In early January many people make daring declarations that this is the year they will follow a healthy eating plan and/or will lose weight. Most turn to the bookstore or internet for a diet to help them reach their goal. And there are lots to choose from; as 2017 comes to an end, Google revealed that the most searched for healthy eating plans were ketogenic, low-carb, Paleolithic, military, Atkins, and gluten-free.

Why is it that people are regularly searching for the next big diet?  Maybe there is always a new collection of diets to take the place of last year’s best-sellers because none of them really work in the long-run. For many dieters, the complexity of some healthy eating plans makes it difficult to stick to the proposed regimen, while other diets are so restrictive, monotonous and joyless that it’s tough to continue on them for any length of time.

Do it differently this year. Instead of a diet, focus on changing your food habits and come up with an eating plan that you can stick with for life. Abandon past beliefs about diets and redo your New Year’s resolutions to focus on specific ways to get healthy (rather than on foods to leave out and/or pounds to lose). These are called “keystone habits.”

A keystone habit is one that is central to the way you have been operating and once changed will create a chain reaction of change. Here are some ways you can begin to change your mindset from a healthy eating plan to a habit:

  • Get cooking. Studies of eating habits reveal that people who cook dinner at home most of the time consume fewer calories than those who eat out nearly every day. Other research found that home-cooked dinners came closer to the federal guidelines for a healthy diet including more fruits and vegetables, and lower amounts of fat, added sugars, and sodium.
  • Swap out the salt shaker. Season with onion, garlic, and herbs. Spark up food flavor with MSG. MSG is often termed a “flavor enhancer” because its flavor alone is subtle. When added to food, MSG improves the overall flavor of a dish by enhancing the way we perceive the other savory flavors which are already present in it. MSG contains 1/3 the amount of sodium as table salt, and it can reduce the amount of sodium in a recipe by up to 40%.
  • Drink water or milk at meals. Each time a glass of water or milk is part of your lunch and dinner instead of soda or other caloric drinks, you save calories and/or leave out less nutritious beverages. This is an easy swap as part of a healthy eating plan.
  • Aim for 10,000 steps. Scheduling time to walk in the morning or during lunch, signing up for a Zumba class, or training for a 5K can trigger other healthy changes. If possible, invest in a fitness tracker to keep track of your progress. And you may also notice that you may be sleeping better/longer and spending less time in front of a screen (TV or computer).

Aristotle said “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”  Welcome 2018 with a new commitment to healthy habits!