We start the New Year with the best of intentions. We vow to drop those stubborn extra pounds, join a gym, drink less, quit smoking, get more sleep or find a lower-stress approach to life. January may produce awesome results, but when the wear and tear of daily life settles in, sticking to our resolve can become challenging. But don’t give up! You can turn your goals into lifelong habits with some determination, planning and support.
If you find that you’re struggling with a new goal, it may be time to ask yourself if you’re really ready to change, says Meg Baker, director of Employee Wellness at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She describes three stages of change:
- Precontemplation (unwilling to make a change)
- Contemplation (considering a change)
- Action (implementing the change)
“Readiness to change is a big factor,” she says. “You have to want to change your lifestyle to successfully improve your health.”
Baker offers these tips to facilitate a change:
- Develop small, short-term, realistic goals that will fit into your schedule.
- Consider the benefits and reasons for the change.
- Talk to a family member, friend or co-worker about your goals. This accountability will increase the likelihood that you’ll remain committed to a new gym regimen or smoking cessation plan. Your support person may even want to join you.
- Join a workplace wellness program if one is available. You spend a lot of time at work so it’s a good place to implement your new habits.
- Keep reminding yourself why you’re making the changes. What are the benefits you’re going to enjoy?
“Whether it is to boost your energy level, improve mood, combat health conditions and disease, or to be there for your kids’ future, there’s always a reason that a resolution was made,” Baker says. “So when the going gets tough, remind yourself of why you’re making a lifestyle change, and this will keep you motivated.”
Start small, she advises, and enjoy each piece of progress. She also suggests using digital reinforcements, such as tracking systems and apps provided by health organizations or the government (the American Heart Association or Smokefree.gov).
If you get bored with an exercise routine or new eating plan, changing it up could reignite your enthusiasm. If you continue to struggle to adopt improved health habits, consider enlisting the help of a professional. You may find your new diet or exercise regimen is difficult because you’re following some impractical or misguided advice.
“Whether it’s weight loss, functional foods, food allergies or menu and food labels, nutrition is one of the hottest topics in the country today,” says Lauri Wright, a registered dietitian nutritionist and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson. “Just like seeking a doctor’s advice when looking for medical information, it is vital that consumers understand the importance of where they get their nutrition information. Misinformation from individuals who are uneducated, untrained or unqualified in nutrition can, at the least, be a waste of time, and at the worst, be fatal.”
For weight loss, in particular, it may be helpful to seek advice because each person has different needs, challenges and strengths.
“There is no magic bullet or one-size-fits-all approach to healthy eating,” Wright says. “After meeting with consumers on an individual basis to learn about specific tastes, lifestyle needs and health concerns, RDNs will use their expertise to develop a personalized lifestyle plan consumers can stick with to meet their goals.”
To find a registered dietitian nutritionist, visit www.eatright.org.