New Year’s resolutions.
Happy New Year! This is the time when lots of people get fired up about the positive changes they will make in the new year. Gym memberships soar, Weight Watchers garners new members, self help books fly off the shelves of the book stores. My yoga teacher advised us in class the other day that attendance typically is MUCH higher at the beginning of the year and told us to make sure and arrive early for the first couple weeks after New Year’s Day.
I’ve never been a big one for New Year’s resolutions. Even as a kid I saw it as a thing many people do, but few follow through with. Maybe it’s just my personality. I’m more of a slow, considered change kind of person. I’ve never been into fad 10 day diets or 3 day cleansing fasts or throwing myself into a new workout routine full out. I think about changes for a long time and then usually aim for sustainable long term changes. Not saying that is best for everyone, just recognizing it is what works for me.
That said, I do find my thoughts turn to the improvements I could make in my exercise or my diet or other aspects of my life this time of year. So many people are talking about their new diet or workout routine or quitting smoking or being nicer to people. It does create an energetic atmosphere in which to imagine a better, stronger me.
I carry a few (ahem) extra pounds and have been in a rather prolonged contemplation phase regarding weight loss. Several years ago I successfully lost 135 pounds. Since then I have put a few back on. The biggest jump was 3 years ago when I had to be on high dose steroids for a few weeks. I put on 20 pounds that I never lost. Last year I put on 10 pounds during my recuperation from my heart attack and only took off 5 of them. I am still 100 pounds lighter than my heaviest weight, but I know the insidious nature of weight gain. It tends to creep on and is MUCH harder to take off than it was to gain.
In the last year I have gone from exercising very irregularly, maybe taking a good walk a couple times a week, to walking at least 30 minutes every day except when my cardiac symptoms prevent me finishing my walk. I feel good about this positive change and I know I felt better in the past when I walked daily. This has not been enough to budge the weight, however. So I know the more difficult step of altering my diet is called for if I actually want to lose any weight. Even very modest weight loss is enough to have positive and lasting effects on the cardiovascular system, so even 10 pounds would help. See a discussion of this on the CDC website here.
There is also a nice article about getting started with weight loss on the CDC site with the inspiring title, “Healthy Weight: it’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle!” I think the exclamation point makes it especially fun! Seriously, it has some good tips for preparing and realistic goal setting. Note to eager beavers out there, a goal of losing 25 pounds in two weeks is NOT realistic! People who set realistic and attainable goals are much more likely to stay in for the long haul. WebMD has a good article about setting weight loss goals here. Generally speaking, an initial goal of losing 5 to 10 percent of body weight is reasonable. If your weight loss needs are higher than that, don’t lose heart. Once you successfully achieve that initial goal, it is time to evaluate your progress and set new goals.
So, here I am surrounded by the New Year energy and my friends and acquaintances deciding to buckle down and start exercising again or shape up that diet. A good friend wrote to me about working on her food plan for the new year. I guess I’m about ready for that change because that motivated me to check out Dean Ornish’s book, The Spectrum: A Scientifically Proven Program to Feel Better, Live Longer, Lose Weight, and Gain Health, from the library. I read his book, Dr. Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease in the mid 90′s. I found it very helpful, but in time grew discouraged with the strict dietary restrictions, even though I was already a vegetarian when I started. I followed the dietary and exercise recommendations fairly faithfully though didn’t really know how to do the stress reduction aspects. I did lose weight and get healthier. Later after slipping somewhat on the diet and having an accident which seriously limited my exercise for several months, I gained a lot of weight. Since then I used other tools to help me with my weight, but regain will always be a concern for me. In the newer “Spectrum” book, Dr. Ornish presents a more nuanced discussion of his diet, exercise, and stress management recommendations. He discusses choices in terms of a spectrum from “most healthful” to “least healthful” rather than all or nothing. This appeals to me.
My next step has been to start keeping a food diary. This is a daily record of what you eat and drink. It can be as simple as just writing down everything in a notebook, but I find making use of food diary software much easier as it adds up all the calories and grams of different nutrients for you. My favorite website I used in the past was myfooddiary.com. This website charges a few dollars a month but has an expansive data base of foods and is very easy to use. Another popular choice is fitday.com. This is the site I am using now because it has a free version and I don’t have the extra cash for a monthly fee. There are other programs out there, including stand alone programs for home computers, iPhone apps, etc. I find when keeping a food diary, besides getting feedback on the effects of my food choices, I tend to make better choices because I know I will be recording them. Right now I am focussing on getting in the habit of using the diary and looking over the data. In time I will start implementing more regimented changes. This approach has worked well for me in the past.
So what changes are YOU making for the new year? I’d love to hear what changes people are planning (or not) and how they approach them.