By Karen Papi
Plenty of people in Northeast Pennsylvania and beyond are deep into the holiday spirit and pomp and circumstance that surrounds this joyous time of year. Following Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day also mean family, friends, seasonal feasts – and plenty of unwanted calories.
Moments after the ball drops in New York’s Times Square many of you will also resolve to eat healthier, exercise more and shed some of those unnecessary pounds.
Congratulations, if you are among those that decide to focus on a New Year’s resolution that results in a healthier, slimmer, trimmer you. Better eating habits can improve your physical and mental health, help you avoid or control chronic diseases such as diabetes, and boost your self-esteem. As a longtime dietitian, however, I encourage you to first establish a plan that outlines how you will succeed in becoming a newer version of yourself.
My tips below are not meant to be a hard-and-fast rule, but rather a guide to accomplishing your own healthier lifestyle goals.
What’s your level of commitment? Many people casually say they want to drop weight in an effort to impress at the next class reunion or maybe to squeeze into a new swimsuit for an upcoming vacation. In those cases, any “progress” is likely to be limited and temporary, not a true lifestyle change.
You have to be committed and in a readiness stage to make a change for long-lasting results. Gauge that readiness by making a pros-and-cons list. Identify the positive reasons you’re motivated to eat healthier (such as feel better and have more energy) and any potential drawbacks or barriers (“don’t like to cook”). If the pros outnumber the cons, you probably have the proper mindset to start that journey to a healthier you.
Ready, set, begin a healthier you. New Year’s Day might not be the best choice for implementing a new eating plan. That’s especially true if you’ll be feasting with family or friends during early January or if your house will be full of leftover holiday cookies and other sweet temptations. Perhaps pick a start date during the second or third week of January for your new eating plan. Use those extra days to go through your refrigerator and cabinets, removing less healthy options that won’t support your new eating habits.
In it for the long haul and right reasons. Weight loss is a slow process. A person typically can expect to drop half a pound, perhaps up to 2 pounds, per week. Realize that it’s going to take time to achieve your long-term goal. Meanwhile, set smaller, attainable goals. And stop to celebrate your victories along the way.
You’re aiming for a lifetime change, remember? Prepare to incorporate your new behaviors over the long haul. Even among people who undergo weight-loss surgery, there is sometimes a mistaken belief that after the medical procedure they will not have to worry about their weight status. That’s not accurate. They still will need to continue to eat healthy and be active in order to maintain the weight they lost.
It’s habit forming. To get the full benefits of healthy eating, you’ll want to make it a habit. That’s not a simple thing to accomplish. We know after adopting a new behavior, it generally takes 28 days of repetition to make that change stick. So rather than try to radically revamp your entire diet at one time, it might be more practical to implement small changes one at a time, mastering each for a few weeks before adding another change. Over time, you’ll become more mindful of what foods you’re choosing and how much you are eating at one time.
Beware common pitfalls. When life gets busy, it’s natural to search for time-saving shortcuts such as dining out at a restaurant or ordering delivered meals. By getting your food outside the home, you might inadvertently consume excess calories. A person can easily gain an average of 2 pounds over the year simply by eating out once per week, typically because restaurant portion sizes are much larger.
Motivate and innovate. For some people, unhealthy eating practices might be linked to unresolved issues in their lives, even from childhood. For example, adults who were deprived of food as children, either due to household poverty or as a misguided form of punishment, might be prone today to overindulging. Talking with a behavioral health professional can help to unravel those complex emotions and further promote a permanent change that includes healthier eating and an overall healthier lifestyle.
Support the new you. When planning to make significant diet and/or exercise changes, it’s always best to work in consultation with your primary care physician or other health care professionals. Also, you are more likely to reach your goals with a good support team, whether it be family members, friends or an eating buddy who will urge you to follow your plan and be there to applaud your successes.
Here’s to a happier, healthier 2022. And to the start of a “new you!”
Karen Papi, M.S., R.D., CDCES, LDN, is a registered dietitian and a certified diabetes care and education specialist at The Wright Center for Community Health. To learn about its Lifestyle Medicine services, visit TheWrightCenter.org or call 570-941-0630. The Wright Center for Community Health serves patients in a five-county region through eight primary care practices in Lackawanna, Luzerne and Wayne counties.