While I personally don’t put all that much pressure on myself to make massive changes as the new year approaches, I absolutely acknowledge craving a fresh start.
When I talk about this with patients – getting started – it can often lead to overwhelm. There are so many different categories to “improve”; it’s very common to feel lost on where to start. And to try to change everything at once.
Here are some general recommendations I talk about in patient sessions:
- It should be fun! Too many times we focus on the workout or meal plan that’s trendy or overcomplicated. If you focus on fun, ie recipes you enjoy, movement that you truly look forward to rather than dread, you’ll be much more likely to stick with it.
- Take an abundance rather than restriction mindset. Think about what you can add, rather than what you’re not ‘allowed’ to have. Add in lots of colors to meals, spices, water, movement, self-care, additional fiber/fats/protein. When a food becomes restricted or forbidden, your brain naturally craves it more. So taking this opposite mindset can help combat this.
- Aim for small changes over large amount of time. Going too hard too fast is a sure fire way to quit early. We’re aiming for sustainable and realistic changes! I do think the SMART framework can be helpful, ie small + specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely. Rather than saying, I’m going to the gym every day for the next 6 months, perhaps reframe to, I’m going to go on a walk today for 10 minutes around the block. Or instead of “I’m doing Whole30!!”, try, I’m going to add one serving of vegetables to one meal per day.
- Spend time learning to care for yourself. Often times we know what to do to be well, ie eating real + whole foods, prioritizing sleep, hydrating, exercising, managing stress, though there are many things that get in the way of this. Write out a list of things that make you feel good and come back to that! Learning to use this list instead of food or alcohol to self-soothe or numb in times of stress or overwhelm is a crucial aspect of engaging in health promoting behaviors. Whenever something makes you feel good, write it down, save it, screenshot it, save it to an album – whatever’s easiest to reference in times of stress.
- Learn how to breathe. Choosing deep and diaphragmatic breathing trains your nervous system to be in the state of parasympathetic, ie rest and digest. It’s very challenging to achieve health goals when you’re always in fight/flight/freeze mode.
- Take on some sort of mindfulness practice to live in the moment and to learn to listen to the cues your body is sending you. This may be meditation or deep breathing, but mindfulness can really be anything that makes you focus on the present moment.
- Habit stack. If you’re already doing something with ease, ie making coffee in the morning, try doing something else with it. Use this time to do a quick mindfulness / deep breathing practice when the coffee is brewing, drink water, make your bed, or gently stretch.
- Retrain your brain to start enjoying things you may dread. Think about listening to an audio book while going for a walk, or watching your favorite show while meal prepping. Adding in fun things with mundane things will help you retrain your brain to crave the things you once thought of as boring.
- Be mindful of your attunement disruptors. What gets in the way of you living a life in line with your health goals? Work, stress, alcohol, substance use, lack of access to a gym or childcare? Being able to recognize what gets in the way allows you to problem solve to anticipate the issue.
- When you hit that moment of ‘I want to quit’ aka a case of the fuck its – rather than having that consume you with guilt or shame, use that as important information and data! You can’t guilt or shame yourself into self-love, so how can you practice the muscle of compassion and grace for yourself?
- Keep a schedule and try to avoid skipping meals. This schedule holds true for sleep as well. Bodies thrive in rhythm.
- Make your first meal of the day one that counts, ie something with ample protein, fiber, and healthy fats.
- Drink enough water.
- Be mindful of caffeine/alcohol intake. This can often lead to added feelings of stress/anxiety.
- Slow down during meal time. Really take the time recognize the different food textures, flavors, temperatures, and taste. This will overall make the meal more enjoyable and you may find you don’t eat past the point of fullness.
- Learn about the hunger/fullness scale and live within the 3-8 range.
- Write down your why – is it *really* weight loss? Or can you expand health beyond that – avoiding chronic disease, picking up and carrying children/grandchildren, avoiding injury.
- And on that note, write down your passions and identity completely outside of your health goals. Being ‘healthy’ doesn’t have to be an identity, nor should it be. But sometimes living in this state of wellbeing allows you more energy and time to pursue your passions.
- Practice gratitude, ESPECIALLY towards your body. Your body does so much for you, regardless of what it looks like. I wrote a letter of gratitude to my body once and found it so healing.
- Put healthy things in front of you. Leave fruit out to snack on, lay your exercise clothing out the next day, meal prep to have sources of protein in the fridge that you can easily build into a meal, keep healthy snacks in your car. The more you see things / they’re actively available to you, the easier it’ll be to choose those things.
- Ask friends/family to join in. Having others be a part of your journey is helpful for not only the camaraderie, but you’ll start doing more healthful activities together.
- Do one small thing in the morning. This can even be making your bed. Often doing that one thing that helps or benefits you can lead to other positive health behaviors. (if you’re an evening person, this can be in the evening instead!)
- Have a kindness practice. Treat yourself how you’d treat a friend. If you ‘fall off the wagon’ would you berate a friend and curse them out, telling them they’re a failure? No, you’d encourage them to try again!
- Take a birds eye view approach. Making these changes isn’t just about you – it can positively impact your family and the broader community, too!
- Talk to a financial advisor or start making a budget. Having less financial stress is a huge pillar to living well.
What’s so important to identify here is that often being well requires a lot of privilege. Feeling safe where you live, having access to nutrient dense foods and childcare, being able-bodied, making enough money to save and invest in your future, having time to exercise – all of these things massively impact health.