Around mid January the reality sets in – it's a new year, and resolutions don't work. And yet, this was destined to be the year you do something to improve your health.
So take it easy by opting for one easy small change.
"It's human nature that we try to repair a complicated problem with a quick fix," says Brandon Gaudiano, PhD, a clinical psychologist at Butler Hospital. "If you want to change habits for a lifetime, you need to start thinking about your values. In other words, what are your motivations? Why is this important in your life? That's what you need to keep coming back to."
"Is it just to lose weight or look better? That might not be enough motivation in the long run. Do you want to be able to do things with your kids now and in the future? You need to remind yourself of the purpose," Dr. Gaudiano adds.
If you love food, why deprive yourself? Instead, make food more interesting. Explore the international sections of your supermarket and try a nutritious stir-fry or grain dish that includes small strips of meat for protein while loaded with crisp colorful vegetables. Try edamame (soy beans) that come frozen in their shell. Heat and eat by slipping the beans from their shell like you would peanuts. Your kids get to eat with their hands!
Break the white rice habit and try quinoa, barley, farro, steel cut oats, and other grains that are becoming mainstream because they're higher in protein and antioxidants. Don't be a dieter. Be an explorer. It's much more fun.
"An easy trick is to cook up a big batch of grains and freeze in portions. Then you can either add mushrooms and other vegetables for dinner, or chopped fruits and eat it for breakfast in just a matter of minutes," says Pam Hill, RD, a registered dietitian at Kent Hospital.
"There's no rocket science here. Make one change. That's the key."
- Pam Hill, registered dietitian, Kent Hospital
"People make mistakes by biting off more than they can chew, and not getting direction. There's so much misinformation floating around," Hill says, adding that this is especially true if you have Type 2 diabetes or a medical condition that requires monitoring. Getting a consultation from a registered dietitian is a good first step because you'll get advice from someone with medical knowledge.
"As a rule, dietitians don't like to put people on calorie-restrictive diets," Hill adds. "It's all about proper nutrition and portion control. When you reduce your calories too low, all you're doing is slowing down your metabolism."
A filled fruit bowl on the table makes for quick healthy snacking when you're on the run; speaking of which, running is something that was always a mental obstacle for one woman who now loves running half marathons. How did she make the change?
"I never knew there was a way to do this properly until I signed up for a beginners' running class at a local sports shop," says Alix. "We gathered twice a week. First we walked for four minutes and ran for two. Even with that, people were struggling. Throughout the 14-week program people, were expected to show up regardless of the weather. There were no excuses, and we were expected to do the program on our own three days each week. On those days, I got together with a woman I met in the group. That camaraderie made a big difference. If you don't show up, you're letting someone down. We went from being able to run literally nothing to a 5-mile race at the end of 14 weeks."
Three years later, Alix is still running. For her it wasn't about losing weight as much as staying healthy as she hit her 50s. "My clothes fit better and I sleep better. I don't have to diet. I can maintain a healthy weight just by exercising. The other thing is that I have not gotten sick or even had one cold. It feels like my resistance is better."
Activity vs. Exercise
Lynn, who promised herself every year that she'd get to the gym more often but never quite achieved her goal, decided to try a new approach and found a Tai Chi and Qigong class near her home. The ancient Chinese practice of Qigong offers the benefits of meditation and relaxation, which she really craved, while the slow flowing movements work every muscle in the body. It's easy to participate at your own level.
Now a year later, she has started a more advanced class that brings in elements of martial arts. Her muscles are harder and she feels like she has gained a much better sense of balance physically, mentally and emotionally.
Here are some fun ways to become more physically active in the winter:
- Walk. Find a buddy – a neighbor, friend or colleague at work.
- Take your camera on nature hikes.
- Sit on the floor and stretch. It's a gentle way to start the day.
- Dance. Ballet, ballroom, hip hop, Zumba. These are all offered to beginning adults.
- Try yoga.
- Go skiing – downhill or cross-country. Local shops rent packages, as do inns throughout New England.
- Tie on the ice skates. Indoor rinks have rentals.
"No matter what you choose, you're going to slip and backslide because that's being human. Success is about restarting. You're trying to change a habit you may have had for 40 years. It's going to require effort and you have to be realistic," Dr. Gaudiano says.
Hill agrees wholeheartedly. "Don't overwhelm yourself with large goals. Break it down into little steps." If you have an existing medical condition, check with your health care provider so you don't overdo it.
Start small, and make a change for a healthier lifestyle… now.
by Marcia Simon