For many, the new year brings an opportunity to take stock of our habits and wellbeing and press the reset button. After the chaos of the holiday season, entering January fresh, intentional, and calm can be key for setting the stage for a happy and healthy year ahead. Whether you are making significant resolutions or just looking to adopt some feel-good lifestyle changes, I am here to offer some tangible tools to help you stay calm and carry on in 2024!
- Focus on Food: through my practice as a Nutritional Psychiatrist, I have learned that we really do have the power at the end of our forks to improve mental fitness so this year I encourage everyone to evaluate their diet and recognize where there is opportunity to make adjustments. A whole foods diet that is rich in colorful plants and leafy greens, healthy fats like EVOO and avocado, clean protein like wild caught seafood, fermented foods and an abundance of herbs and spices lays the foundation for a balanced microbiome, reduced neuroinflammation and a focused, calm mind. Make these foods the majority of your diet and minimize your intake of ultra-processed foods, packaged foods, processed vegetable oils and added or refined sugars to feel emotionally your best. This will help everything below that much easier!
- Incorporate Mindfulness: in Nutritional Psychiatry I discuss the importance of following one’s Body Intelligence which relates to mindfulness and really listening to your body when it comes to making diet and lifestyle choices that support a calm mind. It is helpful to start small when making these changes. A helpful way to integrate mindfulness practice into meals is to start by sitting down to eat and removing all distractions like TV or phones so you can put your full attention into each bite. Try following a single bite from start to finish allowing all of your senses to interpret how that bite is making you feel even after you are done eating. This acknowledgement will help inform your food choices later on as you will be more inclined to reach for foods that help you feel energized and focused rather than anxious. Body Intelligence also influences a sense of calm when making food choices as it gives you the confidence in knowing what is best for your body.
- Get Moving: while food is foundational to mental fitness and relieving anxiety, regular physical activity is also key for keeping calm. Regular exercise has been linked to a host of physical and mental health benefits that will jumpstart your wellbeing in the new year. Exercising releases endorphins in the brain that have been shown to improve mood while also supporting lower levels of inflammation which reduces stress. It also helps support a better night’s sleep which helps the mind wake up rejuvenated and energized.
- Make SMART Goals: as you consider your New Year’s Resolutions, I encourage you to make goals that are SMART to increase the likelihood of making them achievable and lasting. SMART goals are Specific Measurable Achievable Relevant and Time-Bound. For example, you may make a goal to incorporate one serving of leafy greens into 2 meals a day for a month and assess how you feel. Once established, it is good to share your goals with friends or loved ones for accountability.
While change can be overwhelming for some, making small adjustments at a time to support an improved diet and lifestyle can make these changes less daunting which will help you keep calm and carry on in the new year!
Dr. Uma Naidoo is a Harvard trained Nutritional Psychiatrist, professional chef, and nutritional biologist, and author of the bestselling This is Your Brain on Food. Her new book, Calm Your Mind with Food, is available for pre-order now.