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Build a Foundation for a Healthy New Year

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A few days ago I was speaking with a potential client.  She said she did not want to get started with a diet and exercise plan until after the holidays.

On the surface, this may seem like a sound plan.  Why start a diet that you know you won’t be motivated to stick to?  After all who wants to count calories, skip the egg nog and buttered rum drinks, and miss a holiday party to meet their personal trainer.  NO ONE!

Personally, I think the holidays are the best time to start taking steps toward your health and fitness goals.

Losing weight and getting in shape are about more than just exercising and cutting calories, they are about making lasting lifestyle changes.  Making changes to your lifestyle does not happen over night, it takes time and practice.  The holiday season provides a terrific opportunity to start making these changes.  Waiting until the new year to initiate sudden, drastic changes can make reaching your health and fitness goals a daunting task.  The holiday season lets you begin to make small changes that lay a foundation for bigger changes down the road.

I have put together a few tips to help you establish lasting lifestyle changes this holiday season:

  • Start keeping a food journal.
    • A food journal will help you monitor the amount of calories and macronutrients (carbohydrates,protein, and fats) your are eating per day.  Seeing what and how much you are actually eating can be a wake up call and may help you start making better nutritional choices.
    • Even if you do not try to make any changes to your eating over the holidays, a food journal will get you into the habit of tracking and monitoring your new dietary program once the new year arrives.

I recommend either myfitnesspal or myplate to my clients.  Both have extensive nutrient data and basic food tracking on the free versions of the app.

  • Get 15-20 minutes of physical activity every day.
    • If you are planning to lose weight or improve your fitness in the new year, getting into the habit of working out on a regular basis will make going to the gym easier once January hits.  Taking a walk on your lunch break, using the stairs, doing exercises or stretching while watching TV, or riding your bike after dinner can get you into the habit of scheduling time in your personal calendar to exercise.  Once you begin to see how easy it is to find time to exercise and the better your start to feel physically and mentally the more likely you are to continue into the new year and even increase your workout time.
  • Pay attention you how you feel after you eat or drink.
    • The simple act of noticing how you feel after you eat or drink certain items can lead you to make wiser food and beverage choices.  If you notice that you are frequently fatigued, bloated, and distracted the day after binging on hot cocoa and Christmas cookies, you can use this knowledge to remind yourself to limit the amount of sugars and other carbohydrates you eat in a sitting.  If you notice that you’re always hungover the day after snogging several eggnogs at the office party it can serve as a reminder to drink fewer drinks or choose another alcoholic beverage.

This leads into our next tip:

  • Eat consciously.
    • Many of us mindlessly shovel food into our mouths without taking the time to consider what we are doing, especially when we are socializing. Practice becoming mindful of what and how much you are eating.  Pay attention to the experience of eating.   Before you eat ask yourself a few questions:
      • Will this help me reach my goals?
      • Do I really want to eat/drink this?
      • Am I hungry?
      • How will this make me feel tomorrow (sick, guilty, ashamed, terrific)?
    • You may ask yourself if eating a second slice of pumpkin pie helps you achieve your weight loss goal.  Even if your answer is, “NO, but I’m eating it anyhow”, you have created awareness about your eating habits and you can store this insight for use when the new year arrives.
  • Watch out for emotional eating (or not eating)
    • The holiday season can be stressful and this can cause us to eat and drink not to support our health but rather to satiate our emotions .  If you are one of those folks who gets extra anxious or emotional during the holidays, take note of your eating and drinking habits.  Consider whether your desire to eat an entire fruitcake is because you love fruitcake or because your stressed out about seeing your family on Christmas.
    • On the flip side, if you tend to lose your appetite when you are anxious, set a reminder to yourself to eat a little something every few hours, like a small handful nuts, a greek yogurt, or a few slices of turkey.  Not eating can be just as detrimental to your long term health goals as overeating.

Taking a moment or two to think about what we are about to eat gives us the opportunity to take responsibility for our eating choices, a skill you must master in order to adopt a healthy lifestyle in the new year.

Finally,

  • Make an effort to eat clean and healthy 80% of the time.
    • While you do not need to follow a diet during the holidays, making a deliberate attempt to make smart nutritional choices the majority of the time will help you counteract the effects of holiday eating and drinking. For example, if you know you have a big holiday party coming up, focus on eating foods that are low in calories but high in nutritional value, like lean protein and vegetables, for a few days ahead of time.  That way not only will you have offset some of the less nutritious choices (and calories) you may eat at the party, but you will feel like you’re indulging on a delicious treat rather than just another cookie.
    • Also, consider your portion sizes.  Chances are you will need to cut back on portions once you start the new year so start practicing now.  Rather than a heaping pile of mashed potatoes, try cutting the portion size by 1/3 or 1/2.

The great thing about adopting a few of these changes during the holiday season is that you do not have to be perfect.  Think of it as practice for the big event.  Because you have not attached these habits to a specific health goal yet, you can make mistakes, learn from them, and get better without feeling guilty or as if you have failed.

While practicing these tips throughout the holiday season may not result in weight loss  or improved your health, they may prevent you from gaining additional weight or even getting sick.  After all, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  In addition, you will have laid a strong foundation to build on for amazing health and fitness success in the new year.

 

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