Right now, I’m seeing Facebook posts swirl around with questions like: 

  • “What about keto?”
  • “What about the hcg diet?”
  • “What about Whole30?”

It’s natural that in the new year, we want to turn over a new leaf. However, a “new leaf” – even a minor overhaul of eating habits – doesn’t have to mean going on a restrictive fad diet. But before I get into the five eating goals that I would suggest as alternatives, I want to quickly acknowledge the strengths of a formal “diet,” because there are advantages.

  • There are clear rules
  • You know when you’re doing it right, and you know when you’re doing it wrong
  • You have a sense of accomplishment when you follow it well
  • You probably get quick results because the diet cuts out so many calories by cutting out a food group or eating at certain times of day

You can see from my short list above that there is a reason that diets are popular. Even difficult diets are “easy to follow,” and – if you’re strict enough – they will yield the results that you want (at least temporarily).

However, as many of my clients know from years of yo-yo dieting, these kinds of restrictive plans often don’t work long-term. Once the diet goes from “on” mode to “off” mode, it’s easy to slip back into the “old normal,” and there’s no “new normal” to support a healthier way of life.

Instead of “starting a diet” (unless a doctor has told you to do so), these are the five new habits (i.e. eating goals) that I would suggest:

Goal #1: Cooking more of your meals.

By far, the most consistent problem that I see in my clients’ overall diets is a lack of food preparation. Each week, it is extremely helpful to take even ten minutes to outline what you would like to eat the next week, and to go grocery shopping with that list in mind.

While good cooking does take practice, decent cooking is extremely accessible right away. And I promise – the more you cook, the faster and better you will get at it. 

Make sure you have the basic essentials, like a few good pots and pans and knives, and start by imitating restaurant meals that you like, with healthy/lighter twists. Some recipes are flexible and easy to repeat over and over with variety, like quinoa or bean salads and soups, meat-and-veggie combinations, and wraps. 

Remember, you don’t have to be a gourmet chef. Simple meals will be lifesavers when you need them!

Goal #2: Changing your snacking habits.

Snacking is often not a response to hunger – instead of soothing a growing stomach, it’s usually filling up space/time, occupying attention, or distracting boredom. 

One of my bridal clients who trimmed down significantly for her wedding (and maintained the leanness afterwards) simply stopped keeping granola at her desk. While there were many changes that she made, this was an important one. I have had other clients who kept economy-size bags of nuts at their desks, and slashed hundreds (or more possibly more than a thousand) calories per day from their diets simply by getting rid of this one habit of mindless eating.

Instead of snacking throughout the day, plan one or two strategic snacks that are rich in fiber, high in protein, and low in sugar, and plan these snacks for the times of day when you get the most hungry. 4 PM is a common time.

Goal #3: Eating more protein. 

Eating more protein is an underlying tenet in most of the popular weight loss diets – Atkins, the ketogenic diet, Paleo, Whole30, and more. There is a reason that eating more protein is a common denominator in so many diets. Protein is incredibly satisfying, especially when you combine it with fiber. This means that your stomach fills up faster and stays fuller longer as your body slowly breaks down the hearty protein source. This translates into fewer cravings and less preoccupation with food, which often happens when you’re hungry.

For some reason, many women struggle psychologically with eating more protein. I think many women are afraid of bulking up, and there are now new concerns about the environmental consequences of eating a meat-heavy diet. However, there are lots of ways to satisfy your protein requirements without turning a blind eye to the planet’s needs, and you can rest assured that you will likely not “bulk up.”

For example, making a legume like lentils a centerpiece of your diet can increase both your protein and fiber intake significantly. You can also use a vegan protein powder, and get protein from plant sources like tofu, soy, tempeh, and nutritional yeast. If you want to adopt a more vegetarian lifestyle, dairy and eggs offer a powerful protein punch. Obviously, meat will be the most concentrated source of protein, but even with my “meat-lite” lifestyle (I only eat about 2-oz servings of meat at a time), I easily hit my goal of 100+ grams of protein per day. 

Aim for at least half of your bodyweight in grams, if possible. So if you weigh 150 pounds, try to eat more than 75 grams of protein per day. If you weigh 200 pounds, try to eat at least 100 grams. And so on. 

Goal #4: Drinking more water. 

Drinking more water (about a 20-oz bottle every few hours) is another fantastic strategy for short-circuiting cravings and feeling fuller, longer. 

Plus, it’s good for your health every single day – your skin will look better, you’ll have more energy, your digestion will be more robust, and your body will detoxify itself more efficiently (as I told a client yesterday, don’t fall for any “detox” products – your body can take care of itself with enough water).

A great tip for drinking more water is to use one of two strategies:

  • Drink from a huge bottle (I have had more than one client do this as a habits, and while it looks slightly comical, it does encourage you to drink more)
  • Keep a reusable water bottle around with 4-6 rubber bands on it. Every time you completely drink the bottle, take a rubber band off (or move it to the top, if you don’t want to lose it). Your goal each day is to move all of the rubber bands, every day 

Goal #5: Tracking (or journaling) your food

The least sexy but possibly most impactful thing that you could do to create some new food habits is to track your food for a period of time, to assist in your planning.

Many people use the phrase “calorie counting” derisively, but the reality is that calorie counting can be: 

  • Not restrictive
  • Not obsessive
  • Not limiting

And instead, when used wisely, it can be: 

  • Liberating
  • Educating
  • Flexible

Build precision by using measuring cups and spoons for your cooking (and doing basic math to add, subtract, divide, and multiply to create serving sizes).

You don’t have to track forever, and I don’t recommend it. But if you’re a numbers geek like me, you may enjoy intermittently tracking every once in awhile. It helps to keep me on target with my sports nutrition needs, and makes “holes” in my diet extremely obvious (like not enough protein or vegetables, or too much saturated fat).

Bottom line? You can change your eating without going on a fad diet with strict rules. You will find that these small shifts are approachable, easier to maintain over time, and will add up to big results.

Rachel Trotta

I am a Certified Personal Trainer, Fitness Nutrition Specialist, Physique and Bodybuilding Specialist, and Women's Fitness Specialist. I live in New Jersey in the NYC metro area, and I coach clients online all over the world. As a trainer and health writer, my mission is to make healthy living sustainable for the average person. I’m also a wife, mom, nature lover, runner, avid cook, weightlifting aficionado, history nerd, travel addict, and obsessive podcast listener. Get in touch!

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