It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the prospect of new year’s resolutions.
Newspapers and magazines everywhere are telling you to engage in a January detox -despite the concept having been debunked by some medical professionals - your Instagram feed is full of impossibly lithe bodies performing fiendishly difficult yoga moves and clutching green juices, and smug friends are announcing that they have taken up veganism/the paleo diet/teetotalism. Meanwhile, all you want to do is eat cake and eschew all exercise to cheer yourself up as the perennial grey drizzle of an English winter continues to take its toll.
It’s just common sense not to overload ourselves with impossible aspirations and unachievable resolutions in the new year. Instead, think about small, realistic changes that you can make to your diet and lifestyle. These are much easier to tackle, and the chances are you’ll keep them up throughout the coming year as you notice little, but important, benefits. No need to fork out on an expensive gym membership that’ll never get used, nor to invest in a juicer and force liquefied spinach down your throat once before putting said juicer at the back of the cupboard forever. These everyday changes will keep you feeling that little bit happier and healthier throughout the year to come, without the need for crushing self-doubt, a feeling of failure and impossibly high goals.
Make life a little bit harder. No, not in the sense of overloading yourself with stress, but in the sense of more exercise. Get off the bus or tube a couple of stops early and walk. Park in the furthest away spot at the supermarket car park. Take the stairs instead of the lift or escalator. Walk to the shops instead of driving. Be the one who volunteers for office errands, like going out to get coffee or lunch. These are all tiny changes, but they add up to get you moving a lot more throughout the day. This has beneficial effects on your body and mind, and also helps to counteract the negative effects of a sedentary desk job. Try to add a bit more movement to your day whenever you can. See a broken lift as an opportunity for a quick burst of stair-climbing exercise, rather than an inconvenience. Consider walks in your morning commute a benefit to wake you up for work, rather than a chore.
Swap your drinks
Swap at least one cup of coffee for herbal tea. Herbal tea can have a bad reputation – people often think of it as musty, flavourless and the preserve of health freaks. However, there is a huge range of herbal tea out there, and the tea world has a lot more to offer than the plain peppermint and the slightly sickly chamomile. Find a good tea company offering an exciting range of blends, and sample a few – you’re bound to find something you love. A rooibos-based chai tea is a good start, or a delicate white tea with pomegranate, or a fragrant jasmine blend. Swapping one of your daily cups of coffee or caffeinated tea for herbal tea will make you less anxious - an unpleasant side-effect of caffeine - and also give you the opportunity to enjoy a flavoursome, refreshing cup of hydrating tea as a welcome pause in your day.
Stick to 5 a day – or more
Add one portion of fruit or veg to every meal. Think about it: by doing this every day, you’ll be consuming 21 extra portions of fruit and vegetables per week. No need to cut anything out of your diet, either – try berries at breakfast, which are great on porridge or muesli, or just in a bowl alongside your usual toast, salad leaves at lunch, and some roasted vegetables at dinner - these are versatile and work well with almost any meal, and you’re already off to a nutritious start to the new year. And on that note…
Broaden your horizons
…try one new fruit or vegetable each month for the whole year. This is a very easy and fun way of broadening your diet. If you’ve ever looked at a fruit or vegetable in the supermarket or grocer and wondered ‘what on earth do I do with that?’, now is the time to find out! Ask a shop assistant or look online for recipes, and get experimenting. It might be the start of a new creative streak in the kitchen, and you may find a new favourite. Here are a few suggestions: persimmon, a fruit that looks like an orange tomato with a delicate taste somewhere between peach and mango; Jerusalem artichokes, which are nutty-tasting root vegetables and work very well simply roasted as you would potatoes; papaya, which is good for the digestion and has delicately sweet, orange flesh; cavolo nero, a dark green, long-leaved cabbage variety that is excellent with roast meats or stirred into pasta or risotto.
Try the wholemeal deal
Swap white for wholemeal. Unrefined, wholemeal products make you feel fuller for longer and have less of a spiking effect on blood sugar. Plus, they’re tastier, with a more complex, nutty flavour. Try using spelt or rye flour in baking, switch to brown rice, and swap white pasta for wholemeal. You could also experiment with Japanese buckwheat soba noodles, which are an excellent replacement for plain egg noodles, and have a much more robust flavour.
Colourise your plate
Ensure your plate is two-thirds vegetables. It’s fine to indulge in the things that you love – cheese, meat, pastry, cream, pasta, bread – but a useful rule is to make sure that your meal always consists of two-thirds vegetables, whether that be salad, roasted veg, boiled greens, or something else. By keeping to this rule, you’ll fill up on the good-for-you veg while enjoying a small portion of a more indulgent treat, leaving you satisfied but not bloated or over-full. Think a wedge of pizza or tart with a big side salad, a piece of roast meat with lots of roasted vegetables and green leaves, or some chunks of fried halloumi with a crisp salad and some roasted marinated peppers. This will also help you get more creative with vegetable cooking – no more plain boiled carrots!
Patience is a virtue
Wait twenty minutes before having seconds, or indulging your cravings. If you feel the temptation to go back to the pan and spoon more onto your plate after you’ve just finished, wait a little. Similarly, if you’ve finished a meal and are craving something sweet for dessert, give it twenty minutes. Cravings often disappear after this time, and it takes around twenty minutes for the body to register that it is, in fact, full. If you’re still hungry or want a little something sweet after twenty minutes, go ahead, but nine times out of ten you’re eating with your tastebuds rather than your stomach, and don’t actually need the extra food.
Do what you enjoy
Take up a form of exercise that you’ll enjoy. No one really looks forward to a sweaty spinning class, let’s be honest, even though they’re great for keeping you in shape. Playing badminton or squash with a friend, going for a long country walk, enjoying some restorative yoga, riding a horse, punching out your stress at a boxing class or learning to dance like a pro, however – these are all great forms of exercise and, chances are, you’ll actually enjoy them far more than a gym session or run out in the cold. Research classes in your local area and try and commit to once a fortnight at first – you might find you enjoy it so much that you end up doing it more regularly throughout the year. It’ll also, most likely, be cheaper and better value than a gym membership. Try and get a friend to go along with you so that you’re both more likely to commit.
Grow your own
Try growing your own fruit and veg. Not really one to sign up for in January, admittedly, as very little grows at this time, but early spring is a great time to start planting your own crops. There are numerous benefits: gardening is great exercise (lots of digging and lifting), you get to enjoy organic, nourishing ingredients without needing a trip to the shops, and the satisfaction of growing your own and tending to your plants is enormously fulfilling. Think about clearing out a space in your garden for a raised bed or vegetable patch early in the new year, and start browsing seed and plant catalogues for ideas. Some foolproof beginner crops are kale, Swiss or rainbow chard, herbs (parsley, mint, thyme and rosemary are particularly hardy outdoors), potatoes, onions and, if you have a greenhouse or conservatory, chillies and tomatoes.
Take it all down
Keep a journal. It’s worth jotting down any changes you notice from making these small lifestyle improvements, so that you are motivated to keep them up. You can also note down recipe ideas, new foods you might have discovered, the benefits of taking up a new sport or hobby, and chronicle your gardening successes… or failures – these are still useful to learn from! We’re not talking pages and pages every night – just a few ‘notes to self’ here and there to keep you on track throughout the year and remind you of your small, positive goals. Happy new year!
Elly McCausland is a food writer and blogger at Nutmegs, Seven. She has a passion for all things gastronomic, with a particular emphasis on fruit, breakfast and proper British puddings. When not concocting recipes, she is studying for a PhD on children’s literature and the Arthurian legend at the University of York.