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WVU expert recommends small, consistent dietary changes for an effective New Year’s resolution

In a recent survey conducted by Forbes Health, losing weight and improving diet rank among the top five New Year’s resolutions for 2024. However, nutrition experts at WVU warn against making drastic changes or following diet trends in order to achieve these goals.

Forbes Health found the typical New Year resolution is maintained for just over three months, and Harvard Health Publishing reports that many popular diets are only temporarily effective, with benefits diminishing after six to 12 months.

Gina Wood, a specialist and coordinator for the WVU Extension Family Nutrition Program’s Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, suggests the answer might be simpler than popular diet regimens suggest.

One issue with fad diets is the significant lifestyle changes they demand. Some diets suggest eliminating entire food groups or dramatically decreasing calorie intake as weight loss “hacks,” often resulting in monotonous, uninspired meals that require time and energy to plan and carry out. This approach not only proves ineffective due to the human body’s reliance on a varied diet to fulfill nutritional needs, but also demands too many changes, too quickly.

“Diets typically ask people to make drastic changes. They are either asking you to cut out an entire food group or drastically reduce your calorie intake. The chances of that working are pretty slim,” said Wood. “Every food group has its role. The more of those things you cut out, the less nutritious your diet is going to be. It is difficult to maintain health without a full array of nutritious foods. Variety is the key.”

Wood recommends assessing your baseline and understanding your current habits before attempting any changes. Keeping a food or physical activity journal reflecting your daily habits can help identify small, manageable changes to expand on later.

“Pick something small. If you notice you are only eating vegetables twice a week, start by adding another serving once or twice a week,” said Wood. “Do something small that is realistic, because once you have one small success, you’re going to be able to build on that.”

Both Harvard Health Publishing and Forbes Health highlight consistency and realistic, proactive goals as the key to maintaining New Year’s resolutions and achieving results. If a healthier diet is part of your 2024 resolutions, Wood recommends as a base resource for nutritional information and recipes.

“People who are successful in terms of weight loss and improving lifestyle, it’s not the drastic changes — it’s the small changes you are able to maintain over time. Consistency leads to success,” said Wood. “It’s about progress, not perfection.”