Posts Tagged ‘New Year’s Resolutions’

Get Back on Track in the New Year with a Healthier Diet and Lifestyle

January 1st, 2014 at 10:41 am by timigustafson

Making New Year’s resolutions is a time-honored, albeit tiring, custom. It basically forces you to admit you were wrong to indulge in all these wonderful dinner parties and treats over the holidays, and that you must now atone for your bad deeds. Not much fun in that, is there?

Still, the scale doesn’t lie and neither do your cloths that must have shrunken mysteriously while you were out having a blast. So, what can you do other than change your “evil” ways?

Transitioning to a new routine
First of all, there is no point in chastising yourself for what’s already happened. You’ve gained a few pounds and feel uncomfortable about it. But it’s not the end of the world. In all likelihood, you’ve been here before, perhaps several times. Maybe you remember how you managed to turn things around the last time, and chances are it will work for you again.

On the other hand, it would be nice, and also healthier, if you could avoid the notorious yo-yo effects of your weight control efforts once and for all.

So, before you look for the next fad diet that promises to do the trick in no time and without a struggle, imagine yourself as the person you truly want to be – one that isn’t plagued by regrets and doesn’t need self-flagellation because he or she knows exactly what a healthy body requires and looks like.

The fact is that it doesn’t matter what kind of weight loss method you choose. All you really have to focus on is that your food intake is less than what you burn off. A 500 calories deficit per day will allow you to shed about a pound a week. Replace the junk with more nutritious foods, add a regular exercise regimen and you are on your way.

Beyond that, you just have to be a little patient with yourself. Remember that changing your eating and lifestyle habits puts you in a stage of transition, meaning that you are in an especially vulnerable spot. It will take some time to get your body used to a new routine. Temptations are still rampant after the holidays, and feeling deprived or punished doesn’t help you stay the course.

Believe it or not, it also matters greatly what you are communicating to your metabolism: Is the change in your behavior for real and will it last, or is it short-lived and not worth the trouble? Quick-fix diet programs are notorious for messing up people’s metabolism for this very reason – they are too short-termed for your system to catch up.

Make it work for you
Also keep in mind that no commercially available weight loss plan is just designed for you. That means you are basically asked to follow other people’s recommendations based on their experiences. But in reality, those may or may not apply to you.

A better way is to trust in your body’s wisdom. Listen to it and how it signals its needs to you. For instance, you may have the urge to snack, but you may also ask yourself, Am I really hungry? Or, What healthier food would satisfy my desire for something sweet or salty just as much and without downside effects?

Knowing your weaknesses, you can also avoid setting yourself up for failure, for example by circumventing certain aisles in the supermarket or by stocking up on healthy items only. Examine your daily routines and habits, and question which ones are important and which ones have crept in over time without much notice.

Make sure you understand that choosing a healthier diet and lifestyle is not something you just do in one step. It is an ongoing process where you – and only you – set priorities and values for yourself and pursue them in a manner that is right for you.

Substitute the good for the bad
Once you have identified what got you off course in the first place, you can take stock and make changes – if necessary one or two at a time. Don’t overwhelm yourself with a lot of dos and don’ts. Be realistic. Even your less-than-perfect habits once materialized for a reason.

If other components in your life can’t be altered – say, you travel a great deal and are forced to eat out a lot, or you can’t find appropriate outlets for exercising – you may have to be at bit creative to keep yourself on the right path. Identify new opportunities and remove as many obstacles as you can.

In any case, always stay focused on the larger picture and go about your goals with sufficient determination but also with the necessary patience and forgiveness.

Happy New Year!

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

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Wrong Diet and Too Much Exercise Can Sabotage Weight Loss

January 23rd, 2013 at 1:24 pm by timigustafson

You think you do everything right. You stick to a lean diet and you go for runs and workouts in the gym. Still, the numbers on the scale won’t budge. It’s a frustrating experience many Americans go through during ‘resolution season’ when the damage from the holidays is supposed to get undone.

There can be multiple reasons for unsuccessful attempts at weight loss. Surprisingly, some of the most logical measures such as calorie restriction and fitness training can be among them. How is that possible?

“A healthy diet and consistent exercise are a safe bet at dropping pounds, yet research and evidence suggests that other factors may contribute to how easy it is for you to gain and lose weight,” says Jenna Morris, a personal trainer and writer for Livestrong.com.

Of course, making changes to eating habits that resulted in weight gain may be necessary. But you should proceed with caution, warns Morris. “If you dip too far below your recommended daily intake, then you risk actually slowing your metabolism and making weight loss even more challenging.”

If your weight loss efforts are too aggressive, you may deprive your body in unhealthy ways. A simultaneous reduction in calorie intake and increase in expenditure can cause you to burn valuable, metabolic-boosting muscle, which can make it harder to lose weight, warns Dr. Melina Jampolis, a physician nutrition specialist and contributor to CNNhealth.com.

Studies on the effects of different levels of exercising on weight loss have found that high-intensity training may not always produce the desired (or imagined) results. People who watch weight loss shows like “The Biggest Loser” on NBC often come to believe that exhausting workouts are the answer, when in fact moderate but consistent exercise routines have shown greater long-term success.

“People who exercise less may end up burning just enough calories to lose weight, but not enough to feel compelled to replace them, either by eating more or remain sedentary otherwise,” said Dr. Mads Rosenkilde of the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, the lead researcher in one of the studies. “Those who exercise a lot […] may feel more drained, which prompts them to compensate.”

There can also be other factors involved such as interference from medications or medical conditions like an underactive thyroid gland or Cushing’s syndrome. Or genetic components to weight and metabolism may play a role. There are hundreds of genes that are responsible for weight regulation, says Dr. Jampolis, many of which are designed for survival by preventing starvation. In our modern environment where food is plentiful, they still function, but often in the wrong way.

For healthy, lasting weight loss, she recommends introducing smaller changes over time. If you still can’t lose weight, it might be better to just accept your current weight for the time being and focus on the prevention of more weight gain, which is for many a hard task in itself. But don’t give up on your regular exercise routine, she advises. “It is much healthier to be fit and overweight than to be thin and inactive.”

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.”, and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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Making Your Resolutions Last

January 2nd, 2013 at 4:47 pm by timigustafson

New Year’s resolutions are a popular annual tradition in spite of their notoriously high failing rates. According to surveys, almost half of Americans will again vow to change something or other in their lives this month. Losing weight usually ranks at the top of the list, followed by getting better organized, saving money, taking more time off, improving physical fitness, and quitting or reducing alcohol and tobacco use.

The percentage of people who say they regularly achieve all of their goals is a measly eight percent. Almost half report partial success, while a quarter admits to complete failure year after year.

Making resolutions has a great deal to do with the belief that we can reinvent ourselves at our choosing, according to Ray Williams, author of “Breaking Bad Habits.” It can also be a form of procrastination. It’s a way to motivate ourselves to make long overdue changes, if not right away, then at least in the near future.

However, if resolutions are too unrealistic and insufficiently aligned with our actual circumstances, they are doomed from the start. “When you make positive affirmations about yourself that you don’t really believe, the positive affirmations not only don’t work, they can be damaging to your self-esteem,” he writes. “You may think that if you lose weight, or reduce your debts, or exercise more, your entire life will change, and when it doesn’t, you may get discouraged and then you revert to old behaviors.”

There may be a multitude of good reasons why we don’t follow through with our good intentions but in the end, it all comes down to energy, or lack thereof, says Dr. Carolyn Anderson, a surgeon and wellness expert. “All resolutions require extra energy, and if your day-to-day life already leaves you exhausted, you’ll never get around to fulfilling your plans,” she says.

Lack of sufficient energy to make lifestyle changes often gets confused with lack of time, which is one of the most common excuses. Energy comes from discipline, she says, discipline to follow proven strategies like eating right, exercising and getting enough sleep. These are the necessary foundations other improvements can be built upon.

Another potential cause for failure is the size and scope of the goals we set for ourselves. The bar may be impossibly high, the target too far away. It may also be a matter of lacking confidence. “[The] problem isn’t that we shouldn’t think big, but that we consider ourselves too small of a player in the quest for our own goals,” says Kristi Hedges, an executive coach and author of “The Power of Presence.” “We set all-or-nothing New Year’s resolutions that we can’t possibly keep, and frankly don’t expect ourselves to.”

Many resolutions, she says, are not only unrealistic but also too general and vague to be turned into concrete steps. Failure then becomes an almost inevitable consequence, allowing us to return to our familiar excuses.

So, before you make another resolution, consider first how you will pursue your goals differently from last time when you failed, says Chrissy Scivicque, a lifestyle and career coach. Perhaps you didn’t plan ahead carefully enough. Or you didn’t plan for setbacks and were ill equipped to deal with them when they occurred. You may have lost motivation along the way or forgot why you went on a particular journey to begin with. Maybe you didn’t get enough support to keep you going. Or you are prone to sabotaging yourself as you approach success.

Besides setting only specific goals that are realistically achievable, you should only focus on one resolution at a time, advises Ray Williams. Don’t wait for New Year’s Day to get started. There is no need for artificial timetables. Begin by taking small steps. Pace yourself. Have an “accountability buddy” who helps you keep track of your progress and encourages you when the going gets tough. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you advance too slowly or fall back. Celebrate small successes. Be conscious that changing your behavior and mindset is no easy task and takes time. But it’s all worth it and, hopefully, will spare you another frustrating resolution season. Happy New Year!

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.”, and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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Don’t Start Dieting Just Yet

December 26th, 2012 at 7:56 am by timigustafson

The holidays are nearly over. It’s time to assess the damage caused by delicious treats, fun cocktail parties and festive dinners that made us feel so good but now give us a sense of regret. It’s time to repent, shed quickly the extra pounds we gained and return to the path of nutritional righteousness. Or is it?

In fact, no. I don’t recommend dieting after the holidays. Going on a diet right after putting on more weight may be the worst thing you can do. Why?

Numerous studies have shown that starving yourself after periods of overindulging can be highly counterproductive. One study from the University of CaliforniaLos Angeles (UCLA) found that people who diet not only regain the weight they lost but actually tend to add more.

“We found that the average percentage of people who gained back more weight than they lost on diets was 41 percent, says Dr. Traci Mann, a professor at the University of Minnesota who specializes in psychology of eating disorders, in an interview with WebMD. She believes these numbers are conservative and the statistics may be even bleaker because the study’s data are based on self-reporting, which notoriously skews the results.

One of the reasons why diets don’t work, especially after a time of overeating, is that it’s hard for most people to change even recently acquired habits. If you can’t continue with something that provides you with so much gratification, it feels like cruel deprivation. It can be difficult to overcome that sudden void.

And even if you initially succeed at losing some weight, the returns inevitably diminish over time, says Dr. Mann. “When you keep to a reduced-calorie diet, your body makes metabolic adjustments that make it harder and harder for you to lose weight. Your body becomes very efficient, and you have to eat less and less to continue to lose weight. If you had the will to go on a diet, the fact that it steadily becomes less and less effective makes it even harder to stick to it,” she says.

People often underestimate how difficult it is to change their lifestyle, says Dr. Robert M. van Dam, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School who specializes in obesity studies. “People think diets are something you do for a little while before going back to your old lifestyle. But if you do a crash diet, you will only regain the weight,” he warns.

So what is the right way to get us out of the holiday spirit and let us down gently?

“People who want to achieve and maintain a healthy weight should start working at lifestyle changes they can maintain, even if it means not losing weight but just staying at the same weight,” says Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom, a professor for psychiatry and epidemiology and director the Weight Management Center at the University of Pittsburgh. In other words, instead of jumping on another fad diet that promises quick results, it is better to gradually ease back into your regular routine and go from there if additional weight loss measures are needed.

This is not just a physical exercise but a mental one as well. If the holidays caused you to engage in some bouts of emotional eating – meaning you ate for reasons other than hunger – you must find ways to cope with those issues as well. Just because the season is over doesn’t mean those needs go away.

Lifestyle changes that produce lasting results include a number of different elements, says Dr. Fernstrom, including moderation of food intake, increasing physical activity, managing stress and, if necessary, getting counseling and treatment for depression and other illnesses that may get in the way.

If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy reading “How Damaging Is Yo-Yo Dieting?.”

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.”, and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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Unrealistic Expectations Can Sabotage Weight Loss Goals

January 25th, 2012 at 7:32 am by timigustafson

Resolution season is in full swing or perhaps already winding down. If you have given up by now on this year’s weight loss efforts and old habits start creeping back in – you’re not alone. About 90 percent of all the promises we make to ourselves are quickly forgotten, according to Tom Connellan, author of the “1 Percent Solution – How to Make Your Next 30 Days the Best Ever.”

“Some people’s New Year’s resolutions are so broad that they’re often unattainable,” says Leslie Fink, a Registered Dietitian and contributing writer for Weight Watchers. “When expectations are set too high, it doesn’t take much to throw a person off.” Instead of aiming for a perfect score, she advises, people should be content with 80 percent of their initial objectives. That by itself would qualify as a great success.

How we manage our aspirations in pursuit of our goals is critical either way. In fact, there are physiological reasons why we feel gratified or disappointed when we succeed or fall short of our expectations. A release of a neurotransmitter, called dopamine, is triggered in our brain when our intentions are fulfilled, causing a pleasant sensation of satisfaction and well-being, according to Dr. David Rock, Director of the NeuroLeadership Institute and author of “Your Brain at Work.”

Unfortunately, this mechanism works also in the other direction, and even more so: “When our expectations are not met, […] our negative feelings are much stronger than the good feelings we get when expectations are exceeded,” says Dr. Rock. “When we don’t hit our expectations, our brain doesn’t just get slightly unhappy, it sends out a message of danger and threat.”

In other words, as humans we generally tend to be optimistic (and oftentimes overoptimistic) about our prospects but are more afflicted when they end up in failure. The trick is not to get stuck in the negative emotions, even if they initially dominate.

Being able to build on the successes you already had is crucial for staying motivated. Take your cues from what worked and what didn’t and find out what made the difference. Then, if you fail or are about to fail, put a plan into action you may call “resolution revival,” suggests Dawn Jackson Blatner, a Registered Dietitian at Northwestern Memorial Wellness Institute. “Evaluate where you’ve been and where you want to go,” she says, “and make sure your initial goal was realistic.”

If you expected too much of yourself, “chop up your resolution into little pieces,” as Blatner puts it. Small steps are much more manageable and they eventually add up to greater achievements. If you are continuously able to meet your (somewhat scaled back) expectations, you will gain more confidence over time and can set the bar higher as you go.

Being realistic about your abilities and limitations also includes to learn from your past mistakes. Don’t make the same resolutions year after year, says Blatner. Rather, ask yourself what you can do differently from hereon in. Also, keep your eye on the larger picture: You are not trying to perform a quick fix (at least, you shouldn’t) but to make lasting lifestyle changes.

Last but not least, do not expect that losing weight, getting back in shape and looking more attractive is going to solve every other issue you may be dealing with in your life. Being thinner does not necessarily turn you into the person you idealize in your fantasies. Don’t listen to all the “testimonials” from people on TV claiming their entire lives have been turned around after they lost weight.

“People expect a lot from weight loss, things that weight loss alone can’t deliver,” warns Dr. Lee Kern, Clinical Director of Structure House, a residential weight management facility in Durham, North Carolina. “And then they learn the hard way that success and happiness aren’t linked to a number on a scale,” he says.

Identifying your real goals and pursuing them in realistic ways will make it much more likely for you to stay on track. If your motives are misguided, the messages you give your body will be equally confusing.

“The first thing I always ask people is why is this the right time for you to lose weight,” says Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom, Professor of Psychiatry and Epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and author of “The Real You Diet.” If they say they’re happy with their lives but have hypertension – great. If they’re losing weight just to be happier, then we’ve got to talk. Happiness isn’t a size 2.”

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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This Year Could Be Different

December 29th, 2011 at 2:05 pm by timigustafson

What is it with New Year’s resolutions that makes them so prone to failure, it’s almost ludicrous to think of making another one? You know how it goes: This year, it will be different! I can change! I will stick to my plans and see them through, no matter what! No more excuses! And then, a few weeks later (if that long), things fall apart again and everything is back to “normal.”

If this scenario sounds familiar to you, you are not alone. Just one week into the new year, a quarter of resolutionists will have given up, according to Tom Connellan, author or the “1 Percent Solution – How to Make Your Next 30 Days the Best Ever.” In his estimation, about 90 percent of all the promises people make to themselves are forgotten as time moves on.

So, let’s be honest: New Year’s resolutions may be a time-honored tradition, but you shouldn’t take them too seriously. Old habits don’t break easily. Stop beating yourself up and face reality. It’s not going to be different this time – or will it?

One of the main reasons why our best intentions often fail is that we rely too much on our own resolve, says Connellan. People falsely believe that they can make big changes if they are sufficiently motivated. But nothing could be further from the truth. “People only think in large terms that are often unrealistic – like losing lots of weight or making a major life change. [They] don’t realize that even positive change is uncomfortable,” he says.

The trick is not to overestimate your abilities but to accept your limitations and to begin by taking small steps in the right directions. That doesn’t mean you’re giving up on your ambitions or lose sight of your larger goals. It just means you have to find better ways to go about them.

Be aware that there is no such thing as a clean slate or a brand new start when it comes to lifestyle changes. You are who you are. Everyone brings baggage. What matters most is not to let negative experiences of the past get in your way as you move forward.

People should not expect to become a “better person” by doing this, that or the other differently, say Judith Matz and Ellen Frankel, both clinical therapists, real-life sisters and bestselling coauthors of the “Diet Surviver’s Handbook” and “Beyond a Shadow of a Diet.” “Instead of making resolutions, a better way to go is, every day, cultivate healthy practices in your life that enhance your overall being physically, emotionally and spiritually.”

In other words, don’t compartmentalize. If your goal is to lose some weight, you should also look at the larger picture. You don’t just want to get rid of a few pounds, you want to be more healthy, fit and energetic. Healthy eating and exercise will get you there, but you also need a mindset that is conducive to an all-around healthy lifestyle.

So instead of going on another dreaded diet regimen, come up with realistic resolutions this year. Forget your futile attempts and failures of the past. They only make you apprehensive and fearful of more failures. “Visualize success,” advises Shirley Archer, a fitness and wellness instructor. “How would you look and feel and what would you be able to do if you enjoyed your ideal fitness?” “Don’t be too vague or too large,” she advises, when you set out your goals. While anyone can start a diet or fitness program at any time, in her experience, it takes approximately two months for a person to change his or her mindset and make new habits stick. A few weeks of dieting and exercising may let you lose some weight, but you need a larger scope to become a healthy person, she says.

This year could be different if you take the right approach. You can choose to become the person you envision as your ideal and make the necessary changes. Or you can try once again to patch up things the way you did before, hoping for a different outcome. This is as good a time as any to decide which way you want to go. Happy New Year!

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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About timigustafson

Timi Gustafson, RD, LDN, FAND is a registered dietitian, health counselor, book author, syndicated newspaper columnist and blogger. She lectures on nutrition and healthy living to audiences worldwide. She is the founder and president of Solstice Publications LLC, a publishing company specializing in health and lifestyle education. Timi completed her Clinical Dietetic Internship at the University of California Medical Center, San Francisco. She is a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, an active member of the Washington State Dietetic Association, a member of the Diabetes Care and Education, Healthy Aging, Vegetarian Nutrition and the Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition practice groups. For more information, please visit http://www.timigustafson.com

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