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5 Tips for Building Sustainable Healthy Habits

How to set New Year's resolutions you can keep from nutritionist Mia Rigden. Read the five tips.

Setting New Year’s Resolutions that Stick

by Mia Rigden Board-certified nutritionist, classically trained chef

It’s that time of the year again! While over a third of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, only 9% of us stick to it and over 43% quit by the end of January. Personally, I’m a big believer in goal setting and manifestation. And what better time than the start of a new year?

So what’s the key to a successful resolution? It is all in building sustainable habits and routines that you can actually follow. Having high expectations and aspirations for yourself is an admirable quality, but consistently setting goals you can’t stick to isn’t productive, and it can weigh on your mental health and confidence. As you settle in to 2024 and create intentions for the year ahead, here are five tips for crafting your New Year’s resolutions and building sustainable healthy habits that stick:

Create an action plan

Whether your goal is big — to do a pull up or a handstand, lose weight, or get a new job — or lofty – volunteer more, be nicer to your partner, eat healthier, read more, or get better sleep — you need a tangible plan to help you achieve that goal. Without direction and an action plan, it’s easy to get lost and give up. For example, if you want to do a pull up, perhaps make a goal to practice 3x a week and include specific exercises that will help you build the requisite upper body strength. Or, if you want to eat healthier, try committing to a nutrition course and/or perhaps create some specific parameters for that goal. Maybe it means eating 20 different vegetables each week, bringing home cooked lunches to work, or capping your intake of processed foods, sweets, alcohol, and other foods that don’t fit into that goal.

Make sure your goals are realistic.

If your resolutions are too hard to implement, it is almost a guaranteed failure. What does that do to your psyche when a well-intentioned plan goes awry? It’s not productive to then feel defeated because you set the bar too high. Instead, set yourself up for success by creating resolutions that are doable, while also being impactful. If you have a goal to conquer sugar cravings, for example, you can make a plan to reduce sugar intake by replacing common pantry staples in the house, committing to a few weeks without dessert, wearing a continuous glucose monitor to help you manage your blood sugar and learn more about your cravings, or develop tools to improve your sleep and manage stress (both of which can reduce sugar cravings). This is a much more sustainable approach than simply saying you’re going to cut out all sugar.

If it’s not enjoyable, it’s not going to work.

In my nutrition practice, people come to me with a wide range of goals — from improving health markers like cholesterol, to losing weight, increasing energy, improving digestion, and more — but ultimately it comes down to the quality and enjoyment of their lives. Think about the why behind your resolution or goal for yourself. How will achieving this goal improve your life, happiness, or contentment? Then, make sure your action plan is not a punishment, but something that you can feel good about doing — even if it’s difficult! Making changes isn’t always easy, and often requires hard work, but making sure the work is worth it will help to keep you motivated in your journey to achieving your goals.

Create systems that make it easy to achieve your goals.

Habits are habits because you do them consistently; they’re a part of your life. Adding a new habit can be challenging because you have to create that routine and potentially carve out time in an already busy schedule. If you want to work out more but struggle to find the time, try adding it to your calendar or finding a workout buddy that will make you accountable. Or if you want to improve your eating habits, maybe sign up for a local CSA (community supported agriculture), make a weekly date to get coffee and go to the farmer’s market with a friend, or take the time to prep healthy snacks and meals.

Give yourself flexibility to make mistakes.

As the saying goes, don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good. It’s okay to go off course. In fact, I think it can be productive and help you to fine tune your habits and routines to fit better into your life. When we learn from our missteps, it can help us to create more sustainable habits and be more successful in achieving our goals. For example, if your goal is to drink less alcohol and you wake up hungover one morning, use it as an opportunity to reflect on what you could have done differently the night before. How much did you enjoy the drinks you had? Were those drinks worth it considering the way you felt the next day? Or if you have a fitness-based goal and missed a week of workouts, reflect on how you feel when you exercise versus when you don’t. You might find you have more energy, are more productive, and have improved mental health, which will help motivate you to prioritize your fitness in the future.

If you’re looking for more tools for creating sustainable habits and sticking with your New Year’s resolutions this year, check out one of my favorite books: Atomic Habits by James Clear. If your goals are nutrition based, The Well Journal is a great accountability guide to help you connect the dots between your food choices and the quality of your life.

Mia Rigden is a Los Angeles-based board certified nutritionist, trained chef, and the author of The Well Journal (2020) and Foodwise (2023), a comprehensive, encouraging guide to healthy eating with 100 original, nutritionally-balanced and flavor-enriching recipes. Learn more about working with Mia on her website, check out an online course, and follow on Instagram @mia_rigden for science-backed, practical nutrition advice.