Posted by Jo on Jan 2, 2012
Perhaps it should be less surprising that it is this week, the last fling of a fading year leading into the pristine promise of a new one, that the determination to turn over a new leaf is fuelled so powerfully given the excess that preceded it. A time when we are as replete with resolutions as with turkey, booze, chocolates and guilt – the latter being a factor, of course, of the former. Yet resolve we do, with steely determination and the wide, gleaming eyes of the newly converted. This year, goes the dogma, will be the one.
For all those good intentions, only 20% of New Years resolutions make it to the end of January. But if you are depressed by this doom mongering statistic, don’t be. Rather than declaring that in 2012 the plan is to drop to a size zero, run the marathon and swim the English Channel, try to get to the heart of what is really needed by setting bite-sized, realistic and achievable goals.
Nutritional goals commonly feature on the resolution list, none more so than weight loss. It is important to begin by accepting a truism: If it’s taken a while for the weight to creep up, it is likely to take a while for it to slip back down, especially if it is to be maintained. So here are a few starting suggestions that might help to actually achieve the shinier, happier, healthier you in 2012.
Keep it simple to start with. Goals such as reducing sugar and increasing fruit and veg may seem overly simplistic but such simple swaps can have a wide reaching effect in almost all areas of our health, including waistlines. For example try swapping tea time cakes and biscuits for a piece of fruit, or trying a new vegetable every week.
Where caffeine is key, or indeed a crutch, start by gradually cutting back. Try one less drink per day for the first couple of weeks, gradually building up to halving the number consumed daily by the end of January. Alternating between full strength and de caff/herbal varieties may also be helpful, while going full-on cold turkey can actually lead to symptoms of withdrawal, so try to make the change gradual.
Equally, if that morning coffee is more often than not accompanied by a pastry on the go, try replacing it with a proper breakfast. Skipping breakfast entirely leaves the body open to a blood sugar imbalance that leads to the sweetie drawer before you can say “sugar rush.” But while making sure to eat breakfast, check the sugar content of cereals, if sugar is one of first few ingredients listed, put it back. Swap instead to a sugar-free muesli or porridge sweetened with a little honey, fresh or dried fruit. Equally, try adding a handful of nuts or seeds to cereal or porridge or opt for yoghurt or eggs with wholemeal toast – protein makes us feel fuller for longer and therefore less likely to snack and a balanced breakfast is integral to weight management.
Instead of giving up carbohydrates altogether, as so many try to do in the dash to make drastic January changes, how about making the swap from white to brown in the form of pastas, bread, cereals and grains? Brown varieties have higher fibre content (keeping us fuller for longer) and release glucose more slowly into the bloodstream, staving off sugar cravings. Try laying off the refined carbohydrates at lunch or dinner and swap them for beans, lentils or more vegetables instead.
But resolutions don’t have to be simply giving things up or omitting them forever, how about introducing new foods, exercises or hobbies? Try a new recipe each week to increase confidence in the kitchen. For waterphobes, try setting a water challenge starting with drinking one 500ml bottle per day and gradually increasing to 1.5l. Thirst can be mistaken for hunger so hydrating fully is important, vary the options by drinking sparkling water with a slice of lemon or diluting fresh fruit juice.
Exercise can spark new found strength and self control in other aspects of our lives and the benefits are immediate. If you haven’t done any exercise for a while, set yourself a realistic goal of once a week for the first month, working up to three times per week by the end of month two. There are a huge number of apps available now for novice athletes that can be really useful if you don’t want to go to the gym. Get Running, for example, sets the target of couch-bound to 30 minutes continuous jogging in 9 weeks. Alternatively try brisk walking or join a yoga or zumba class. Finding a friend to exercise with can also help maintain momentum.
If it’s the sweet tooth you are trying to beat, and it so often is post-Christmas, look for alternative treats such as a couple of squares of good quality 70% dark chocolate. The flavour is so intense even the most avid chocolate lover would struggle to finish a bar. Sweet tropical fruits (mango, pineapple, papaya) can be bought in tubs from most lunch spots while, if you need a sweet fix at the end of a meal, they offer a healthier option. Or try stuffing medjool dates with cashews or almonds. Medjool dates have a fudgey, caramelly sweetness about them that might just hit the spot if you’re in a bind.
It is this cumulative effect of creating and achieving a set of small, self imposed goals that is likely to lead to an increase in willpower to tackle larger, long-term resolutions. Don’t be put off if, by the middle of January, said resolutions already seem like a distant memory. Acknowledge the setback and start again. And don’t feel guilty, remember that we are only human and one small change that can be stuck-to is better than none at all. Then, once January is over, why not try setting some new goals for the following months, there are eleven of them before the excess begins again, after all.