Forget the New Years Resolution – Do This Instead!
This time of year always invokes reflection and goal setting as we wrap up another year and look optimistically ahead to the new year for a fresh start, to do better, and reach higher. As a Nutritionist, this time of year brings long days full of appointments. As cliche as it may be, my calendar is filled to the brim with individuals and families wanting to lose weight or just eat healthier for the new year. While the intentions are good, I find New Years Resolutions to be overly predictable and detrimental to actually achieving those goal, and often warn people against this ritual. I know it seems crazy that I would advise people to not vow to eat healthier, but this is how it usually plays out; January brings in many new clients with lots of energy and lofty goals for weight loss and healthy lifestyles. At our first meeting, I warn them that this takes real commitment and work on their part, but they will always state with great conviction that they are ready to take it on and determined to be nothing short of successful. February rolls around and a few people begin to cancel follow up appointments as they settle back into normal routines and the reality of the amount of effort it requires to change habits and behavior sets in. This often brings feelings of shame and failure, especially after their strong declaration of commitment just one month ago. This shame is ultimately what leads to canceled appointments. It is always hardest in the beginning, and often times the initial results will fall short of expectations in relation to the amount of effort exerted, leaving a person to feel as though they are incapable of reaching their goals. March brings results for those that have managed to stick with it. This is often the demise of many because they begin to rationalize. “I have been ‘so good’, worked so hard at this and I have lost x amount of weight, so I deserve to have that piece of cake today” is the typical conversation inside the head of the “New Years Resolutioner”. (yes, I made up that word, but I like it so I will continue to use it…) Not only is this dangerous because it allows bad habits to creep back in, but more importantly it reinforces the notion that this is a form of deprivation and solidifies the idea that less than healthy foods are rewards. (which implies that healthy foods are a form of punishment). Once this behavior sets in, it is not long before the person completely falls back into old habits. Of course, I am generalizing and there are a handful of people that will actually stick with it and the New Years Resolution cliche was just the catalyst they needed to begin the journey towards a healthier lifestyle. I would argue though that they are doing some of the more difficult work I am outlining below, maybe even unknowingly.
It is really important to reiterate that it is not the piece of cake that did that person in. I have my fair share of cake, cookies, pie, etc. That is not what is important. I have found that just about everything in my life is about RELATIONSHIPS. ( I bet you thought I was going to say moderation, didn’t you?) Relationships with coworkers has a direct impact on work performance. The type of friends I surround myself with and the relationships I chose to foster have a huge impact on my emotional well being. People who are in healthy intimate relationships report greater happiness and improved health outcomes. Above all else, the relationship you have with yourself will reflect the relationship you have with everyone and everything else. Typically I find that this relationship with ones self is what needs to be addressed first, with the underlying theme being the relationship with food. Until this work has been done, a person will just continue the pattern of losing and gaining weight – starting “diets” every new year or each bathing suit season rather than making a real long lasting lifestyle change. Here are some questions that help identify the true reason why you have been unsuccessful in adopting healthier eating habits:
- How do you view yourself? (physically, emotionally, socially, intellectually)
- What is your inner dialogue like? (positive or negative)
- How do you view food? (use any adjectives that come to mind)
- What are some of the ways you “reward” yourself? (do they tend to be self sabotaging or do they align with your goals?)
Take the time to answer these questions honestly, really thinking about the answers. I often ask clients to mull each one over for a couple days, one at a time, to get to the truest answer. There is no right or wrong, it just is. This is your relationship. It is entirely up to you to determine if it is what you want. Now answer the same questions as what you desire the answer to be. For example, number one would actually read “How do you wish to view yourself?” Please note that this does not mean how do you wish you looked, behaved, etc. But rather how you wish to VIEW yourself AS YOU ARE NOW. Any question that does not align is an area that you need to focus your efforts on before you tackle anything else. I am not saying that during this time you shouldn’t be making healthy choices, but in terms of focused effort, this is where you need to be.
An interesting thing happens when you improve your relationship with yourself. You will find that it is no longer about feeling deprived, but rather a celebration of the nourishment. You will feel worthy of good health and will develop new ways to reward your hard work, rewards that propel you even further into good health. The number on the scale will matter less and less and you will rely on energy levels as a measurement for success. Food will once again be something to enjoy and no longer be the enemy. It wont happen overnight. This is a process, and everyone moves at a different pace. It is not a race. It is not about who finishes first. After all it is all about building positive relationships and that takes time. But just like a new, young love it can be invigorating, full of adventure, and exciting so enjoy it! You will likely encounter potholes and roadblocks, but when you love someone it is worth the effort. It is time to learn to love yourself and break free from the cliche of a New Years Resolution!