The sad truth about New Year’s resolutions is that they often fail. Statistics say more than 90 percent of our well-intentioned January promises crash and burn by the following December (80 percent of them by February—ouch). Maybe it’s just that any change is tough to sustain for an entire year. Or maybe we simply aim too high. Were we really physically and emotionally ready to run that marathon or lose 50 pounds? Perhaps not.
Size matters. And, in this case, smaller is better.
In my experience, the resolutions that have actually stuck have been the small, digestible changes I was truly ready to make. About 10 years ago, when I made one such baby-steps-level resolution, I never could have guessed the dramatic changes it would bring to my life.
It all started, prosaically enough, with fish and beans. Let me back up. It really started when I was “tentatively” diagnosed (a.k.a. “we don’t know WTH is wrong with you”) with fibromyalgia at age 26. After receiving this health bombshell—and living with deep muscle pain on a daily basis—I turned a searching eye toward every aspect of my lifestyle to see what I could possibly change to reduce my pain. My diet was not exempt from this wellness inventory.
My eating habits had never been stellar. It wasn’t unusual for me to keep an industrial-sized tray of cheese danishes in my freezer, hacking pieces off for breakfast every day for a week. I would eat chocolate at every opportunity. And raised in a Midwestern family on a steady diet of meatloaf and chicken casseroles, I was still pretty much on “meat autopilot” in adulthood, basing every meal around an animal product. Meat was the center of my plate, the pinnacle of all protein. When my brother became vegan in college, my family worried for him the way most people worry when their child joins a cult.
Somewhere along the way, though, I had heard that research showed that eating less meat and more plants and fish was good for a variety of health conditions. I didn’t know if it would do anything to relieve my pain—but I was desperate to get healthier in general. I was intrigued by the idea that going without chicken, beef, or pork could be more than a one-off meatless Monday. Still, I preferred the idea of adding something to my diet rather than taking something away. It felt so much more generous and freeing than the restrictive resolutions I’d tried in the past.
So at the beginning of the new year, I wrote down my resolution. 2010: Eat more fish and beans.
Being rather type A, I was already in a groove of planning out my family’s meals every week. Now, I made a small tweak. Every time I sat down to fill in Monday through Sunday dinners, I made sure to include one recipe based on fish and one based on beans. It was surprisingly easy to replace meat with these alternatives. Soon, black bean burritos, white bean burgers, and salmon pasta dishes began to appear on the dinner table.
No one in my home seemed to mind the change. My husband, a go-with-the-flow kind of guy, was happy to eat almost anything, as long as I did the cooking, and my two toddlers were too young to notice a difference. And as the weeks went by, I realized I felt better when I ate less meat. It didn’t make my pain go away, but I felt less heavy and sluggish after meals. My digestion improved. I had more energy. I got sick less often.
Turns out, food matters too.
Intrigued by these improvements, I wanted to know more about the interplay between food and health. What else had I never learned? I devoured books about nutrition, like Michael Pollan’s Food Rules and Marion Nestle’s What to Eat. And slowly, as I got educated, other changes made their way into my diet. I started eating oatmeal instead of pastries for breakfast. I replaced my afternoon cookie break with smoothies. I experimented with new cooking methods to make veggies more palatable. With a third baby on the way, I felt extra inspired to raise my young family with the best dietary habits I could.
The momentum sparked by my little, five-word New Year’s resolution never stopped. By the time my third child was a year old, I had transitioned to a (mostly) Mediterranean diet of fruits and vegetables, fish, legumes, whole grains, and a minimal amount of meat. I felt so good eating so well that I wanted to share the love with others. Leaving behind a previous career as a college German instructor, I enrolled in a dietetics degree program. In 2017, I completed my program and became a nutrition and dietetic technician, registered with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Who'd have thought?
Looking back, though there were a thousand tiny steps that snowballed into my dietary and career changes, I often think of that New Year’s resolution as the match that lit a wildfire. Though at the time I never expected such a small addition to my diet to amount to more than, well, a hill of beans, I realize now that it’s often the small changes that add up to great results. These days, when New Year’s rolls around, I’m inspired to consider what other little additions might lead to a major transformation for good.
If you’re mulling over your own resolutions, I say stick with minor, doable tweaks. Maybe you resolve to meal-plan three days a week or pack a healthy lunch to take to work every Monday. Perhaps, like me, you experiment with eating more of a certain good-for-you category of foods, such as leafy greens or plant-based protein. Take the stairs instead of the elevator whenever possible or get up and move during commercial breaks. You never know how these little additions might lead to a major transformation for good.