It is almost the new year, which is about the time when we all start resolving to change those things we don’t like about ourselves. For many years running, many people include items like “go on a diet” and “go to the gym” to these lists, only to give up a few weeks in. The failure never stops them from doing it all over again the next year. We are learning more and more about why diets fail, from both physical and psychological perspectives, and although exercise is good, an entire overhaul of your fitness regimen in one day is never going to stick. This list will provide you with some easy-to-stick-to, good-for-your-body resolutions that may just last the whole year long.
1. Include more whole foods in your diet.
You’ve probably heard the purported benefits of whole foods being shouted from the mountaintops for the past few years. But if you take a good look at your diet, do you really get enough? Whole grains fill you up for longer and keep your blood glucose more stable than simple carbs. Whole foods can also refer to non-processed foods—lots of produce (shoot for about half of one plate per meal) and less shelf-stable items. A good way of thinking about this is ‘shopping the perimeter of the grocery store’ as all the processed stuff is going to be in the middle aisles.
2. Don’t be afraid of fat or carbs.
Fat and carbs have long been demonized in the diet and fitness world. Since the 1980s, fat-free food has taken over grocery shelves, tricking unknowing shoppers into thinking that fats make you fat. However—fat is an essential part of our diet, and although it is true that some Americans’ intake does include too much saturated and trans fat, we need it to keep our heart healthy. Contrary to popular belief, monounsaturated fat actually reduces LDL (bad cholesterol) levels. They may also improve insulin resistance and blood sugar levels in diabetics.
Carbohydrates are another food that—thanks to the Atkins diet—have been shunned by many people. Dropping carbohydrates quickly from your diet causes your body to produce ketones, which makes you lose weight, but also wreaks havoc on your kidneys. As soon as you reintroduce carbs back into your diet and eat normally again, you may gain it all back—or more. Carbohydrates are changed into glucose, which is a primary energy source in the brain. They also keep us full the longest out of any food, and contain fiber which is essential for digestive function.
3. Treat yourself to a food when you’re craving it.
Even with all the rules about eating healthy, making sure you include enough fruits and vegetables and whole grains, we are not perfect humans! And we do get cravings. For some people, they are for salty, greasy foods—others have sweet teeth. But when you’re trying to make a lifestyle change, the thing to do is not to ignore these cravings… Sometimes the right move is to have some. A craving is your body sending you a message—if you want a cookie, or a bag of chips, have one. Trust yourself that you will not eat the whole box or bag. Deprivation only leads to sadness and potential bingeing later. Make sure you are eating enough to sustain and nourish your body, and take care of yourself by treating yourself every so often.
4. Think of calories as fuel – not the enemy.
This is a fairly simple resolution and yet one that does get lost in the shuffle. The real use of calories gets lost in calorie counting and the piles of information that gets shoved in our faces when we watch TV, go online, or even walk into a restaurant nowadays. Calorie counts are everywhere and can fill you with a sense of trepidation. The FDA makes its recommendations off of a 2000-calorie-a-day diet, which is not one-size-fits-all. Counting calories every day can create a loss of trust with your body—if you eat the recommended amount and are still hungry, you may not be eating enough! If you think of food as fuel, and eat when you’re hungry and stop as you’re full, the trust will get stronger, and there will be no place for counting anymore.
5. Adopt a way of moving your body that feels good to you.
One of the most overused resolutions in addition to “lose weight,” is “go to the gym” or “start exercising.” This, just like losing weight, is almost impossible to do quickly without a long and enduring lifestyle change. Many people who have not exercised before in their lives do not enjoy the regimented, painful feeling of going to a gym every day. And the truth is, you do not see a bodily change for quite a few weeks—it makes sense that many people do not stick it out for that long. However, if you start small and work up to a more intense workout, you have more of a chance of sticking with it. I recommend choosing something you love to do. Try a few different things—go to a few different classes, or try the treadmill, elliptical, free yoga instruction online, and see what works for you. It is different for everyone. A bonus in the exercising world: once you find that something that you love, you will find others that love the same thing, and you will make new friends along the way.
Happy New Year, and be well!