Quitting Season! New Year’s Resolutions to Give Up ‘Unhealthy’ Food Last 14 Days

NEW YORK — The average active American quits on their health-related resolutions about seven weeks into the new year, according to new research. The survey of 2,000 people who work out at least once a week examines how closely people stick to health-related resolutions and finds that 29 percent confess they’d last less than a month.

The average person surveyed reports they would miss their favorite “unhealthy” food just 14 days into giving it up.

However, are respondents defining “unhealthy” too harshly? One in six mistakenly believe that all foods high in calories are “unhealthy” and another 32 percent said eating “healthy” means committing to select foods or cutting out certain foods completely (31%).

Similarly, others believe that carbs should be avoided (24%) and that healthy nutrition means sacrificing food that tastes good (18%). On the other hand, 36 percent believe it is important to prioritize protein

Conducted by OnePoll for egglife, the survey finds that when it comes to healthy eating, the same percentage of respondents consider it a chore as those who say it’s an easy part of their lifestyle (34%, each).

More than a quarter of those surveyed share that the foods they want to eat often don’t align with what they consider to be “healthy” (28%).

The takeaway? Health and nutrition look different for everyone, which makes a cluttered landscape even more difficult to navigate when aiming to make lifestyle changes in the new year. 

Infographic for survey about health related goals in the new year.

“Without a formal definition for ‘healthy,’ it’s no wonder you’ll find countless opinions on what constitutes a healthy food,” says spokesperson Melissa Rifkin, RD, nutrition expert for egglife, in a statement. “Most importantly, healthy food isn’t about eating a restrictive diet or low-calorie count. Rather, eating healthy food means choosing nourishing options that provide an array of nutrients known to benefit the body while working within one’s specific dietary needs, restrictions and preferences. The good news is when it comes to choosing healthier foods, taste and nutrition don’t have to be mutually exclusive.””

This may make it difficult for the 57 percent who often don’t know where to start with achieving their health-related goals. For many, the challenges come more frequently when setting goals that are difficult to achieve.

The average person surveyed says that over the past year, a third of their health goals ended up being too extreme (34%). Some of these “extreme” goals include cutting a food group they enjoyed out of their diet (40%), reducing their calorie intake (39%), and drinking at least 70 ounces of water a day (36%).

The goals that they’ve had a particularly hard time achieving were trying to go to the gym every day (18%), cutting out a food group they enjoy (26%), and following a restrictive diet (17%). For many, success is measured by how long the goal lasts, as four times as many respondents prefer health goals that help them in the long term (78%) as opposed to the short term (18%).

Thinking back to the “extreme” goals they’ve attempted, those surveyed learned that huge leaps don’t create lasting change, like cutting food groups out completely (23%) or losing weight too quickly (18%).

Woman on diet eating broccoli on plate
The average person surveyed reports they would miss their favorite “unhealthy” food just 14 days into giving it up. (© markoaliaksandr – stock.adobe.com)

When reflecting on their previous health goals, nearly half realized that smaller goals that change things incrementally have been easier to achieve (47%) and led to more lasting lifestyle changes (42%). Similarly, 41 percent say these kinds of goals have made them feel more accomplished on their health journey.

This lines up with the 24 percent of respondents who say that if there was a need to remove a food from their diet, it would be easier to cut down on eating it over time. One in six say it would be most helpful if they had a convenient replacement for it.

Respondents aren’t letting their past experiences with “extreme” goals deter them either — 91 percent of Americans who exercise regularly are interested in setting health-related goals in 2024. In the new year, these respondents want to exercise more often (68%), eat more nutritious foods (60%), eat more protein (36%), and fewer carbs (31%).

When asked about their specific health-related goals, respondents share their desire to “have more energy,” “balance my overall health” and “tone up my body.”

“Attainable goals help build a sense of success that encourages continued behavior,” says Rifkin. “What makes a goal attainable is specific to your lifestyle and desire to change, and should allow you to make progress toward your long-term goals. Small, attainable goals can serve as stepping stones, allowing you to work toward your long-term objective, building your confidence along the way. We all feel more accomplished when we meet a goal, which is why small, attainable goals are more beneficial than extreme changes that aren’t maintainable. Choosing a long-term goal that is specific, measurable, and attainable within a given time frame allows you to achieve smaller goals that make progress against your larger goal over time.” 

Survey methodology:

This random double-opt-in survey of 2,000 Americans who exercise at least once a week was commissioned by egglife between Dec. 21 and 26, 2023. It was conducted by market research company OnePoll, whose team members are members of the Market Research Society and have corporate membership to the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) and the European Society for Opinion and Marketing Research (ESOMAR).

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