New Year: New Mindset

February 07, 2018
 

By Marci Clark, R.D.

2018 is here! The beginning of a new year typically brings a renewed desire to reflect on the past, followed with promises to make changes for our own betterment over the months ahead.  Around 45 percent of us will make some kind of resolution to improve our health and well-being, but the reality is, only a small percentage (less than 10 percent) of us who make New Year resolutions will actually be successful in keeping them. So, when we resolve to eat better (which often translates to “start a diet”), to lose weight and exercise more, statistically the odds are against us from the start.  

Why are New Year resolutions so hard to keep? Perhaps it’s because we place unrealistic expectations on ourselves or embark on a radical change that is too difficult to sustain. Perhaps our focus is on the wrong thing, causing us to feel discouraged when we don’t see the results we hope for. Whatever the reason, ultimately, we regress back to our old behaviors with a sense of dismay.  So how can we be victorious in attaining our health goals? Avoid making rigid resolutions that will, inevitably, lead to failure. Resolve to shift your mindset and opt for a different perspective, one of self-love and acceptance, based on the principles of “Health at Every Size Approach” which emphasizes lifestyle choices that benefit both health and well-being, regardless of size, shape, weight or ability.

Focus on wellness not weight loss: Weight does not always equal health. People can be healthy or unhealthy at both lower and higher weights. Studies have shown that the cycle of repeated weight loss and weight gain through dieting can be detrimental to both physical, and emotional health. So rather than obsess about losing those extra 5 pounds., embrace new habits that emphasize whole body health, even if they don’t lead to weight change.

Aim for intuitive eating not dieting: The research is unequivocal, diets don’t work. Dieting makes us stop listening to our bodies. It dictates what we eat, when we eat, and how much we should eat, causing us to ignore our own internal cues of taste, hunger and satiety. Most diets often limit or exclude certain food groups, putting our bodies at risk for potential  nutrient deficiencies, not to mention, once we “go on” a diet we become obsessed with all the foods we are “not allowed” to have. Eventually, despite our valiant effort, we succumb to our cravings, often binging on the food that we tried so hard to avoid. Guilt and shame quickly set in, leaving us to feel a lack of self-worth. So, why not resolve to eat intuitively by focusing on your natural hunger and fullness signals rather than one of restriction and deprivation? Listen to your body, eat when you’re hungry, and stop when you’re not. Make food choices that honor your health as well as your taste buds. Focus on moderation and a balanced approach to eating that encompasses a variety of nutritious foods. Not only will this help to foster a healthy relationship with food, but you will feel more satisfied.

Exercise for health not a “perfect” body: Many of us resolve to get back into the gym to start that hard core, intense resistance and cardio training. We tell ourselves “no pain, no gain.” But all too soon our desires to exercise fizzles out because it’s not fun, nor are we seeing the results we are hoping for fast enough. Our motivation to continue slowly fades away leaving us to feel once again like a failure. But don’t be discouraged, the evidence suggests that risk factors, such as high blood pressure and cholesterol, can improve in the absence of weight loss.  The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, recommend at least 2 1/2 hours of moderate activity (such as a brisk walking) per week but any amount of physical activity, regardless of the duration, is progress to better health. So stop worrying about the number of calories you need to burn to fit into those skinny jeans and engage in physical activities that you enjoy. Focus on the immediate feelings exercise gives you- a boost in energy, a better mood, a sense of accomplishment- and the security knowing that you are taking steps toward improving your health.  

Lastly, don’t be overly critical about your body shape or size. Feel better right now with the body you are in, acknowledging your positive attributes. Embrace your individuality and focus on loving yourself. We know research tell us that regular physical activity and sound nutrition improve health. So take comfort in that and make small changes to build better habits that cultivate self-acceptance and self-respect.

The author is a registered dietitian with NorthBay Healthcare.

 

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