If you’re planning to diet at the start of the new year, go for it. Just know that, historically speaking, weight loss diets fail. Dieting implies restriction, a misplaced reliance on willpower and, often, a negative relationship with food. The act of dieting also usually leads to the act of gaining back the weight.
Rather than seeing Jan. 1 as a time to remove things from your life, consider adding habits that can contribute to your happiness and your health — and possibly help you shed some pounds, too. We’ve got some ideas to get you started.
1. Eat more plants
Instead of focusing on eating less in 2018, focus on eating more of the good stuff. Filling up on fruits and veggies has innumerable benefits, from reducing the risk for a host of diseases and protecting against certain cancers to maintaining bright, healthy skin and hampering hangry feelings.
You might even consider adopting a reducitarian lifestyle in the new year by decreasing meat consumption in a way that’s manageable for you. Nixing meat from your diet just one day a week can reduce your overall meat consumption by 15%, which will ultimately benefit the your health and the planet’s.
2. Find a recipe you’re obsessed with
There’s no need to invest in a dozen cookbooks to commit to the goal of cooking more. One simple recipe you find delicious is really all it takes to get going. Something that allows for substitutes — like a grain bowl, for example — will keep your appetite interested and push you to be creative with what’s in your pantry. For example, alternate quinoa, rice and other whole grains; use black beans one day, cannellini for another; choose broccoli, carrots or even leftovers from last night’s Chinese takeout; vary between chicken, beef, tofu, fish and sprinkle on cheese when you’re feeling it.
Food you’ve prepared yourself is near-guaranteed to be healthier than food cooked at a restaurant. One study found that people who eat most of their meals at home tend to consume fewer carbohydrates, less sugar and less fat compared to those who don’t cook often. Better yet, when you cook for other people, you’ll reap the benefits of altruism, which will make you feel happy and more connected to your dinner guests.
3. Eat somewhere — anywhere — other than your desk
A sad desk salad miraculously transforms into just a salad when you don’t eat it hunched over in your swivel chair. Beyond being gross (who hasn’t found a days-old wilted piece of lettuce wedged between letters on keyboard?), the habit of eating at your desk can lead to weight gain, as mindless snacking comes as easily as mindless scrolling on Twitter.
And while you might be eating at your desk to get more work done, studies show skipping your lunch break can have a negative effect on your work performance. Taking breaks throughout the day improves your ability to manage your time and come up with great ideas. Robbing yourself of a little breather to stretch your legs and eat some quinoa is robbing yourself of work success.
4. Choose pickup instead of delivery
Whether it’s taking the stairs over the elevator, walking the 10 blocks rather than Ubering or opting for pickup instead of delivery, every step counts in 2018. The cost of walking is free (actually, you’ll save on cab fares and delivery fees), and the extra movement can reduce stress, lower your risk for heart disease and maybe even improve your mood. On foot, you might discover a new favorite coffee shop you never would’ve noticed in a moving vehicle.
5. Move your alarm clock
Resolve to put a stop to your days (years?) of hitting snooze. Falling back to sleep after your alarm sounds can make you feel more tired and makes the process of getting out of bed more difficult. If you’re the type to set multiple alarms minutes apart — and you sleep between every ring — you might be setting yourself up for lingering grogginess.
To get out of this habit, try placing your alarm somewhere that will force you to emerge from beneath the covers. It will feel like torture the first few times, but if you commit to it, your body will eventually adjust, making your snoozing days a thing of the past and letting you relish in the beauty that is quality sleep.
6. Take more naps
Speaking of quality sleep, have you ever tried taking a nap? Naps are a panacea: They can solve virtually any problem in your life if you do them right. “My New Year’s resolution is to take more naps” is a badass thing to say and will make your peers pretty jealous they didn’t claim the resolution first.
Research has found naps to be more effective than caffeine when you need a boost of energy, and becoming an avid napper could reduce your risk of stress, heart disease, diabetes, stroke and a host of other things you’d rather not have.
According to sleep experts, there are certain rules for proper napping. Short, 20-minute naps are ideal for the time-pressed looking to reap sleep’s benefits. Napping for too long can lead to even more fatigue, so be sure to set an alarm and, of course, to not hit snooze.
Bonus: Giving yourself adequate sleep can up your chances of maintaining a healthy weight.
7. Pet more dogs
Make a point to better recognize all the “good boys” around you. The pups will be pleased and you’ll find yourself feeling less frazzled, as doing so can lower your heart rate and blood pressure and release the hormone oxytocin, which helps keep stress at bay. Dogs really are the best.
8. Netflix and thrill
Nothing wrong with binging a series on a cozy weekend, but consider adding a little movement to the sloth-like activity. Health magazine outlines nine easy stretches and gentle intervals you can practice while you zone out to another episode of Grey’s Anatomy. A new study from the American Heart Association found that a person’s risk for blood clots may increase with long periods spent watching TV, namely due to inactivity. Have your cake and eat it, too, by making “binge and burpee” your thing for 2018.
9. Ditch drinks, do dessert
Catching up over dessert is Hong Kong’s version of meeting for after-work drinks — and people, it’s smart. Alcohol is a social lubricant that makes small talk easier and probably more fun, but it’s too easy for one drink to turn into several and for those several drinks to turn into a combination of hangover and regret.
“Networking” over dessert gives you a chance to taste something new, gush over whatever it is you’re eating and learn about the person you’re dining with in a new way. (Maybe he makes an incredible lemon tart and is psyched to share the recipe with you). Perhaps greatest of all, meeting for dessert gives your party a concrete end time: When dessert is done, you can be, too. There’s no awkward should-we-get-another-round shuffle, so you can go home and go to bed.
We’re not saying you should replace all drink gatherings with cake, but just try it some time. Suggest meeting over dessert and you’ll see: Your guest will be surprised, impressed and delighted.
10. Be a tourist somewhere
Make 2018 your year of travel. Rather than hoard your vacation days (and, like most Americans, end up with too many unused by the end of the year), milk your free time for what it’s worth and get out there. If you’re working with a tiny budget, be a tourist in your own city. Sightsee in ways you’ve never made time for: Take a day off in the middle of the week to go to the crowded spot that’s impossible to get into on weekends. Sit in a cafe and read a book. Sign up for a walking tour of your own neighborhood.
Research shows vacationing can actually increase your empathy, relieve stress and boost your happiness. Exposing yourself to new ways of life can also amplify your creativity, which could benefit you at work. There’s no need to feel guilty for taking time off, either: People who use their vacation days are more likely to get raises at work.
11. Consume less news
If there’s one thing we’ve learned in 2017, it’s that the tumultuous news cycle can be exhausting, stressful, overwhelming, depressing and very bad. Save yourself from headline distress disorder and vow to participate less in the 24-hour circus. There’s a fine line between staying informed and being bombarded; you have the power to control when and how you want to check in with the rest of the world.
To get started, consider setting some personal boundaries with yourself. Turn off your phone’s news alerts during the weekend, delete the Facebook app, schedule 30 minutes for Twitter, get your friends to partake in a digital detox of some kind, sign up for a weekly yoga class and leave your phone at home. Removing some of the paralyzing, frenetic noise, especially on vacation, will make more room for things that make you feel good — like dessert and dogs.