Written by Angie Murad, RDN, LD. Angie is a registered dietitian who specializes in weight management.
Making New Year’s resolutions can feel almost like a reset button to find new motivation to make a change in diet or exercise habits to help lose weight. Now more than ever we need to embrace a new beginning! This year has been challenging on so many levels, which makes it even more important to be kind to ourselves!
New Year’s resolutions often include extreme measures to reach health goals. Statistics show that more than half of all resolutions fail. When it comes to resolutions related to weight loss, the journey often leads to restriction and frustration, which sets up an unhealthy relationship with food or exercise. What if we get rid of the typical New Year’s resolutions and frame them in a more positive way to build upon one’s strengths?
What about trying a more positive approach, the positive psychology approach? Martin Seligman, proposed this new field in psychology which sought a paradigm shift from the typical negative approach. Instead of focusing on one’s mental illness, trauma, suffering and pain; he focused on ways to find happiness, well-being, and strength. The most widely accepted definition of positive psychology is the scientific approach that studies human thoughts, feelings, and behaviors with a focus on the strengths instead of weaknesses to improve life.
Positive psychology does not replace traditional psychology but it shifts one’s perspective to find greater happiness in life from everyday experiences and can improve overall quality of life, instead of beating ourselves up for what went wrong.
What is Your “Best Possible Self”?
Asking yourself what is your “best possible self?” comes from positive psychology. This is meant to be a simple exercise that forces oneself to visualize accomplishing goals at a future time and consider what strengths are needed to make the goal(s) reality. It has been shown to bring about hope, increase happiness, improve coping skills, and bring about positive expectations for the future.
Instead of approaching the year and making a new list of New Year’s resolutions, let’s shift that approach and instead ask yourself, “what are ways I can achieve my best possible self?” It doesn’t mean I have to be perfect, instead, what small steps can I do to improve my health and well-being?
Here are five ways to re-frame New Year’s resolutions in a more positive light to bring about a sustainable change to a healthy lifestyle and perhaps an added bonus of more happiness and overall well-being.
1 - Maintain your weight over the holidays
A simple shift in mindset around the holidays from weight loss to weight maintenance is an easy one. Typically, Americans gain between 1-2 pounds per year over the holidays. This doesn’t sound like much but research shows that those 1-2 pounds aren’t usually lost after the holiday season. Over the course of just 5 holiday seasons that would translate to 10 pounds gained. Use time off around the holidays to include more movement or exercise throughout the day. Include small bouts activities your entire family enjoys.
2 - Finding opportunities for health and happiness
The typical “diet mentality” follows specific rules on what, when, and how to eat making one feel that the only way to lose weight is through deprivation and that weight loss is the only way to become happy or healthy. Eating should be about nourishing our bodies. One simple way to include more to meals without a whole lot of extra calories is by including more fruits and vegetables. Only 14 percent of American adults consume more than 2 servings of fruit and 3 servings of vegetables; which the daily recommend amount. First, be curious how many meals include a fruit or vegetable, can a fruit or vegetable be added to a meal?
3 - Find Balance and Moderation
Fueling our bodies for weight loss doesn’t have to be about only eating salads. Including all foods with fiber and protein helps keep the body satisfied longer throughout the day. Find opportunities to include whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat bread or pasta), and lean or plant-based protein sources (chicken or turkey breast, fish, bean or lentils) as an opportunity to try new recipes or enjoy foods prepared in a new way.
4- Be Mindful One Meal a Day
Research shows that being more focused at meal times and slowing down reduces the amount of food eaten at a meal. It can take our stomach 20 minutes to send signals to our brain that the body is feeling satisfied. A few simple tricks are to eat at the table away from any distractions, chew at least 25 times per bite, and put your fork down between bites.
5 - Understand the Why Behind Eating
When reaching for a snack or treat be sure to ask the simple question, “am I truly hungry?” If not, what is the emotional reason for eating? Am I bored, anxious, frustrated, or lonely? The word HALT can stop someone in their tracks before they automatically reach for food and the word itself is an acronym used to get at the reasons behind eating: H-Hungry, A-Angry, L-Lonely, T-Tired or Time. Often emotions can make one feel that they are hungry but if we can get at the real reason for eating we can find new ways to manage our emotions without eating. If you are truly hungry then by all means eat something to nourish yourself. If bored you can call a friend, if you are anxious you can write in a journal to work through emotions. Going for a walk can energize you instead of eating or relying on high calorie caffeinated drinks.
Remember all of these suggestions are ideas to help bring about small sustainable change to promote progress not perfection.
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