The New Year’s resolution circuit is a strong one: Year after year people of all ages and walks of life resolve to change or introduce something in the new year, be it a bad habit like smoking or a positive upgrade like volunteering with a charity. One thing that is always at the top of the resolutions list is losing weight. Due to yo-yo and crash dieting, the latest weight loss pill or eating fad, people who try to break into a healthier way of life in the New Year tend to fail every time. What’s the secret to living well and feeling your best? It’s all about ditching dieting—for good. It’s your lifestyle that has to change.
“Lifestyle changes take time and are found to be more effective if expectations are realistic, timing is right, there is a commitment to change and there is a supportive environment,” says Lisa Mize, a supervisor at Northside Hospital Behavioral Health Services. “Resolutions often fail because they tend to be made more impulsively without a clear plan for success in place.” This year, instead of saying you’re going to cut out carbs or finally lose 20 pounds, resolve to start changing your eating and exercise lifestyle right now. The timeline for positive life changes doesn’t begin January first—it starts when you make the decision to change.
Taking the First Step
Tami Drotleff, M.Ed., exercise physiologist at Northside Hospital Cardiac Rehabilitation, says, “One of the most common New Year’s resolutions is to begin an exercise program to become healthier. It is true that a regular exercise program consisting of both cardiovascular exercise and resistance training can lead to positive changes in cholesterol, blood pressure and blood glucose levels—it can increase one’s energy and assist in decreasing stress. Yet, with all of these positive outcomes, it always seems to be such a daunting task to initiate and continue a regular exercise program.”
Often the first step is the toughest, and for some, habits come quickly after that. For others, old habits die hard, especially involving food, which affects everything about us internally from blood sugar and energy to mood.
Among Drotleff’s recommendations for staying on track with a lifestyle change in exercise is to be realistic and flexible. Know yourself and what you absolutely will and will not do and sustain. “Review your lifestyle, including your likes, dislikes and schedule,” she says. “Try to find an activity that you enjoy. If you are a solitary person, an exercise class is not for you. If you don’t have time to do a 30-minute walk four days each week, break it up into three 10-minute segments throughout the day. One day of exercising is better than none at all!”
For Andrea Addington, RD, LD, system clinical nutrition manager at Northside Hospital, resolutions are as effective as they are realistic. “Resolutions are a good ‘starting place,’ but must be seen as more than a quick fix, short-term goal,” she says. “A resolution would be ‘lose 20 pounds,’ whereas a lifestyle change would be to exercise three times per week and increase water intake to 64 ounces per day; the lifestyle change would hopefully help support the resolution of weight loss, but it’s more specific and tangible.”
Sometimes it takes a village, and change from a sedentary lifestyle to an active one can often necessitate in support from those around you. Write down your goal and share it with your family, friends and co-workers who can help keep you on track in times of need. Getting a friend involved can also be wildly beneficial in keeping both of you motivated on the healthy track you’ve started. “We all have days where we are not motivated to exercise,” Drotleff says. “Having someone else expecting us to be there aids in keeping one on track and motivated to achieve our intended goal.”
And, of course, reward yourself—every exercise routine you complete is one more than you had previously been doing, and it matters. When the numbers on the scale won’t move or you feel it’s all for nothing, remember that weight loss that stays off is a lifetime achievement and every effort towards it counts.
Everything in Moderation
There’s a deceptively simple formula for weight loss, and yet losing weight and keeping it off eludes most. That’s where complicated diets like Nutrisystem and Atkins come in, when all that’s really required is knowing what you’re eating and consuming in moderation.
“A lot of times it’s worse to yo-yo- diet. That’s how people fall off the wagon—they don’t eat in moderation,” says Adriane Larson, owner of Adriane’s Delectables, a full-service catering company in Marietta. Foods that are traditionally unhealthy—pizzas, refined carbohydrates like pastries, fried foods—can be made with healthier substitutions to be more nutritious and eaten much less frequently to get you started on a healthier overall lifestyle. “If you implement more vegetables and fruits into your diet it will not only make you more satisfied, but it’s healthier for you,” says Larson.
While one calorie will always equal one calorie, the foods you eat are not at all equivalent. Fat, salt and refined carbohydrate percentages vary greatly from food to food, and making healthier choices rather than cutting out entire food groups will help you sustain weight loss once you’ve achieved it; cutting out all carbohydrates, for example, rather than significantly limiting high glycemic index carbohydrates like breads, pastas and rice will make it more likely that you will gain weight back when you eventually reintroduce those foods.
For the Whole Family
“There’s no time like the present to take stock of where you want your family’s health to be in 2015 and further down the road,” says Wendy Palmer, MS, RD, LD, CHES at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (CHOA). “As part of taking stock, we suggest parents consider ways to take simple steps toward healthier habits, like eating better and getting more exercise. It’s easier for kids to set realistic goals if we help them keep it simple.”
Focus your family on being active and eating well together by planning dinners and lunches and making activity fun and consistent. Call exercise fun time or play time and get the kids involved in new activities like dancing, hiking and long walks. “When it comes to eating better, instead of setting rules or limits on what you can’t eat, focus on what you can eat more of—the healthy stuff!” Palmer says. “Pick a new fruit or vegetable to try as a family and come up with new ways to prepare it. I bet your kids will enthusiastically try something they had a part in making.”
Dieting often increases restriction of foods and nutrients that growing bodies and brains need—plenty of fats like coconut and avocado have numerous health benefits and react differently with the body than the saturated and trans fats found in junk and fast foods. “As adults who have tried fad diets before, we know they don’t work,” Palmer says. “We need to role model more consistent healthy behaviors for our children such as eating more fruits and vegetables, drinking more water, being more active and limiting screen time. Everyone in the family will benefit.”
In the new year, “Figure out what’s getting in your way; you might be surprised to find you can do something about it!” Palmer adds. “As parents, it’s our job to teach our children healthy habits, so choose something that you think your family could get started on and take one small step. For example, if it’s your family’s habits with screens (TV, computer, smart phones, etc.) that prevent you from being physically active, then set a screen-free hour each night (more on the weekends), where you can do something fun together.”