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Diet Do #4: Create Solutions, Not Resolutions

December 23, 2009

If you’re like most people, the start of a new year makes you think about all the things you want to change about yourself, all those negative habits you want to overcome or healthful habits you want to incorporate into your life to improve your life. The problem is, despite good intentions, many tend to make resolutions that are idealistic or require drastic changes in eating, fitness, or lifestyle habits.

Some common resolutions including “I’m going on a diet,” “I’m not going to eat bread,” “I’m going to exercise every day,” or “I’m giving up sugar” may in fact help some people jump-start their lives and engage in more healthful (or less harmful) behaviors. But for the most part, rigid or extreme resolutions like these can often set people up for failure and sabotage otherwise good intentions to lose weight, increase muscle mass and lose body fat, or generally improve health.

I am a firm believer that you need to know where you’re going before you can get there. I’m also a big fan of the idea that small changes yield big dividends. So this year, instead of making fast and hard resolutions (such as going on a so-called “diet” ), try to first think about what your specific goals are; maybe you want to lose weight, lower your blood cholesterol or blood pressure, have more energy to run around with your kids, or simply be more physically fit. After identifying one or more general goals, think about the specific steps you can take in order to work towards achieving that goal. For example, if you want to lose weight, you know that consuming fewer calories is one thing that will help you achieve that goal. Perhaps you can start keeping a food journal using your PDA, phone, or a good old-fashioned notebook to record everything you eat or drink for a few days; once you see your eating patterns, you’ll be able to identify the meals or times of day that challenge you or sabotage you most. If, for example, you find you often overeat at dinner, make that the first thing to tackle; take one or more small steps to lighten your caloric load at dinner  (such as eating on smaller plates, cooking a smaller amount of food, minimizing distractions, or ordering less food when dining out). Breaking down goals into small solutions you can employ more often (if not each day) can help you overcome behaviors that undermine your efforts to eat healthfully and mindfully. Taking small steps like this, one at a time, can add up and help your mind and body adapt to your new, improved behaviors and hopefully turn them into life-long habits.

Remember, you don’t have to go it alone…seek a friend, family member, or colleague for support, and contact a health or fitness professional to provide you with the tools to help you create and maintain more healthful habits. A registered dietitian can help you improve your food, nutrition, and lifestyle habits; to find one in your area, contact the American Dietetic Association at http://www.eatright.org. To get expert help improving your exercise and fitness habits, you can find a reputable personal trainer by contacting organizations including the American College of Sports Medicine (www.acsm.org), the National Strength & Conditioning Association (www.nsca-lift.org), or the American Council on Exercise (www.acefitness.org.)

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