at least once a month
- Get active outside of the gym by doing things like taking the stairs, walking as much as possible, dancing while getting ready for work
- Stretch after every workout
- Schedule workouts into your calendar – yes, even if that means adding “busy” to your work calendar)
The MyFitnessPal premium users have access to the app’s exercise diary. You can use it to find workouts and build a fitness routine, as well as track your workouts, too. One area of MyFitnessPal Premium worth checking out is the guided workout plans. The app offers several expert-driven guided exercises that are easy to follow along, as well as additional meal plans.
Going tech with your resolutions
We all need support for our resolutions, it’s not just you. But the right tools and apps can help with accountability for each of the SMART criteria. Choose an app or virtual coach that shows and measures your progress. This year, I’ve downloaded MyFitnessPal.
With the paid premium membership, you can sync your Apple watch or Fitbit to track more accurately. You can even set different calorie goals for different days of the week which works well for some users who struggle to stick to an exact goal each day. Like me, for example, I find it difficult to get enough protein and eat enough fibre intake, daily.
Some users might rather have freedom on certain days, like the weekend for example. I can relate to this because on weekends, sometimes I like to have a few glasses of cab sauv. It’s part of the 80/20 rule, remember?
How Does MyFitnessPal Work?
MyFitnessPal calculates the calories consumed from food and burned from exercise, and it lets you know how many calories you have left to eat for the day. The app does the math for you – caloric intake, calories burned, macronutrients and more. The more regularly you log your meals and exercises, the easier tracking becomes.
The app is your personal, always-there-for-you nutritional diary. And you have weekly check-ins to help monitor your progress and adjust your goals to fit. The app allows you to take progress photos of yourself, update your weight and add notes to your fitness diary. For example, making notes like how you felt that week, how much sleep did you get that week, etc. It’s a virtual personal trainer in your pocket.
How Much Is MyFitnessPal Premium?
With a free account, you get manual fitness tracking, nutrition tracking and some free fitness plans. From within the food diary, you can manually add exercise information such as cardiovascular, strength and workout routines. But it’s a bit of a drag to add and could lead to inaccuracies compared to connecting a fitness tracker.
There are quite a few differences between the free and paid versions of MyFitnessPal, but my favourite premium features include the meal and barcode scanners. You can scan the barcode on most food packaging, and the app submits the nutritional information straight into your diary. For the meal scanner, simply take a photo of your dish, and the app detects the food. It uses artificial intelligence (AI) to detect. However, it isn’t always 100 per cent accurate, but still cool nonetheless.
IMO, the worst part of tracking food is tracking food. This is personally something I’ve struggled with on my fitness journey, so the easier the tracking, the more likely I am to do it. I’m not someone who weighs my food or measures it out. I find that too cumbersome, but I know for others, it’s no big deal. The food scanning feature is the part I love the most and it makes tracking achievable for me.
The seven-day small-step challenge is a free plan for non-premium MyFitnessPal members but the premium membership goes for $27.99 a month.