‘New year new me’ never lasts: Why healthy habits are hard to keep and how food manufacturers can help

By Donna Eastlake

- Last updated on GMT

‘New year new me’ never lasts: Why healthy habits are hard to keep and how food manufacturers can help GettyImages/Matt Lincoln
‘New year new me’ never lasts: Why healthy habits are hard to keep and how food manufacturers can help GettyImages/Matt Lincoln

Related tags Weight loss Nutrition Obesity lifestyle Health claims Supplements

A recent survey has found that efforts to improve health and wellbeing last an average of just 19 days as old habits die hard and temptation, in the form of fatty foods and sweet treats, win out. But why are lifestyle changes so tough to stick to and where are food manufacturers and marketers of healthier foods going wrong?

As winter turns to spring, it’s likely that those who started 2024 with grand plans to revamp their lifestyle through healthy eating and exercise, have already reverted to their former ways. That’s according to a survey commissioned by active and wellness nutrition brand, Smart Protein, which looked at the diets of two thousand individuals wanting to overhaul their food choices and make changes to their lifestyle. Though many started with the best intentions, the majority dropped their plans in less than three weeks. 

Why people want to live a healthier lifestyle

There are myriad reasons why people are inspired to make significant changes to their lifestyle, from new year’s resolutions to a health scare. However, improved fitness, energy levels and weight loss are typically the desired results. So why don't new, well-intentioned habits last?

"If we’ve been eating a certain way for a long time, it takes time and effort to sustain changes. With many demands on our time and energy, it’s easy for our efforts to fail"

Why healthy habits are hard to keep

Humans are creatures of habit and breaking these habits, which have been embraced and nurtured over many years, is always going to be challenging.

“If we’ve been eating a certain way for a long time, it takes time and effort to sustain changes. With many demands on our time and energy, it’s easy for our efforts to fail,” Bridget Benelam, nutritionist at the British Nutrition Foundation, told FoodNavigator.

These changes are also often made under unusual circumstances, when emotions might be heightened, such as Christmas, when people have plenty of time to contemplate the new year and reflect upon the year that has passed.

Bobby Rich, active expert ambassador at Smart Protein and personal trainer, has seen this happen many times. “We often set new year’s resolutions between Christmas and new year where we likely have more time - it’s no surprise therefore, that they can often fall by the wayside once life gets busy again.”

Another reason that people struggle to maintain these changes is a lack of solid knowledge of nutrition, lifestyle and nutrition is big business meaning consumers are provided with information from multiple sources, leading to fact fatigue and confusion.

“A lot of people simply don’t know where to start, and nutrition can be confusing. That’s where I think we have to do better as a sector in the way in which we simplify nutrition for consumers,” agreed Tina Lond-Caulk, Lead Nutritionist at Smart Protein.

Economic influences also play a major role in consumers' ability to maintain a healthy diet as, Bridget Benelam explains. “Our food environment makes energy dense foods, high in fat, salt and sugar easily available and affordable, whilst keeping to a healthy diet requires effort and can be more expensive.

“As the cost-of-living crisis continues, affordability of a healthy diet is a major challenge. So finding ways to make healthy eating accessible for everyone is key – this might be discounting vegetables, providing cost effective recipes or supporting policies that tackle food insecurity.”

"We need to be thinking about how we can make positive changes which fit our lifestyles year-round. It’s transforming daily routines into rewarding rituals through small steps, and empowerment is key"

How to make healthy living last

Simply put, what’s needed is a change in approach, both from manufacturers and consumers.

Many consumers struggle with the volume and format of nutritional information provided, with 66% of those taking part in the Smart Protein survey saying they feel they would prefer the information to be more digestible. In addition to that, 76% of those surveyed said they would like to see more education and support with regards to nutrition, particularly with regards to supplements. Manufactures have a responsibility to make nutritional information clear to consumers, helping to avoid confusion and support engagement.

Similarly, many consumers need to change their approach to a lifestyle transformations, avoiding the quick fix approach and accepting that change takes time. Smaller changes over a longer period of time will have far greater impact than intense changes, which are a shock to the body, extremely difficult to sustain and ultimately abandoned.

“We need to be thinking about how we can make positive changes which fit our lifestyles year-round. It’s transforming daily routines into rewarding rituals through small steps, and empowerment is key,” added Bobby Rich.

Bridget Benelam advises that if you change just one thing then let it be fruit and vegetable-based. “Adults in the UK are averaging about four portions of fruit and vegetables each day, so adding just one extra portion would get us towards our five a day. Also, usually if you add something extra to your diet, it will mean you’ll eat less of something else. For example, you could replace biscuits with fruit as a snack and you could have more vegetables and less meat in a main meal.”

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