If you’re planning to make positive lifestyle changes to your diet in 2019, don’t be too hard on yourself, says Melissa Blease. You see, slow and steady, tortoise style, always wins the race

Imagine being a guest at a fabulous, month-long party that you’ve prepared for and looked forward to for months. The drinks flow, the non-stop buffet just keeps on comin’ atcha and pretty much every available surface around you is strewn with enticing little nibbles and luxurious chocolates. Imagine if the party climaxed at midnight with fireworks and fizz, and yet more food to sustain you into the wee small hours. Imagine yourself falling into bed after all that, happy and a bit fuzzy around the edges, totally at peace with the world. And then imagine waking up six hours later to… that’s it! The party’s over: a new year has dawned, and you’re obliged to give yourself A Very Hard Time.

If you’re planning to make positive lifestyle changes starting on 1 January 2019, you’re not going it alone: according to a recent survey conducted by ComRes for Bupa, 47% of us will make New Year’s resolutions this year, with 38% of those polled putting combinations around losing weight, eating more healthily and cutting down on alcohol consumption at the top of their list. It’s a sad but true, however, that – despite our very best intentions – a whopping 29% of dieters will have stepped off the path of righteousness and straight into the cheese/pudding/pub by the start of February. Are they weak? Are they lazy? No! They’re just human.

January is the very worst month for subjecting yourself to a drastic or possibly even harsh regime: the weather is as cold, dark and gloomy as your post-party season bank account, the back-to-work alarm call has come around all too quickly, and the post-Christmas blues are hardly conducive to an ‘up and at it’ plan of action. But while I’m not suggesting that anybody should put their healthy plans on hold in favour of opening a bottle of red wine, bingeing on pie and mash and taking up permanent residence on the sofa until spring comes around, there is a middle ground twixt the dynamic/do nothing approaches to New Year resolutions.

According to the legendary ancient Greek fable-teller Aesop, there was once a shouty, boastful hare who was very confident about winning a race against against what he perceived to be a very slow tortoise. So confident was he that he even took a nap during the race, thinking that he had all the time in the world to catch up with the ‘competition’. But while Mr Hare snoozed, Mr Tortoise continued with his own gentle but solid, determined pace all the way to the finishing line… which haughty hare, who thought he knew all there was to know about achieving success, didn’t reach until much, much later. And this year, you too can be that winning tortoise.

If, instead of making all manner of strict rules regarding what’s off the menu, you focus on all the fabulous stuff you can eat to your heart’s content (in this context, quite literally) and make it your aim to get friendly with properly good food, you’ll slowly but steadily notice a big difference to your weight, wellbeing and wallet.

“If you make it your aim to get friendly with properly good food, you’ll slowly but steadily notice a big difference to your weight, wellbeing and wallet”

At this time of the year, we’ve got a lot of fabulous fresh produce to fill our shopping bags with, not least of all on our doorsteps: beetroot, cauliflower, parsnips, leeks and kale are just a few of the luscious, vegetables that are at their very best in January. Winter berries are sweet, clementines super-juicy. Cod is coming in, mussels are marvellous, venison (high in protein; low in fat; massively flavoursome) is still vibrant… and that’s only the start of what’s on the healthy eating winter menu. Hunger pangs? Not in this kitchen!

There’s a big place for lightweight substitutions in the slow’n’steady race too: swap the cream in soups, sauces or on top of fruit for yogurt, crème fraiche, or quark, and you won’t notice that you’ve given up anything apart from fat and calories.

Keen to ditch dairy? Nut, oat, rice and soya milks are all fabulous alternatives to traditional dairy milk, while tofu – high in protein, iron, calcium and all manner of minerals and vitamins, now readily available in silken, smoked and pressed varieties – can take over where cream and meat are being left off. Talking of meat…

According to that ComRes survey, it’s estimated that 13% of the population won’t be eating meat or fish at all this year, while thousands more will identify themselves as ‘flexitarian’ (ie, substantially cutting back on the amount of meat they eat) – joining their ranks is a ‘make just one change’ goal that could have a massive, positive impact on your healthy eating aims for 2019.

If, after all this easygoing advice, you’re still feeling a bit overwhelmed by the prospect of making any kind of changes at all this month, call in the troops for a bit of support. Riverford Organic Farmers’ home delivery veg (and more!) boxes include inspirational recipes that offer fresh ideas to liven up your larder, while a range of courses at Demuths Cookery School encourage everybody, whether beginners or veterans, to gain confidence in plant-free cooking. Meanwhile, a massive, ever-evolving selection of largely organic, fresh, seasonal produce proliferates at Bath Farmers’ Market every Saturday morning – one trip here is all it takes to wake up your senses and boost your attitude to good food.

But above all, remember this: if you’re aiming to kick bad habits to the kerb this year, that doesn’t mean that you’re going to be brutal on yourself. Nothing terrible will happen if you have two glasses of wine instead of the planned ‘just one’ (or none at all) when you’re having a hard-earned Friday night feet-up. The world won’t end if you polish off the last of the chocolate truffles that you’d hidden in the back of the cupboard. The diet police aren’t going to arrest you for giving in to your crumpet cravings, or taking a cheeky takeaway order too far one weekend in four, or saying yes to a Yorkshire pudding… and you’re not going to give yourself a rollicking for snarfling down the odd roastie, either.

If you need to escape the confines of your own kitchen, eating out isn’t off the menu for healthy eaters, nor does it mean giving in to temptation. These days – what with vegetarian/vegan/lighter dishes trending on most restaurant menus and good chefs being savvy to all manner of dietary requirements – it’s relatively easy to choose wisely, choose well… and let somebody else do the dishes afterwards. Fallen off the wagon again? Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again.

If you put not hanging out with hares at the top of your resolutions list this new year, you’re on track for the happy, healthy, tasty January you deserve – slow and steady wins the race.

Riverford Organic Farmers: riverford.co.uk; Demuths Cookery School: demuths.co.uk; Bath Farmers’ Market: bathfarmersmarket.co.uk