Content warning: This piece contains mentions of weight loss and dieting.

January usually comes with a lot of resolutions to eat healthier in the New Year, and that often comes with talk of diets and weight loss. Aiming to eat better is always good, but many people go about this the wrong way – often setting unrealistic diet plans or simply not knowing what is good for their body. The only thing a New Year’s resolution crash diet is going to do is create patterns of guilt and unhealthy food restrictions. 

However, sustainable eating creates an alternative for dieting. Sustainable eating is about choosing foods that are healthy for our environment and our bodies. These are usually foods beyond the supermarket shelf. When you are thinking about eating sustainably, Anna Jackson, a registered dietician at the UNB Student Health Centre, advises that one should focus on foods that are rich in fibre. 

“Most Canadians don’t get enough fibre in their diets because we tend to rely on processed convenience foods that are low in nutritional value. Fibre helps us to feel full longer, keeps our blood sugar stable, promotes healthy digestion, and lowers cholesterol. Women require 25 grams per day, while men need 38 grams per day. Fibre-rich foods include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and other legumes, nuts, and seeds,” said Jackson.

Living life off processed food can be extremely difficult, especially for college students who practically survive on caffeine and fast food, which is where the 80/20 rule comes in. 

“My number one tip is the 80/20 rule,” said Jackson. “Try to choose nutrient-dense foods 80 per cent of the time. Life is too short to not enjoy some Ben and Jerry’s ice cream or a few slices of pizza on occasion! You can still be perfectly healthy while including some treats, and you will be way more likely to maintain this style of eating rather than trying to avoid treats altogether.”

Genetics are also very important when planning your diet. You should consider the history of certain illnesses in your family and set up healthy eating habits that may actually be able to prevent your having those same illnesses. A registered dietician can provide dietary recommendations tailored to an individual’s family medical history.

As alternatives to junk food, Jackson recommends snacks like an apple or banana with peanut butter, popcorn, veggies with hummus, homemade energy bites, Greek yoghurt with fruit, and for things like fast food, she recommends making your own.

“You are in control of the ingredients and cooking methods, which is a huge advantage. Instead of a McDonald’s burger and fries, try making your own turkey burger on a whole wheat bun with oven-baked fries.”

For students trying to diet with the aim of losing weight, Jackson advises making small, realistic changes to your diet that you can maintain long term. People tend to go too extreme and try to change everything overnight. Focusing on building healthy habits rather than going on and off diets is a much healthier approach, both for your physical and mental health.

“Set S.M.A.R.T. goals. S.M.A.R.T. goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound,” said Jackson.