Jan. 1, when so many of us traditionally make all sorts of well-intentioned resolutions, is a quickly fading memory. If you set some new personal goals, let's hope your resolve is extra strong, because studies have shown nearly 90 percent of us fail to achieve the resolutions we set for ourselves on New Year's Day, even though more than half of us are certain we will achieve those goals when we set them. It looks like it's time we put more thought into exactly how we're going to go about hitting our targets.
It appears that the people who are most successful have learned to limit the number of resolutions they make, often working on only one thing at a time. Then they set small, realistic, measurable goals and they track their progress. Keeping track of your progress can be very motivational.
If you looked at many U.S. polls of New Year's resolutions this year you probably noticed losing weight was at the top of most of them. This isn't surprising, since we're in the midst of a startling obesity epidemic in this country. Yet, despite all the time, money and energy focused on dieting in this country, most people here have still not been able to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. So, is there a magic bullet?
According to the Harvard School of Public Health, it really doesn't matter how you take in or expend calories. If you want to lose weight, you simply need to eat less and exercise more. However, if you or your loved ones, like so many of us, have tried to follow a diet plan, perhaps one of the highly publicized diets like Weight Watchers, Adkins, South Beach, Ornish, the Zone or Sugar Busters, you know how hard it is to stick with the plan. Even if you lose a lot of weight initially, if you don't make your new eating pattern a permanent long-term lifestyle change, you'll go back to your regular eating pattern and all the lost weight will flood back on, often with a little more packed on for good measure. So what is the answer?
Not to sound like a broken record, but you simply have to eat less and move more.
You don't need to vilify specific foods or food groups. Not all fat is bad and carbs do have their place in a healthy eating plan. Eat what you like, as long as it's healthy food.
If you feel you must follow a diet plan to be successful, just pick a plan full of foods you enjoy. If you the word diet makes you groan, then you need to stop focusing on dieting and simply start eating.
Examining exactly what it is that you've been eating and drinking can help. Keep a log for a week or two. Write down every single thing you put into your mouth. It's harder to keep an accurate log than you might think because so many of us graze mindlessly. We just don't pay attention to what we're ingesting half of the time. Be aware of what you're eating. Don't leave anything out. There are free and easy to use tools that can help you calculate exactly how many calories you're consuming. Try out the U.S. Department of Agriculture's MyPyramid Tracker. You can even track your exercise on the same site.
Once you sit back and look at everything you've been eating and drinking you may well be shocked. That's OK. We all need a reality check now and then. Once you get a handle on what you've been putting in your body, you can make some decisions.
Set some realistic goals. You're likely to achieve more success if you set small measurable goals. For instance, if you suffer from a serious sweet tooth, rather than saying you'll try to cut back on sweets, which is hard to quantify, you could start by saying you'll limit yourself to no more than one ounce or one bite or one serving of dessert every day. Once you successfully cut back to that amount, if you're trying to wean yourself from sweets totally, you could modify your goal to eating a sweet only once every other day. Then you might cut back to once a week before you attempt to totally eliminate sweets from your meal plans. And perhaps it's completely unrealistic to think you'll ever completely stop eating sweets. That's OK too. Just set a realistic limit for yourself and make sure you develop a plan that won't leave you feeling so deprived that you end up tossing the whole thing out the window and going on a binge.
Whatever plan you choose, just make sure it's full of things you like to eat. Then eat what you like. Just eat less of it.
When you review the foods you eat on a regular basis it's also helpful to ask yourself if perhaps there aren't other, more healthful and nourishing foods you might like just as much or even better. If so, add them to your meal planning. Are there things you're eating or drinking simply from habit without really enjoying them? Do you keep a bag of chips next to the couch or a box of cookies in the car just because they're handy to grab? Think about that. And think about ways to replace those high calorie foods with lower calorie and healthier foods that you'll enjoy just as much if not more. Or simply portion out the higher calorie foods so you're not eating as much of them.
There are lots of ways to cut calories from your day. Avoid highly processed foods and fried foods. Replace high calorie beverages like soda pop and fancy coffee drinks with lower calorie drinks, like water or seltzer. Add more vegetables, fruits and whole grains to your plate. They'll keep you feeling fuller longer.
Think of eating for what its real purpose should be: to fuel your body. Take emotion out of the picture. Avoid rewarding yourself, or anyone else, with food. Then eat only enough to feel satisfied. Know when to say when. Put down your fork. There's no need to be a member of the clean plate club. Be mindful of what you're putting in your mouth. Take the time to enjoy your food. Stop munching in front of the TV or while driving your car. Make mealtime special. Take the time to select great tasting food and then savor it. Before you know it you'll be able to put something else at the top of your 2014 New Year's Resolutions.
If you're looking for new ideas to help you live a healthier lifestyle, Cornell University Cooperative Extension's Eat Smart New York program may be just right for you. Interactive sessions include fun activities and new ideas to help people save money, improve their nutritional status, and incorporate exercise into their busy lives. Sessions can be scheduled at convenient times and locations throughout Chautauqua County and bilingual education is available. For more information call 716-664-9502 ext. 217.