New Year, New You!

Turn Resolutions into Real Solutions for Healthy Living in the New Year

In 2019, 48% of the people who made New Year’s resolutions wanted to lose weight, based on information from a YouGov survey. Other popular resolutions included exercising more (59%) and eating healthier (54%). So, if you are looking for a ‘New Year, New YOU!’ mindset, you are not alone. Turn your resolutions into real solutions for healthy eating and exercising by preparing today, not on January 1.

Elizabeth H. Hess, MD, UHC Family Medicine Residency Associate Program Director and Integrative Medicine Director recommends taking a personal inventory when contemplating changes or resolutions. “I think it’s important when you think about a New Year / New You theme that it’s not limited to resolutions about a specific weight loss goal. We often focus on numbers on the scale but a New You – should start with a mindset and emphasize how you accept yourself and choose to take steps that will help you feel better and stronger and more empowered as you reduce your risk of many chronic diseases like hypertension, diabetes and heart disease. “

There is a plethora of information available concerning New Year’s resolutions and too often, that information overload can be the reason many people set unrealistic resolutions or goals that are difficult to maintain.

A photo of Elizabeth Hess, MD

“I recommend starting with small steps, but at the same time celebrate milestones along the way,” said Dr. Hess. “This strategy is proven to be successful—yet simple—as it focuses on small, practical changes that add up to a healthy lifestyle over time.”

Importance of Physical Activity

Regular physical activity is essential for good health. It also important to incorporate it early into your routine if you are trying to lose weight as it helps maintain healthy weight once you reach a particular weight loss goal. You want to choose activities that you enjoy and can do regularly.

Dr. Hess emphasizes, “Regular physical activity is an essential part of this wellness journey and yes it can aid with weight loss and more specifically help maintain weight loss – but the benefits of physical activity go way beyond the waist line. Specifically, regular physical activity helps elevate your mood and has shown to be an effective treatment or add on treatment for anxiety and depression. It also plays a role in healthy sleep patterns. Finally it gives our immune system a natural boost, which is so essential during the Covid pandemic. “

Guidelines

Dr. Hess states, “It’s recommended that adults engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity a week. Adults should also add 2 days of resistance training to their routine as well as explore activities that improve flexibility. Exercise can help maintain weight loss over time but most importantly it is necessary to stay well. If using exercise to maintain a certain weight loss goal, the amount needed would be individualized and balanced with dietary intake and how sedentary an individual is during the rest of the day. Aerobic exercise does not have to be done in one continuous setting. 10 minutes of activity at a time can be interspersed through your day if that conforms to your schedule better. For example, walking the dog for 10 minutes before and after work or adding a 10-minute walk at lunchtime can add to your weekly goal. It is important to realize that 45 minutes in the gym or running is great, but if we turn around and sit the rest of the day at a desk, research suggests that a lot of the good we just did for our bodies can be negated. That’s why it’s important to adopt a “movement oriented” mind-set throughout our entire day.” She adds, “There’s also research demonstrating that exercising outdoors in the fresh air actually improves attitude and mood over performing exercise inside, another bonus while trying to social distance in Covid times. Obviously one would have to balance the benefit of outdoor exercise with safety issues of weather and lighting as well as outdoor air quality, but it is quite invigorating to take a walk in freshly fallen snow.”

Burning Calories

The following table shows calories used in common physical activities at both moderate and vigorous levels, note that this all depends on the rate at which these activities are performed.

Dr. Hess explains, “Calories burned should not be the lone focus of the physical activity. In a study using calorie burn or exercise alone without other lifestyle modifications to lose weight, it required a month of 60 minutes of daily vigorous exercise to lose a pound. But it is helpful to understand the energy requirements for activities as it can help guide our food and nutrient intake.”

Moderate intensity

While performing a physical activity, your breathing and heart rate is noticeably faster, but you can still carry on a conversation — it is probably moderately intense. Examples of these types of activity include:

  • Walking briskly (a 15-minute mile).
  • Light yard work (raking/bagging leaves or using a lawn mower).
  • Light snow shoveling.
  • Actively playing with children.
  • Biking at a casual pace.

Vigorous intensity

If your heart rate substantially increases and you are breathing too hard and fast to have a conversation, it is probably vigorously intense. Examples of these types of activity include:

  • Jogging/running.
  • Swimming laps.
  • Rollerblading/inline skating at a brisk pace.
  • Cross-country skiing.
  • Most competitive sports (football, basketball, or soccer).
  • Jumping rope.

Healthy eating solutions

When asked where to start with developing healthy eating patterns, Dr. Hess offered the following. “Most of us have developed habits of how, when and why we eat. When we want to make changes in our diet and nutrition, I think it’s very important to also reflect on our attitudes toward food and our relationship with food. How, when and why we eat can often have deep seated emotional triggers and if these issues are not addressed it can be difficult to make lasting changes to how we see and use food to nourish ourselves. A lot of patients often want to adopt a radical change or a so called “fad diet” and hope to see rapid changes in weight. Weight loss management experts often don’t recommend just one way of eating or prescribed diet plan. It’s important that all the nutrients and micronutrients our body requires are included or supplemented in our eating pattern, but for a starting point, I would suggest starting with a mindfulness based eating program.” “Mindful eating is about using mindfulness or our full attention to learn to recognize the difference between true hunger and non-hunger triggers and to really pay attention to our experience of eating. Eating has become a mindless act, often done quickly in front of televisions and smartphones. It can take the brain up to 20 minutes to realize the body is full so often this signal is too late and we have already eaten too much. Mindful eating involves eating slowly without distraction, learning to distinguish between true hunger or emotional or habit eating cues and only eating until you are full. It also stresses engaging all the senses in the act of eating and noticing how food affects your feelings. It makes eating intentional and not automatic. This mindful act of eating will lend to any nutrition program you adopt for weight management but most importantly it will build a healthy relationship and appreciation for the food you eat. “

The 3R’s of nutrition

Permanently improving your eating habits requires a thoughtful approach in which you Reflect, Replace, and Reinforce, otherwise known as the 3R’s.

Reflect

You will want to reflect on all of your specific eating habits, both bad and good; and, your common triggers for unhealthy eating. Create a list of your eating habits. Keep a food diary for a few days. Write down everything you eat and the time of day you eat it. This will help you uncover your habits.

Highlight the habits on your list that may be leading you to overeat. Common eating habits that can lead to weight gain are:

  • Eating too fast
  • Always cleaning your plate
  • Eating when not hungry
  • Eating while standing up (may lead to eating mindlessly or too quickly)
  • Always eating dessert
  • Skipping meals (or maybe just breakfast)

Look at the unhealthy eating habits you have highlighted. Be sure you have identified all the triggers that cause you to engage in those habits. Identify a few you would like to work on improving first.

Create a list of “cues” by reviewing your food diary to become more aware of when and where you are “triggered” to eat for reasons other than hunger.

Common triggers for eating when not hungry are:

  • Opening up the cabinet and seeing your favorite snack food.
  • Sitting at home watching television.
  • Before or after a stressful meeting or situation at work.
  • Coming home after work and having no idea what is for dinner.
  • Having someone offer you a dish they made “just for you!”
  • Walking past a candy dish on the counter.
  • Sitting in the break room beside the vending machine.
  • Seeing a plate of doughnuts at the morning staff meeting.
  • Swinging through your favorite drive-through every morning.
  • Feeling bored or tired and thinking food might offer a pick-me-up.

Circle the “cues” on your list that you face on a daily or weekly basis.

Ask yourself these questions for each “cue” you’ve circled:

  • Is there anything I can do to avoid the cue or situation? This option works best for cues that do not involve others. For example, could you choose a different route to work to avoid stopping at a fast food restaurant on the way? Is there another place in the break room where you can sit so you are not next to the vending machine?
  • For things I cannot avoid, can I do something differently that would be healthier? Obviously, you cannot avoid all situations that trigger your unhealthy eating habits, like staff meetings at work. In these situations, evaluate your options. Could you suggest or bring healthier snacks or beverages? Could you offer to take notes to distract your attention? Could you sit farther away from the food so it will not be as easy to grab something? Could you plan ahead and eat a healthy snack before the meeting?
Replace

Replace your unhealthy eating habits with healthier ones.

  • For example, in reflecting upon your eating habits, you may realize that you eat too fast when you eat alone. So, make a commitment to share a lunch each week with a colleague, or have a neighbor over for dinner one night a week. Another strategy is to put your fork down between bites. Also, minimize distractions, such as watching your favorite TV program while you eat. Such distractions keep you from paying attention to how quickly and how much you are eating.
  • Eat more slowly. If you eat too quickly, you may “clean your plate” instead of paying attention to whether your hunger is satisfied.
  • Eat only when you are truly hungry instead of when you are tired, anxious, or feeling an emotion besides hunger. If you find yourself eating when you are experiencing an emotion besides hunger, such as boredom or anxiety, try to find a non-eating activity to do instead. You may find a quick walk helps you feel better.
  • Plan meals ahead of time to ensure that you eat a healthy well-balanced meal.
Reinforce

Reinforce your new, healthy habits and be patient with yourself. Habits take time to develop. It does not happen overnight. When you do find yourself engaging in an unhealthy habit, stop as quickly as possible and ask yourself: Why do I do this? When did I start doing this? What changes do I need to make? Be careful not to berate yourself or think that one mistake “blows” a whole day’s worth of healthy habits. You can do it! It just takes one day at a time.

“Remember, that even a modest weight loss of 5 to 10 percent of your total body weight is likely to produce health benefits, such as improvements in blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood sugars,” said Dr. Hess. “So even if the overall goal seems large, see it as a journey rather than just a final destination.”

You will learn new eating and physical activity habits that will help you live a healthier lifestyle. These habits may help you maintain your weight loss over time.

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