By Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD
As the New Year approaches, it’s time to consider what to change in terms of healthy habits. Many will decide to take a healthier path, whether that be eating better or exercising or both. Some people will do well, while others will find themselves back at square one come February.
Here are five clues your New Year’s Resolution is on the wrong track — and what to do about it before it’s too late.
1. Try to do too much at once: One mistake people make is attempting to change too much at once. So if you totally revamp your diet and commit to extensive workouts, you may see immediate results, but the behaviors can be hard to maintain.
A better idea is to pick a few doable tasks and build on them in ways that fit your lifestyle and personal preferences. If you haven’t been exercising at all, try to fit in activity for 5-10 minutes most days. Pick one area of your diet to focus on, like adding more produce. Once you have seamlessly fit the new behavior in, add on.
2. Only focus on food and exercise: I have found that what often holds people back from healthy habits has nothing to do with food. For example, if you are someone who has a hard time with stress and can’t say “no,” it will be difficult to take time for you.
So check all the areas of your life and consider what is at the root of a health-related issue you are having, because that is the best place to start.
3. Choose the wrong goal: When it comes to our health, it’s easy to make changes for all the things we are told to do it for — weight, health, to look good and age well. The problem is when someone else is dictating why we should do something. That thwarts motivation.
Take a 2012 study in the Journal of Nutrition and Dietetics with over 2000 mid-life women. For every 10 unit increase in autonomous regulation of behaviors (choosing to eat well because they wanted to), there was a 2% decrease in Body Mass Index. This supports what psychologists call Self Determination Theory, supporting internal tendencies to behave in healthy ways.
So figure out compelling reasons to make a healthy lifestyle a priority that profoundly affects your life in positive ways, and you will be more likely to stick with it.
4. Do not make plans to re-evaluate: When health goals fall short, people often give up because they lack time. But what is missing is the need to readjust plans. So that morning workout didn’t pan out, try to exercise at lunch. Having trouble getting breakfast in? Come up with simpler options or have food to eat at work.
If you go into it expecting challenges, it will make success much more likely. And over time you will build a healthy lifestyle that works well for you.
5. Be too hard on yourself: According to a 2007 study published the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, highly restrictive eaters who were taught to think more self-compassionately about how they eat ate less candy compared to the restrictive eaters who were not taught to be self-compassionate. According to the researchers: In general, people who treat themselves with compassion when they overeat might be more successful at regulating their eating because they are less motivated to eat in order to cope with negative self–feelings, and this might be particularly true of restrictive eaters.
So let go of the judgment when things get tough and treat yourself with some self-compassion. Watch those negative thoughts and try saying to yourself the same thing you would say to a friend in that same situation.
I always make new health goals at the beginning of the year. I try to remember these points so I make progress and come out healthier the next time around. How about you?