Think about your past New Year’s resolutions. Did they feel like an overwhelming “To Do” list? What if you already have too much to do? Do exercise and eating more healthfully fall to the bottom of your priorities when your day-to-day obligations get in the way? In my experience, the answer for many is yes. That’s because adopting healthier habits isn’t something you simply cross off a list, it may be a lifelong process.
Did I just hear you groan?
In the past, my resolutions made me feel discouraged instead of inspired, so I decided it was time to start thinking in terms of a “revolution” instead of “resolutions.” Below are some of my favorite tips that got me started and may help you:
Start with a To Be list, not a To Do list
With a clear picture of how you want To Be, your To Do list may become a flexible, step-by-step, lifelong plan for gradually transforming yourself into the person you really want to become. For example, instead of writing “lose weight,” you could write “I want to become a healthier, active person who eats mindfully.”
Ask “why this and why now?”
It is essential to clearly identify your deeply personal reasons for making a change. To identify your inspiration, take out a piece of paper and answer these two questions about the change you wish to make:
1. Why is it important to me to make this change?
2. Why do I want to make this change now, at this point in my life?
Peel back the layers until you discover the “why?” that gives you shivers! Once you tap into powerful motivators that create strong emotion for you, they’ll help fuel the change process.
Small steps practiced consistently are often more effective than one large, temporary overhaul. I always tell people, “Don’t underestimate the value of a small change. The state of your health is determined by the thousands of little decisions you make about your eating, physical activity, and well-being.” Ask yourself, “What is the smallest goal I could set that I can realistically achieve?” and start there. For example, instead of writing “Go to the gym for an hour every day after work,” you could start with, “I will take the two flights of stairs up to my office twice a day.”
Think direction, not perfection
When your eating and physical activity plan takes into account your schedule, preferences, goals, health concerns, and other issues specific to you, you’re often able to establish a healthier lifestyle that is flexible enough to withstand the realities of your daily life. Perfection isn’t possible – and fortunately, it isn’t necessary!
Use nutrition information as a tool, not a weapon
Rigid dietary resolutions set us up for failure because when favorites are off-limits, we may feel denied and still want them. This may trigger cravings, overeating, and guilt, so you may find yourself in the trap I call the “eat-repent-repeat” cycle. Remember that all foods can fit into a healthy meal plan. Just keep in mind the common-sense principles of balance, variety, and moderation when deciding what to eat: balance eating for enjoyment with eating for nourishment; choose a variety of foods to feel healthy and satisfied; and practice moderation in all things. For example, instead of writing, “No more sweets,” try “I will eat vegetables at each meal to support my energy and health.”
Resolve to exercise for wellness, not punishment
Don’t make the mistake of exercising to earn the right to eat or pay penance for eating, as in, “I was so bad at dinner last night; I’ll spend an extra hour on the treadmill.” This approach can lead to dread and avoidance. Instead, exercise for energy, productivity, health, function, longevity – and fun! (If the activity you are resolving to do doesn’t seem fun, try something else.)
Focus on solutions
Obstacles and detours are natural parts of the change process, so be gentle with yourself. Challenges provide important learning opportunities; be creative and open to new paths to your goals. You can turn roadblocks into building blocks and be back on your way.
We are wired for the familiar, so change feels uncomfortable. The good news is that with practice, healthier eating and regular physical activity may soon feel familiar and more comfortable, too.
Begin with who you want to be, and your inspired, realistic resolutions will be the beginning of your healthier lifestyle revolution!
For more tips on working towards your New Year’s resolutions through nutrition and exercise, visit The DX archive.
Michelle May, MD, is a recovered yo-yo dieter and the award-winning author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes and Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: How to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle. May is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.
© 2013 The DX: The Diabetes Experience