How to Make Lasting Healthy Resolutions
It’s New Year’s Eve, the last night permission is given to shove our faces with all the junk food and drinks that will be sworn off tomorrow morning. It’s the last acceptable day not to exercise–besides, we are all too busy making the party food that no one’s touching again for twelve months (yeah right). Obviously, the most popular New Year’s resolution every year is to lose weight and get fit, but most resolutions are abandoned by the end of January. So how do you make a resolution that can actually be reached? It’s not by saying you are going to drop 40 pounds, exercise 5 times a week, and give up sweets (I could never do that!), and it’s probably not possible for 99.9% of the population either. Lasting New Year’s resolutions are this: realistic, flexible, and committable.
Are you really ready for change?
Why do you want to make lifestyle changes? Do you want to ward off diabetes, lose weight to play more with your kids, or be able to run a half marathon? If you are emotionally connected to your resolutions, they mean more. So, before you go pay for a gym membership or throw away all your junk food, ask yourself if you are committed to making a lifestyle change. If your brain isn’t ready for action, your body definitely won’t be. If you just think it would be a good idea to drop some pounds and get your heart rate up more often, your resolution won’t last more than a month. If you want to lose weight and become more active you must be ready to take action. That doesn’t mean you won’t slip up and backslide (which is perfectly normal) but it does mean you are committed to getting out of your comfort zone to end up a healthier you by this time next year.
What’s in a successful resolution?
Specificity: Don’t make broad goals like: “I’m going to eat better,” and “I will lose some weight,” or “I’m going to work out more.” Phrase your goals in a way that allows you to track their progress: “I will exercise for 30 minutes 3 times per week,” or “I’m going to eat a piece of fruit with my breakfast 5 days a week”, and “I will lose 1 pound per week.” While these type of goals may sound too small or simple, they are appropriate and measurable. Once you’ve mastered eating a piece of fruit with breakfast, add some more with lunch or throw in another helping of vegetables at dinner; there’s no rule that says resolutions can’t be adjusted and built upon. Plus, small successes will fuel you to continue making healthy changes.
Accountability: Write your goals down. People who put their goals on paper are more likely to succeed. Stick post-it notes on your mirror, pantry, fridge, and at the office. Share your goals with friends, family, a personal trainer, or even find a dietitian to work with (shameless plug: I am available for consults); the more people you share your goals with, the more people can hold you accountable and support you in your journey to better health. For motivation, it can even be a good strategy to find a picture online or in a magazine of what your ideal body would look like; just be realistic–not everyone can look like a Victoria’s Secret model or body-builder.
No extremes: If your resolution has you hitting the gym 90 minutes a day or going on some crazy detox diet for a month, let’s face it: you will probably fail. If you want to lose weight and get healthy, don’t start a diet or exercise plan you wouldn’t do the rest of your life. Steer clear of diets that have you on 500 calories, popping magic weight loss supplements, or giving up a whole food group like carbohydrates. Here are some methods that result in successful, long-term healthy behaviors:
- Maintenance first: If it’s been a while since you counted your calories or attempted to lose weight, you may want to spend the first few weeks of the new year practicing weight maintenance. Keep a log of what you eat and how much you exercise on a smartphone app like LoseIt or MyFitnessPal. Once you’ve practiced logging foods to maintain your current weight, cut back on calories to start losing. Using measuring cups or a $10 food scale from Wal-Mart is a great way to check your portion sizes in the beginning.
- Slowly incorporate healthy eating habits: Make small goals to increase your consumption of natural foods: think whole grains, lean meat, and local fruits and vegetables. Eventually the bad processed foods with 40+ ingredients will get phased out. You’ll have a ton more energy too.
- No all or nothing thinking: Don’t swear off any foods: saying “I’m never eating cake again!” will probably result in you sitting in a corner some weekday evening quietly sobbing over broken resolutions, while devouring a whole cake (okay, that’s probably an exaggeration, but you get the point). You don’t have to give up cake or any of your favorite foods, you just have to eat less of them. I personally follow a 90:10 rule: I eat healthy 90% of the time, and then don’t feel guilty during that 10% when I have a scoop of regular ice cream or a greasy burger. Removing the guilt also reduces your likelihood to overindulge.
Remember that behavior changes take time. No matter what your resolution is, it won’t happen overnight. There will be setbacks, and at some point you’ll probably want to throw in the towel; but remember what motivated you to pick those resolutions in the first place, don’t give up, try again, and ultimately you will succeed.