Keeping up new year health resolutions
It’s that time of year again, when we’ve crossed the psychological barrier of the old year and into the new; full of hope and ideas on how we would like to improve our health and wellbeing. But by now many of us are struggling to keep up with our good intentions.
Making changes based on a positive rationale (“I’m worth looking after”) provides far more secure foundations for change than those based on guilt or shame (“If I don’t do it I’m a bad person”). The former rationale may help us be more compassionate about occasional slip-ups, helping us to ‘get back on the horse’ again; whereas the latter increases the risk of self-criticism, giving up, or indeed pushing ourselves too hard becomes almost like a punishment, as opposed to a benefit.
The following are some suggested pointers on how to go about implementing and sustaining changes that are realistic and healthy:
- Define your current problem(s) and be specific for example 'snacking' is too vague; snacking on biscuits/crisps in the evening time is a more specific description; 'overweight' is too vague; two-stone over weight (for someone of my gender, height, age) is more specific.
- Assess your readiness to change. If you are ambivalent about making the changes, then the level of commitment required may not be there.
- To try and generate motivation, develop reasons/rationale for making changes such as wanting to be healthier for your children, wanting to lower blood pressure, 'my body is precious and I want to look after it' etc. Write these down so they can be referred to if your commitment wavers.
- Choose one problem to work on first – although problems may be linked e.g. over-weight due to snacking and unfit due to lack of regular exercise. In which case it may be sensible to tackle both.
- Define your goal(s). Goals should be specific and realistic. 'Stop eating crisps/biscuits' is too vague; 'snacking only allowed on Saturday night' is more specific. 'Lose weight' is too vague; 'lose 2 stone over the course of 3 months' is more specific; 'lose a stone in a week' is unrealistic and dangerous!
- Define the mini-steps/actions needed to work towards your goals e.g. go for a brisk walk three times a week (for first 2 weeks, then increase); don’t buy in snacks when doing your weekly shopping; join the gym; join a club (e.g. slimming club etc.); research healthy snack alternatives.
- Note down possible problems you may encounter “I’ll start off well, but give-up after a few weeks”, “don’t have the time” or “I’ll eat junk when stressed”.
- Prepare strategies for overcoming problems. You could start changes with a friend so you can motivate each other. Timetable weekly activities and adjust other commitments. Don’t shop when you’re hungry or stressed. Keep reminders or your reasons for change handy (photo/picture/helpful quote etc) and be careful not to use unrealistic images as these can backfire and generate disappointment.
- If you ‘lapse’ don’t be too self-critical, ask yourself, “What would I say to a friend whom I care for?”, and take on board the same advice.
- Keep a diary and review progress occasionally and update goals as necessary.
Remember when making any significant dietary or physical exercise changes you should consult your doctor or relevant health professional in the first instance, especially if you are aware of having any underlying health conditions.