Setting a New Years’ resolution can certainly be a motivator for some. You get that little flutter of excitement inside when you are embarking on something new.
One of the most common resolutions is weight loss, and while there are no surprises there, you may be surprised to know that your resolution may not be serving you well. For several reasons.
First, as much as we like to think we can control our weight, you can’t really control it. Stepping on the scale is a fairly passive activity. It’s the actions we take from day to day which impact it. So why not focus on those instead of the number? Plus physiology dictates that our weight can easily shift several pounds in a single day based on gut contents, menstruation, salt intake, etc.
Second, a goal weight can be pretty arbitrary. We pick them based on what we weighed at a certain point in our lives, when a certain pair of jeans fit, or a chart on the doctors’ office wall. But just because we don’t reach those weight numbers doesn’t mean we aren’t healthy. In fact, sometimes striving for those numbers ends up sabotaging us instead.
So if you want to set a resolution, try making it more actionable things from day to day that can improve your health and how you feel without being beholden to the scale. Here are some ideas to get you started:
1. Add an extra serving or two of vegetables per day.
I know, you’ve heard this one a million times. But it’s repeated for a reason. For example, boosting the vegetable intake at lunch and dinner can naturally shift the content and volume of the entire meal – fill half your plate with sautéed vegetables and there is only so much room for rice. Instead of a large dish of pasta with meat and vegetables sprinkled in, try a large dish of vegetables with meat and pasta sprinkled in. The increase in fiber and prebiotics (the foods good bacteria like to feed on) can help with gut health as well.
And yes, do use some oil, butter, salt, etc. to jazz up your veggies. No need to be an extremist (see #6).
2. Identify what role food plays in your life.
This sounds somewhat abstract, but the idea is to learn what else food might be doing for you besides providing pure sustenance (which, by the way, can be okay – food should be pleasurable!). Does it help manage the anxiety of family chaos? Does it reduce stress after the workday? Does it make social gatherings more comfortable? It may not seem apparent at first, and it is likely very habitual. Just having a food plan won’t help alter the behavior in the long run, so consider tuning in to underlying thoughts and feelings around eating to help change the pattern.
3. Create a go-to recipe book.
Or weekly menu, or kitchen staple list. The point is, spending a little extra time in the beginning to get organized in the kitchen can save you time and energy in the long run.
4. Eat non-distracted.
It has become so commonplace to multi-task while eating – at our work desks, while watching TV, while driving. But distractions do make a difference in our eating experience. We can miss our fullness cues, sometimes eating past the point of it truly tasting good anymore and to the point of being uncomfortably full. So try…just eating. Maybe just one meal a day at first. But make time for it and savor it.
5. Learn to cook.
Feeling less than confident about your cooking skills can definitely contribute to a bleak outlook on meal options. But there is always hope, and you don’t have to be a gourmet chef to be a cook. Most counties have adult education cooking classes (Arlington County has an impressive number), or try a meal ingredient delivery service. Between pre-measured ingredients, printed recipe cards with prep pictures, and technique videos, you have plenty of resources to help you get started.
6. Adjust “all-or-nothing” thoughts.
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of this one. All-or-nothing thinking refers to living on either far end of a spectrum – either you have no donuts today, or you have 4 plus a bag of cookies because what the heck you already blew it. It’s not logical, and we may even know that, but it’s a common approach. On that scale of extremism, healthy eating actually lies somewhere in the middle. It’s not the little dietary missteps (having 2 or 3 extra cookies; enjoying an appetizer, bread basket, entrée, and dessert) that determine our weight or health – more often than not it’s how we react to them at the next meal that matters.
At the end of the day there are loads of things to focus on besides weight, and the most important thing is to identify something that is reasonable for you.