From the Desk of The Nutty Nutritionist

Making Sustainable New Year’s Resolutions

In Weight Loss, Wellness on December 28, 2011 at 6:25 PM

It’s that time of year again!!!  Time to start thinking about your New Year’s resolutions….  It is no surprise to hear that the most popular resolution is to adopt a healthier lifestyle—whether that means quitting smoking, eating better, losing weight, exercising more, finding a less stressful job, or all of the above.   Every January, I receive a higher volume of phone calls and emails from prospective new clients, each requesting my assistance with adopting healthier lifestyle practices. 

I heard on the radio this morning that 85% of Americans fail to maintain their New Year’s resolutions for longer than 2-3 months.  Hmmm…why do you think that is?  In my opinion, I believe many folks set overly ambitious goals for themselves, and expect perfection right from the start.   Maintaining resolutions to live healthier lives may be more attainable by setting a series of small goals over the coarse of the entire year, rather than setting one BIG goal in January.  Want to lose weight in 2012?  Rather than trying to drop 20 pounds as quickly as possible by over-exercising and under-eating in January, February, and March (hello BURNOUT!), make small changes to your eating and exercise habits over the course of the year.   Allowing yourself 12 months to achieve small, sustainable goals will add up to something big come December, without the fatigue and frustration of “too much too soon”.  Not only are you more likely to sustain the effort with each small accomplishment, your new health habits are more likely to stick long-term.  When it comes to sustainable weight control habits, patience is a virtue!  To help you get a jumpstart on this realistic goal-setting endeavor, I will offer some easy, yet effective, common sense advice for losing weight and feeling great the whole year through: 

First and foremost, be realistic about weight loss–

The amount of weight you need to lose to improve your health may be much less than you think.  Whether you want to have more energy, improve your blood sugar or cholesterol levels, lower your blood pressure, or prevent obesity-related chronic disease, losing just 5-10% of your starting weight can impart substantial health benefits.  That is a mere 10-20 pounds for a 200 pound person!  Seems attainable, doesn’t it?   Setting a modest weight loss goal like this is both realistic and worthwhile.  Once you drop those first 10-20 pounds, you can then decide if you are ready and able to lose more. It is best to start the New Year with a realistic goal you can achieve.  Setting an overly ambitious goal, such as losing 50 pounds right off the bat, increases your chances of abandoning the effort within the first 2-3 months.

Keep a journal to identify unhealthy habits

Achieving long-term weight loss is most easily accomplished by setting a series of small, specific, realistic goals.  Keep a food and exercise journal for one full week to identify areas for change.  Record what you eat, how much you eat, when you eat, as well as comments regarding your whereabouts (in car, at restaurant, on the couch, etc..) and feelings or emotions that may be driving your food choices (starving, bored, lonely, sad, stressed out, etc.).   Keep track of calories by measuring portions and reading food labels.  To monitor activity, write down what you did, when, where, and how long you exercised on any given day.  Keeping a diary like this will help you identify areas for improvement as well as provide reinforcement for maintaining healthier habits.  Even if you are not trying to lose weight this year, identifying unhealthy behaviors is the first step towards improving your overall lifestyle.

After that first week, review your journal by asking yourself some questions:  What types of foods am I overeating?  Am I getting enough fruits and vegetables?  How can I improve the timing of my meals?  Am I eating in restaurants or ordering carry-out too often?  Am I consuming too many calories from beverages?  How can I set limits on my favorite foods without feeling deprived?  Do I need to increase my overall activity level?

Set the right “action” goals

Once you have identified areas for change, choose one or two small, specific behavior goals to focus on for the next week, such as:

I will walk five days a week for at least 30 minutes.

I will pack my lunch for work three times a week.

I will eat breakfast every day.

I will avoid white flour products and consume only 100% whole grains.

I will stop drinking beverages containing sugar such as regular soda and juices.

I will stop drinking high-calorie coffee drinks.

I will eat dinner in restaurants only two times per week.

I will not order fried foods in restaurants.                                                                         

I will eat at least 1 cup of vegetables at lunch and dinner every day.

I will not skip meals.

I will eat every 3-4 hours to control my appetite.

I will limit each between-meal snack to 100-150 calories.

I will eat fish instead of beef two times per week.

I will eat only a half sandwich at my favorite deli.

I will use a pedometer to track the number of steps I take each day.

Effective goals, such as “I will walk five days a week for at least 30 minutes” or “I will eat at least 1 cup of vegetables at lunch and dinner every day”, have three valuable components: they are specific, attainable, and forgiving.

A specific goal is one you can easily measure:  have you walked at least 30 minutes for five days this week?  Did you eat at least a cup of vegetables at lunch and dinner every day?  You would be able to measure your success by reviewing your food and exercise diary.  Setting a less specific goal such as “walk more” or “eat more vegetables” makes it difficult to determine if you truly met your goal.

An attainable goal is one that you are likely to reach.  Setting a goal to exercise 90 minutes a day may be too ambitious for someone with a hectic schedule.  Promising to “exercise at least 30 minutes five days a week” allows you to achieve this goal whether you have time for an hour or only 30 minutes of exercise on any given day.  You want to feel gratified and successful meeting your goals rather than discouraged. 

Finally, a forgiving goal is one that allows you to be less than “perfect” and prevents the all-or-nothing mentality.  In other words, setting a lofty goal to exercise every day leads to feelings of failure if you only manage to exercise five times in a given week.  In this case, allow yourself some flexibility by planning to “exercise 5-7 days a week” to eliminate any feelings of guilt on days when you really are too busy or don’t feel well enough to exercise.  Whether you exercise 5, 6, or 7 days a week, you have met your goal.  Feeling successful reinforces new habits.

Create a healthy environment

Learn what social or environmental cues seem to encourage undesired eating, and then attempt to change those cues.  For example, if you tend to eat more while watching television, you may try to stop watching as much TV or try not to eat while watching television—make a plan to eat only at the kitchen table, with the TV turned off.  In general, visible and accessible food items are often cues for unplanned eating—-do not leave food out on the counter—keep it packed away in the pantry.  Or, better yet, keep your favorite high-calorie foods out of the house altogether–out of sight, out of mind! 

Do not rush meal time.   Did you know it takes 15-20 minutes for your brain to get the message that your body has been fed?  Eating more slowly will give your body more time to send this signal, so that you end up eating less.  Eating high fiber foods, lean protein, and vegetables can help you feel full longer.  Try serving food on smaller plates so that moderate portions do not seem so skimpy.  Keep serving bowls off the table to discourage second helpings. 

Setting regularly scheduled meal times may also make it easier to eat smaller portions. Delaying or skipping meals ultimately results in overeating from a ravenous appetite.  Aim to eat a meal or snack every 3-4 hours to best control your appetite.  Going out to a restaurant?  Eat a small snack before you go, such as fruit, yogurt, or a small handful of nuts, making it easier to resist unhealthy choices and over-sized portions. 

Now it is up to you!  Identifying areas for change and setting small, sensible goals is a straightforward way to start changing unhealthy habits this year.  If you are unable to meet a specific goal after 1-2 weeks, re-write the goal to be more realistic or set a different goal.  Successful, long-term weight management is always best achieved by making permanent lifestyle changes, not by following a prescribed “diet” for a short period of time.  Take small steps that are easy to achieve, and with patience, time, and perseverance, you will be rewarded with a thinner, healthier you!  Whether you want to lose weight, lower your blood sugar, cholesterol, or blood pressure, have more energy, or prevent problems in the future, creating healthier lifestyle habits will help you feel better and live a longer, more productive life.

Have a happy and healthy 2012!



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