It's usually after the first few weeks of the year have passed — when the gyms begin to empty, and when dieters start seeking professional help — that Diana Sugiuchi, a registered dietitian nutritionist at Nourish Family Nutrition in Baltimore and Lutherville, said she sees an influx of clients.
But Sugiuchi and other local nutritionists say there are actions eaters can take on their own to develop healthy habits at the start of the year and beyond.
For one, Sugiuchi suggests breaking down healthy eating goals into steps rather than trying to make sweeping changes overnight. For example, add a salad with every dinner for two to three weeks. If you can maintain that, then add another small goal.
"Don't try to add everything at once," she said, adding that breaking down goals into bite-sized pieces prevents them from becoming overwhelming.
Kevin Grodnitzky, a registered dietitian nutritionist with the Nutrition Coaching Center in Lutherville, said another strategy is focusing on the big picture. If the larger goal is to lower your blood pressure or create better body movement, hold on to those ideas as motivation.
"Take two to five minutes every day and really focus on why you're making these changes," Grodnitzky said. "There may be some sacrifices, so if you've got very powerful, strong reasons why you're making these changes then you may be more apt to stick to your goals."
Sugiuchi often sees clients who prioritize weight loss as the root cause of their desire to eat healthier. She said it's more useful to view forming healthy habits as the primary goal, with weight loss as a bonus.
Grodnitzky suggests thinking about eating habits as practice, and practicing for all situations — at home, out at restaurants and while traveling.
At home, he suggests eliminating tempting foods, or at least creating barriers to them. A cake stored high on a shelf out of sight is less likely to be eaten than one that's sitting on the counter all week.
During the week, Grodnitzky said it helps to make a plan that is easy to maintain. "Keep it routine; keep it simple," he said. Pack your meals, only eat what you pack, and don't waste splurges — that will leave more leeway for treats on the weekends.
Sugiuchi said it's best to approach meals at restaurants like any other meal, unless it's a special occasion.
"Try to keep those treat meals to a couple times a week," she said.
Aiming for 400 to 500 calories per meal when you dine out is a good target, Grodnitzky said, and many chain restaurants provide calorie counts with their menus.
And as the year goes on, it's important to remember that change doesn't happen overnight.
"If you slip, no big deal. Next meal or snack you get right back on track," Grodnitzky said. "If you slip, you're human."