22 May Food Resolutions: Why Slow + Steady Often Wins The Race
In January of every year, I hear the same stories from my patients. They are coming off of a holiday season that served as a setback to the better diet and healthier lifestyle they had been trying to achieve. And, now they are ready for a change. Optimistically setting lofty goals, they detail the changes that will help them better manage their obesity, hypertension or diabetes.
I’m sure many of you can sympathize with this train of thought. Maybe the motivation for improvement didn’t come in January but instead came after a scary health report, a surprising scale reading, an insensitive comment from a friend or after a period of self-reflection.
How many of these resolutions or health goals sound familiar? Have you ever made a commitment like one of these?
1) Lose 50 pounds by the end of the year
2) Cut out all sugar from your diet
3) Stop eating fast food
4) Give up all carbohydrates
5) Eat only salads for lunch
You are not alone. So many of us have set these unrealistic goals for ourselves.
Unfortunately, we are setting ourselves up for failure.
I like to compare these resolutions to growing a business. An intelligent business developer does not just wake up one day and say, “I am going to start a business today and expect to make a million dollars this year.” Instead, they think about all the ways they can grow their business and all of the sacrifice it will take to get there, list their ideas in a detailed business plan and then apply that plan to the myriad challenges and setbacks that disrupt their strategy throughout the year. Your food resolutions will only work if they include the same meticulous planning.
Eating habits and weight gain can be particularly difficult to change because your body adapts to unhealthy behaviors and to weight gain over the course of many years. As the body becomes used to these behaviors, it tends to fight back when you try to make changes. How does it fight back? The mind will lure you away from your dietary changes with unhealthy cravings. The body may push back against weight loss by adapting a slower metabolic rate.
Here are step-by-step instructions that will allow you to create meaningful and achievable goals. This is the way I gave up my two Coca-Cola/day habit and lowered my red meat intake over the last ten (THAT’S RIGHT 10!!) years.
1.Choose a food related habit you are ready to change. Do you drink too much soda or sweet tea? Are you always stopping for fast food when you are on the road? Do you tend to raid the pantry every night for some late-night eating? Pick ONE and ONLY ONE to tackle first.
2.Figure out exactly how often that habit gets the best of you and what circumstances lead you down that unhealthy path. I’ll use the soda as an example. When I used to drink a lot of soda, I used to have one every time I went out to eat and one soda after lunch every day. These were my triggers.
3.Take a step back and determine your long-term goal. My long term goal was to cut soda out of my diet completely. It would have been impossible for me to cut out two sodas a day all at once and plan to maintain that change for the rest of my life. This intention required a better plan.
4.Start with a short-term goal. This may require some math but don’t let it scare you. Back to the soda example. Two sodas every day equaled fourteen sodas a week. Instead of focusing on a goal that required me to stop them all at once, I set an achievable monthly goal. For me, that was to drink one less soda each week and maintain that change for a month.
5.Determine what healthier behavior will replace your unhealthy behavior. Will you drink water instead of soda? Pack a lunch when you’re on the road? How will you make this sustainable?
6.Write down a plan like this: Each can represents a can of soda. Replace with any habit you want to wean down on:
Congrats! Now you’re done. You have kicked the soda habit, a habit that you had built up over many years, in only thirteen months. That is amazing.
Or, maybe the changes do not happen so easily for you. Maybe the changes do not go as planned. Suppose you get stuck in June or have a setback in July. When this happens, be kind to yourself and allow yourself forgiveness. We all have setbacks. Remember, improvement does not take place in a straight line—no matter what those glitzy self-help books tell you.
You may think that this type of incremental change is too slow, but it is not. In the example I just described about soda, you have cut out almost two thousand calories each week, two thousand five hundred grams of sugar each month, and almost seven thousand teaspoons of sugar each year. That’s incredible. And these changes will persist, providing benefit after benefit as you age.
The even better news is that if you are only successful at cutting down to one soda each day, you still have made a tremendous difference in your health; and when you are ready to make the final cuts in your soda intake, it will be much easier.
If soda is not a problem for you, apply this technique to fast food or sweet tea. Or incorporate exercise into your routine in a similar and deliberate pattern.
Even if it takes two or three years to achieve your goal, do not worry about the delay and don’t be hard on yourself. Have a plan and expect setbacks.
You have built your habits over years and years. Give yourself the time to unwind them over years and years. Incorporate your healthy behaviors over a lifetime; do not ram them into a yearly resolution.