New Habits for a New Year

It’s a new year. It’s a time of self-reflection and goal setting –– to eat healthier, exercise more and lose weight. But how do you develop these habits?

The typical gung-ho response is two weeks of unbearable ‘perfect’ torture followed by a year of mental torture –– self-doubt, and guilt –– when old habits resume. Consider a new resolution: not to fall into this trap.

Be patient

A recent study found it can take an average of 66 days to develop a habit –– the activity is automatic, with little resistance, like brushing your teeth. Simple tasks, like eating fresh fruit daily, could take fewer days to accomplish while more challenging tasks, like exercising 30 minutes a day, could take longer.

Be realistic

Aiming to lose 50 pounds in a month is failure before trying. A prudent rate of loss is 1 to 3 pounds weekly. Rapid weight loss indicates an unrealistic eating plan, and it is not likely to last long. It also robs the body of desirable muscle mass. Slow and steady weight loss wins the race, especially when combined with a sensible weight-training program (20 to 30 minutes, two or three times weekly.) The weight lost, mostly from fat mass, is likely to stay off.

Make a plan

Determining how you will accomplish your goal will also help to assess your readiness for change. For example, wanting to exercise daily may not be realistic if your work and home life is chaotic. To be ready, you may need to first make changes, like saying no to volunteer work, asking for help with child care or resolving to leave work on time. To prepare healthy dinners, you may need to plan food and shop from that list, prep food on the weekends or have simple go-to meals. A registered dietitian can provide suggestions that fit with an individual’s lifestyle, work routine and food preferences.

Assess self-thinking

Realistic thinking and self-confidence is essential to habit change. Many adhere to “all-or-nothing” scenarios.

For example: “I need to eliminate all ‘treat foods’ from my diet and ‘eat clean’ or ‘I am a failure, why bother at all.’

This can result in negativity and poor eating.

‘Treat foods’ in reasonable amounts are part of normal eating and socialization. A professional dietitian is trained to help bring ‘gray’ thinking to the process, essential to developing long-lasting habits and to help turn negative thoughts into positive thinking patterns, which boost self-esteem.

Some Blue Cross/Blue Shield plans offer unlimited visits, without a co-pay, to see a dietitian for medical conditions such as pre-diabetes, glucose intolerance or diabetes. This benefit recognizes the length of time it can take to develop healthy, long-lasting habits.

Consider a recent client, ‘Karen.’ It took her six weeks to understand how negative thinking was impacting her self-care. During this time, she was not ready to make changes and did not lose any weight. Now, three months later, after considerable self-reflection, and non-judgmental support, Karen has lost 20 pounds, is off one diabetes medication and has cut her cholesterol medication in half. She has developed realistic habits and feels confident and motivated to continue. Health care dollars well spent.

Joan Endyke is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in food and nutrition. Send your questions to her at www.wickedgoodhealth.com. This column is not intended to diagnose or treat disease. Check with your doctor before changing your diet.

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