Image provided with kind permission from Canadean (2015)
On the 1st January (or as my husband promises; monday the 5th January [because it’s the start of the week]), we vow to better ourselves. We promise to stop all those bad habits (eating sweets and chocolate, having all that white bread, drinking too much, smoking and checking twitter or Facebook every 5 minutes), whilst declaring we will go to the gym 5 times a week, get to bed earlier and read that book you were given 6 months ago.
As it happens, a recent survey by Canadean has shown that Healthy eating is the number one resolution for UK adults (see the graph below), with losing weight and achieving a general feeling of well-being being the key goals. Over 1/3 of the 2000 people asked in December make resolutions to eat and drink more healthily. Of these people, 65% plan to eat more fruit and vegetables, 58% want to eat less fat and 53% want to eat less sugar, with more women making these resolutions than men.
Graph provided with kind permission from Canadean. Report on New Year Resolutions published 05.01.15
Resolutions imply major changes to our lives that appear doable but 2-3 weeks in, seem insurmountable. Apparently (I read somewhere, so not sure on the credibility) the 17th January is the most common day for giving up. We tend to do more of the nice things at the weekend when we are free of the work routine, so Saturday is often going to be a day where we fall off the wagon. It just depends if you are dedicated enough to get back on it again on Sunday.
My new year’s resolution is usually not to have a resolution at all; it puts a huge amount of pressure on our shoulders. We often end up feeling more guilty and unhappy with ourselves than before we started as the beginning of the year is clouded with a list of failures.
We have such high hopes for the New Year. I love the positive vibes but it turns out that most of us give up on our resolutions because we are not actually ready to make the changes we think we should. We view the New Year as a fresh start – everybody else is on the coconut water and 100 day ab challenge so why shouldn’t you?! Perhaps the first thing on your list is simply to drink less coffee and more water (this is actually a good one!), or just eat more healthily and lose the half stone you gained over Christmas? But how exactly do you go about doing that? How do you keep yourself from giving up?
Here are my 7 tips to better resolutions:
- Be human!
- Avoid mutli-tasking
- Control your surroundings
- Seek support
- Reward yourself!
Thinking and planning is essential – are your family and friends on board? will your children eat the same as you? do you need to change what you buy and cook? How do you need to organise yourself at work to continue with these changes? Will you need to get up earlier? and so on……..But stay positive: stack the odds in your favour. We all have our own particular strengths and weaknesses. Play up your strengths and make a plan to avoid getting side-tracked by your weaknesses. Don’t simply wish you could do better this time – take concrete steps to ensure that you do.
Talking of getting up earlier………. some research has shown the earlier in the day we practice new habits the higher levels of success. Obviously this won’t work if your goal is to get more sleep by going to bed earlier but if the change you want to make can be done in the morning, do it then. Speaking of sleep, your chances of success for all kinds of personal change go up if you get enough. Read on…………..
Sleep is fundamental in helping us function on a daily basis and coping with stress. Lack of sleep makes those everyday niggles seem so much larger and unmanageable. We are more likely to be impatient, intolerant and irrational when tired, so we are more likely to become frustrated and disheartened with our resolutions.
When it comes to survival, eating and sleeping are two of the most basic and essential human functions. They are also deeply entwined. Too much or too little sleep alters our appetite and wreaks havoc with our hormones like Ghrelin (a hunger hormone that increases our appetite), making food harder to resist. Insufficient sleep makes junk food appear more tempting, increases our desire for high-calorie foods and larger portion sizes. Staying up late at night often leads to greater overall calorie consumption and makes us more prone to putting on weight (people eat more to make up for the additional energy expenditure associated with being awake for longer).
On the other hand, high-quality, restful sleep in moderate amounts (not too little, not too much) has a positive influence on long-term weight control. There are also foods that promote sleep (including potassium-rich fruits like bananas and dark leafy greens) and foods that can interfere with sleep (think high-fat snacks).
Your resolution(s) should allow you to slip up without going into a slide. Just because you fell off the wagon doesn’t mean you can’t get back on it again. Remember that life is about enjoyment so don’t think you need to deprive yourself all the time. Enjoying a party or celebration, having that piece of cheesecake or missing your yoga classes is not a failure; we are human, not robots so don’t beat yourself up about it! I am also a big believer of ‘there is no time like the present’ – don’t think damn, I’ll start again next week or next month, why wait? Be positive and make it the following day and you will feel much so better for it.
When it comes to resolutions by all means make a list of what you would like to achieve but select just one to work on at any one time. A list of habits is also easier to tackle than sweeping resolutions. For example if you want to eat more healthily, what will that really mean for you? Think about the details. Eat more fruit and veg perhaps (how much more?), eat more fish (how many times a week?), cut down on biscuits, use less salt when cooking or add less sugar to your tea? Be patient and prioritise one change on your list. Don’t try to change a second habit until the first one has become a habit.
This is about being SMART
SMART GOALS are more likely to result in successful long term lifestyle changes. SMART stands for
Specific – focus on one change to start with – see the multi-tasking tip.
Measurable – Try to decide exactly what you would like to do – can you quantify the change you want to make? Think how many times you would like to do something (walking twice a week) or how much you would like to change something – cut down your cups of coffee from 6 to 4, or spoons of sugar in your tea from 2 to 1. How about adding 1 portion of fruit at breakfast time or trying 1 new vegetable each week? This will help you monitor and check your progress.
Achievable – will you be able to find the time to walk x times a week? Can you tolerate a cup of tea with half the amount of sugar in it? If not, you might need to break it down – cut back by 1/2 a teaspoon at a time. Thinking about eating, do you have a list of healthier alternatives (drinks, snacks, cereals etc.) that you can incorporate into your diet and swap with the less healthy bits? In other words are your goals doable?
Realistic – Do you have everything in place to help you achieve your goal? Will it cost money? Do you have a buddy to walk / exercise with you? Do you need to do some reading-up or more planning? To avoid disappointment, there is no point for example, setting yourself the challenge of going to the gym 5 times a week when you haven’t even been once in the last 6-12 months. Baby steps may well be a better approach, rather than taking giant leaps.
Timely – Have you given yourself enough time to achieve your goal? With all good intentions, you need to be honest and fair to yourself too. If you need to withdraw yourself from Cola for example, don’t expect to do it overnight – if you are a 4L a day person (and yes, I know some), expect it to take up to a month! If you want to run 5K, 10K or even a marathon, realistically (see above) how long will it take to increase your fitness and stamina?
Finding a buddy, especially one with goals similar to yours is one of the best ways to ensure success. It could be someone you simply text or call for some moral support, someone at work you can compare notes with, or a partner who is supportive and encouraging of your goals. Joining particular support groups can really work for some.
CONTROL YOUR SURROUNDINGS
Spend time with people who support and encourage you too. If you are focusing on improving your diet, stock your house with nutritious foods and give away the empty-calorie temptations that are left over from Christmas (or hide them away securely!) Avoid unlimited buffets and choose restaurants that offer healthy options. When going out with friends, explain what you are trying to do so they don’t pressure you into having another drink or a dessert because they are having one! Stick to your guns!
To reinforce your success, build in a reward system. Make a commitment that when you succeed in keeping your resolution, or achieving a goal (no matter how small) you will treat yourself. They do not have to be food-related but a small foody treat is fine. Celebrate your success with a new book, a manicure, a trip to the cinema, 30 minutes uninterrupted in the bath or whatever feels special to you. Pick a day in the week / month / or whenever you are aiming to achieve your goal and stick a note on the fridge to motivate you.
GOOD LUCK, YOU CAN DO IT!!