The New Year is only 3 short weeks away and I know many of you are thinking “this is the year things are going to change” or “this is the year I lose weight” or “I am going to eat healthy this year” or something along those lines.
Wanting to start the New Year off on a fresh start is very normal and a good way to wipe the slate clean and make changes. Although it is very possible to make changes anytime of the year I know many people (including me) tend to look to the next year as a new chapter and are ready to turn the page.
Unfortunately, for many of us, these changes only last a couple of weeks at best. There are many reasons or excuses that can take the blame for these failed efforts. However, from my experiences I have discovered there is one obstacle that keeps the most well-intention health seeker from accomplishing her goals. Do you want to know what that is? Of course you do. It is the lack of planned systems. Huh? That sounds so technical.
Let me explain – because it is actually quite simple.
When you decide to make lifestyle changes you need to change your environment, habits, and routines. Maybe not drastically but I am sure there will have to be some adjustments. Well, as you know, change does not happen on its own. Real sustainable change takes intention, planning, and effort. So when you wake up and think to yourself “I am going to start losing weight today” and you have not implemented any systems to encourage a new lifestyle then more than likely you will fall back into old habits because that is what you know and what you are comfortable with.
When we do what we always do we get what we always get.
If your plan is to create a healthier lifestyle in the New Year don’t wait until January 1st to start making changes. You need to start thinking about creating and organizing your systems now. This way you are confident and ready to start slowly implementing changes when the time arrives. You can think of it as setting the foundation. Without a strong foundation a house can crumble – same goes for your weight loss efforts.
Your systems need to include a plan, method, and tools that work for your family and lifestyle. These systems will support and encourage you to adopt healthier habits that over time will turn into routines. This means after a few weeks the systems you implemented will develop into a natural routine. Over the long term these routines become you and you become them.
What I don’t want you to do is turn towards the latest diet craze. Fad diets are very difficult to sustain and rarely work long term. I know you might want to “get thin quick” or “shred your booty in 30 days” but I want you think beyond that – way beyond. This is not about dropping weight fast it is about changing your lifestyle. That does not happen in 2 weeks or 30 days. Heck I have been on this road for over two years and I am still working on it.
As you move forward into the New Year and start looking forward to making changes, here are some basic questions to think about (and answer) as you start to planning out and organizing your systems. I have offered some resources and suggestions that help me. Again, do what works for you.
How much should I eat?
This is one of the first questions that people ask me when they want to start losing weight. Everyone is different so it hard for me to give one set of rules when it comes to calories and nutrition. Basically, you need to burn more calories than you consume to lose weight. When I first started out I used the free online calorie and exercise journal My Fitness Pal (MFP) to figure out the amount calories I needed to consume for weight loss. By answering some questions MFP will offer a guideline on the amount of calories you should eat every day to meet your goals. I suggest you start there. There are other online tools but that is the one I know best. Check out the post I wrote to help you get the most out of My Fitness Pal.
I know some people really hate the idea of counting calories. If you are one of them then do what works for you. In my experience, I have found that counting calories is critical for getting control over your eating habits as you begin your weight loss journey. Once you get the hang of portion control and the amount of calories in food then you can rely more on “eyeballing” it. However, I know for me I “eyeballed” my weight into 60 pounds over the years and find when I am slipping off track it is because my “eyeball” measurements are off.
Even if you do a program like Weight Watchers you still need to know the calories and other nutritional information to figure out points. So in the end it comes down to educating yourself about the calories and the nutritional breakdown of the foods you’re eating.
Ultimately the goal is to be healthy. Remember skinny is an attitude not a pant size. If you start eating portion controlled wholesome foods your body will just naturally take on a healthier form.
Of course, this goes without saying, if you have a lot of weight to lose or health problems then I recommend talking to your doctor first before starting any changes.
What foods am I going to eat?
If your goal is to eat healthier foods then there is no way around it – you are going to have to cook more at home. When I say cook I mean preparing meals as much from scratch as possible; not just throwing a prepackaged diet meal in the microwave. As I said before, you don’t want your meals to be focused around the latest fad diet, especially one that eliminates entire food groups. It might be tempting to go down this route especially if there is a lot of hype centered on it. But fad diets rarely work for sustainable weight loss. Some of you might disagree, and may have had success with certain diets, but for most people it is better if they do not deprive themselves of entire food groups.
Don’t get scared because cooking from scratch is actually a lot easier than you think. It is only the big food companies that lead us to believe we have no time to cook healthy meals for our families.
Simple healthy meals that are delicious and your family will love is all you need to focus on. By simple I mean easy recipes that use wholesome minimally processed ingredients. This eating style (often referred to as clean eating or real food) is the style I tend to lean more towards. It just means eating foods as close to their natural state as possible. There are some other guidelines but that is the basic one I follow. I will write more about my take (or version) of the clean eating style in the future, specifically how I fit it into my lifestyle. However, please keep in mind; I am by no means a die hard. I just do the best I can and try to keep at least 75 – 80% of my diet clean by eating whole foods, reading labels, portion control and moderation. The only foods that are truly off limits are fast food chains like McDonalds, Burger King, etc.
If your current diet consist mostly of prepackaged box meals, fast food ,and take out then you might need to read up a little bit on food and recipes. However, please try not to be overwhelmed by the amount of information you find. I know changing your eating habits is a scary thing. But it is possible and you will love the way you start to feel once you start putting real wholesome food in your body. Just take your time and make changes slowly – remember YOU are the only one who knows what is going to work for your family.
Clean eating and real food resources I recommend:
**There are many more but these are my favorites and the ones I am referring to most often.
My favorite cookbooks for easy, healthy, and family friendly recipes:
There are many more cookbooks I use but this is a good start.
When am I going to eat the food?
Creating a menu plan is essential to staying on track with eating healthy. Think of a menu plan as your weekly food road map. With it you know what foods you need to purchase and what meals you will be eating every day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Having this road map helps to prevent mindless eating and snacking because you know what you are eating and hopefully tempting foods are kept to a minimum.
There are many different ways of creating a menu plan but basically it comes down to simply writing out the foods you are going to eat every day. With tons of information and menu planning tips out there it is very easy to get overwhelmed. Don’t over complicate the menu planning process; it is meant to make your life easier not more difficult. At first creating a menu plan might seem a little cumbersome but once you get the hang of it and experience the benefits you won’t mind putting in the little effort it takes. The ebook Plan it Don’t Panic is an excellent resource for beginning and seasoned menu planners alike. It covers the basics of menu planning along with explaining different methods and ways to fit it into your lifestyle. I find myself referring back to this ebook whenever I am feeling a little burnt out on menu planning or just need a refresher. If your goal is to sit down and plan out a menu plan on your own I highly recommend getting this book.
As you start preparing your menu planning system for the new year I recommend creating 2-4 menu plans with grocery lists that can be ready to use. Again, don’t over complicate it. Start with some family favorites and then add in a couple new recipes once you feel comfortable. If you are struggling with organizing recipes and generating grocery lists then a resource that might help you is Plan to Eat. I absolutely love this online menu planning service. You can organize all of your recipes, create a menu plan with their drag and drop calendar, and generate instant grocery lists. It does take a little time upfront to get all your recipes loaded but once they are there it is smooth sailing. As a busy working parent who likes to create my own menu plans I have found Plan to Eat extremely beneficial. They offer a 30 day free trial membership.
If you really hate menu planning and just want someone to do it for you then check out Emeals. You can read my full review here but in a snapshot this service provides you with a menu plan and grocery list each week. I subscribed to the clean eating menu plan but they have many different ones to choose from. When I am up to my ears in work, activities, and everything else, with no time to create a menu plan, I have been very grateful that I can just log into my emeals account and print one out.
It might take you a little bit to find your menu planning mojo so don’t fret; any menu planning you do is better than nothing. Just keep in mind a menu plan only works if you use it.
How and when will I prepare my meals ahead of time?
Now that you are going to be cooking more foods at home you need to think about how you will have those meals ready when you need them. If your life is anything like mine you do not have the time or energy to make meals from scratch every day. This will not be a problem because you are going to make or prep meals when you have the time so you can eat them when you don’t.
Making meals ahead of time is key to making sure you have healthy food ready and available on a regular basis. I have said many times before it is easier to eat healthy when the foods are there.
Therefore you need to think about when and how you are going to do this. Are you going to freeze a bunch of meals once or twice a month; prep meals for the week on Sunday; double batch recipes during the week; or a little of everything. Again, do what works for you and your schedule. With my busy schedule I tend to do a little everything.
If you are new to make ahead and freezer cooking (or even a seasoned veteran like me) I highly recommend the book Not Your Mother’s Make-Ahead and Freeze Cookbook
See my full review here. This book is a wealth of information on freezer cooking and has everything you could possibly need to get started.
Here are a few articles I wrote on freezer cooking and make ahead meals that I think will be helpful.
When and how am I going to exercise?
Getting your food and nutrition under control is very important and, in my opinion, should be focused on first but don’t forget about working out. Think about it, you can work out all you want but if you head to the nearest donut shop after a good run then what is the point?
I will admit that I still, to this day, struggle with keeping an exercise routine. However, the easier I make it the more likely I will do it. For example, when I put “running on the treadmill” in my calendar and get my clothes ready the night before I am much more likely to do it. Not only is everything ready when I wake up but I am intentionally thinking about it the night before.
Your system for exercise needs to be realistic and sustainable. Don’t plan to go to the gym every day if you know you can’t because of time, money, and childcare. It is really important not to set yourself up for failure. Implement an exercise routine you can stick with.
These are the 5 systems you need to start thinking about as you get ready for the New Year. Having these systems in place will make adapting to change much easier because you are starting with focus and a plan.
The number one thing I want you to keep in mind is implement systems slowly. Don’t try to do everything at once and during the first week of January. Understand that change takes time and while some of your new systems sounded great at the time they might not work so great as you begin to implement. That is okay, you will need to make adjustments. Don’t give up when you slip and eat some chips, ice cream, or fries – that is bound to happen and is not the end of the world. Just pick yourself back up and keep moving forward.
I know there is a lot more that goes into these systems than what I wrote about here today. I will put together some more posts to offer different tips or actions you can do to help with putting your systems together.
What are some of your questions?