What will the start of your new year bring? The onset of an overly ambitious running program? A monthlong elimination of sugar? Throwing $100 at a juice cleanse regimen?
Here's what a registered dietitian would say: "Just eat the fruit and save your money." In other words, when it comes to being successful with change, you have to be willing to stick to it long-term and accept the sustainability of the changes that you're making.
So perhaps this is the year that you ditch the crazy diet or the unrealistic approach to exercise and, instead, commit to small, incremental steps that could transform your body and life. Here are a few goals to consider setting this new year to commit to long-term, sustainable change.
Adopt a daily stress-reducing ritual
COVID-19 has magnified stressors, said Soltana Nosrati, licensed clinical social worker at Novant Health Psychiatric Associates - Huntersville. The most common disorders she treats are depression and anxiety, which she believes can be long-term effects of stress. She’s also seeing more physical consequences of stress, from increased sickness to weight gain. One way to combat this vicious cycle: Adopt a short, daily ritual that helps you relieve stress.
If you choose a morning ritual, Nosrati said: “It makes you feel more optimistic. I personally love to read a book in the morning while I sip my coffee and before I touch my work computer.” Nosrati prefers to get her heart rate up by jumping on a trampoline.
An evening ritual might even be more necessary. “By the time you’ve gone through your day, whether you realize it or not, your stress is exponentially higher than it was in the morning,” Nosrati said. “Some people like to shower at night because it helps them wash the day away.”
Controlled breathing and journaling about your stressors are other good options. Regardless of what ritual you choose or when you choose to do it, make sure it’s something you enjoy.
“When people do something that engages them and makes them feel that they’re either being productive or it gives them a sense of pleasure, it reduces stress,” Nosrati said.
Start small with new fitness goals
It’s not news that exercise can offer amazing health benefits, from stress-reduction to better heart function. But if you’re not athletic or hate exercise, setting a lofty fitness goal could feel paralyzing.
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Say you have a goal to start walking every day. “If you’ve gone your whole life and don’t walk,” Nosrati said, “start where you’re at. Start with five minutes or 10 minutes a day. It’s funny, but it helps you see that it’s not that bad. It’s not about the sprint, it’s about your life.”
You can gradually increase your increments over time, she said, so the change process isn’t such an ordeal. Plus, your body can get accustomed to the movement, and your mind can adjust to the habit without requiring huge bursts of motivation. The same goes for running, lifting weights, practicing yoga – whatever your physical goals entail.
“Start small and be consistent,” she said. “If you fall off the wagon, don’t beat yourself up – do it differently tomorrow.”
Choose a sustainable approach to what you’re eating
Registered dietitians agree: If your approach to nutrition or dieting is (a) absurdly expensive or (b) keeps you hungry all the time, you’re probably doing it wrong.
When it comes to weight loss, remember that it takes time. We don’t put on weight overnight and we don't shed those pound in just a flash, either. It's a long-term commitment.
Common recommendations include increasing protein intake, which adds fullness and satisfaction while maintaining muscle mass. It’s also ideal to increase your fiber intake with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, brown rice and other high-fiber foods.
Bottom line: It’s a focus on a lifestyle change versus a diet.
Drop the negative self-talk
By the way, none of these goals for transformation matter if your head’s not in the right place. If you constantly beat yourself up for slipping with your nutrition goals or for feeling too tired to meet your fitness goals day-to-day, the process could become so miserable you never make it to the outcome you want.
“Talk to yourself like you’re talking to your child,” Nosrati said. (Or, a child.) “Speak truth from a place of kindness and compassion. Ultimately, the person you have to take the most care of is you. Be kinder and fair to yourself. Then all these other goals will be so much easier.”