It’s that time of year when New Year’s Resolutions are made.
For many, included in their goals are two of the top most popular resolutions of ‘more exercise’ and ‘taming the bulge’.
Since these are lifestyle changes that require more than just a ‘quick fix’, it is important to first understand what drives behaviour change.
Fitness levels and eating habits are ingrained routines that likely have been set since we were youngsters by our most important role models, parents and caregivers. This is why changing lifelong habits can be difficult to modify and takes time to notice long-term, sustainable results.
Change occurs gradually and relapses are an inevitable part of the process of making a lifelong change. Weight loss incorporating lifestyle changes are gradual, until small changes become second nature. Personalizing the plan requires introspection and thought.
If someone has told you that you need to lose weight or get active, this is likely not a big enough motivator to actually be successful in making the adjustment. Behaviour changes need to come from within; you have to want to change, or you are setting yourself up for failure.
Why do you think you need to lose weight or get more active? Many times, it takes a family member falling sick, or a visit to your doctor with shocking results of bloodwork or a prescription for a new medication that triggers a motivation to get healthier.
Small steps to make long-term behaviour changes is key to remember.
The promise of quick weight loss or unrealistic increases in muscle building may be a sign that it’s not long-term since these bandaid solutions may not target changes in routines or established behaviours for long-term health.
If you do truly want to make a change, try to be SMART about it: Small, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Targeted goals that are more likely to happen.
Do you have the resources/information and knowledge to make the lasting change? Is there anything that is a barrier to modifying your targeted behaviour?
Expecting a relapse, or planning for small backward steps is important, since long-term changes take time, energy and don’t happen overnight. Don’t let a small weight gain of a few pounds or a few days of missing the gym set you in a tailspin to fall off your action plan altogether.
Have a mindful
Keep track for a few days by writing down everything you eat and drink, including the amount. This will help you do an inventory of your intake. Including your mood, plus activity you are currently engaged in while eating will also help to identify eating behaviours and your danger zones.
u Portion size
u Junk food snacks
u Over-indulging on goodies at parties
u treating yourself at restaurants
u mindless eating in front of a TV
u mindless eating while working at a desk
u secret or hidden eating while dashboard dining (eating while driving).
Generally, most people underestimate the amount of food they eat over the course of a day. Going back for seconds at mealtime or using serving plates that are large and allow for huge portions encourage overindulgent helpings and contribute to excess calories.
Also, the addition of an innocent extra cookie or a handful of mixed nuts over time can lead to extra pounds.
Some methods to reduce amounts eaten at meal times include serving the portion on smaller plates and dishing out the food in the kitchen, instead of placing the variety of dinner offerings on the table.
Increasingly, dashboard dining and eating while working at a computer are habits that encourage speed eating while multi-tasking in the car or at the desk. Desktop diners eat at their desk to save time but more often to save the hassle of getting a real lunch or meal.
Strategies to help with these unhealthy habits, include brown bagging it more often. This helps to be in control of what you are bringing to work to eat.
Stock your desk with protein-rich, convenience foods ie. canned tuna (in an easy to peel lid), bean soup in a cup or trail mix. Starting the day at the office with a piece of fruit and packing lots of cut vegetables encourages extra amounts of nutritious colourful produce.
Also, turning off the computer or pulling over in the car to focus on eating for a few minutes helps to become more mindful of your food intake.
Taking a brisk walk during the day helps to balance out the workday with some easy activity and provides a break from screen time.
Also, chewing gum while working or driving helps curb eating due to boredom or stress.
If you regularly include coffee as the main beverage throughout the day, drinking more water is key to improve hydration. Often we think we’re hungry but really are thirsty, and more water can help your body stay healthy.
Setting small goals of eating and activity behaviour adjustments can support long-term changes to habits for improving health and fitness level.
Specific timelines that have SMART goals helps to achieve confidence and adds to the toolbox of success.
Example of a SMART goal with action plan
“I will go for a brisk walk three times per week (on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday) at 3 p.m. for 30 minutes.”
After a week, see if you were successful in achieving your personalized goal and if so, this aids in your confidence level to reach more SMART goals in the future.
Over time, these action plans lead to long-term sustainable healthy habits to improve health.
Sandra Gentleman is a registered dietitian and has worked in a variety of settings on Vancouver Island. She is passionate about healthy, active living.