How often have you made New Year’s resolutions to get healthy, only to give up mid-January? Georgia Rickard finds out how to make them stick – without personal trainers, weight-loss programs or life coaches.
Health resolution 1: I want to lose weight
Step 1 – Keep a diary
You might not think writing could cause much of a sweat, but according to a 2008 study funded by the US National Health Institutes, keeping a food diary is one of the most important exercises you can include in your weight-loss routine – helping you lose up to twice as much weight.
The study, which recruited nearly 1700 participants with an average weight of 96kg, found that people who kept a food diary lost 8kg after 20 weeks – double the 4kg lost by those who did not keep a food diary.
Melanie McGrice, weight loss counsellor and accredited practising dietitian, explains how something so simple can have such a profound impact.
“Writing down your food intake can make you aware of habits that you didn’t even notice you had, like non-hungry eating,” McGrice explains. You don’t even need a special notebook to get started; simply scribble down what you have eaten on a post-it note or send yourself a summary email after each meal, says McGrice. “After all, it’s not the record itself that’s important – it’s the act of reflection.”
Step 2 – Believe in yourself
How many times have you told yourself it doesn’t matter if you have that second piece of cake, because you’re already overweight? You’re not alone.
“How you speak to yourself is the first thing dietitians assess when you walk through the door,” says McGrice. That’s because the biggest determining factor to weight-loss success is a positive attitude.
A study published in the Cognitive Therapy and Research journal looked at 62 overweight women who volunteered for a weight loss program and asked them to rank their chances of success. Those who rated themselves as ‘confident’ about their weight loss abilities were much more likely to stick to their six month commitment – and to achieve their weight loss goals.
If you’re in a weight loss rut, get back to basics by setting some realistic goals. “That means giving yourself a weight loss goal of five kilos, even if you have 25 to lose,” says McGrice.
Achieve a smaller goal and you will feel a big sense of achievement, getting the positive momentum you need to lose the next five, and the next.
Step 3 – Focus on food
The food you can have, that is. “When a dietitian helps you eat for weight loss, they’ll tell you to focus on what to eat, instead of what not to eat,” McGrice reveals. That means instead of thinking about those potato chips and biscuits you’re avoiding, you need to concentrate on how you can feed yourself at least five serves of vegies and two serves of fruit each day.
“When you focus on what you can have, you’re less likely to feel deprived – keeping you on track,” says McGrice.
There is no doubt that this strategy works. When researchers at Pennsylvania State University gathered a group of 97 obese women who were avoiding fat in their diets, they asked half the women to focus on adding more fruit and veg to their diet, while the other women just kept on avoiding fat. After a year of monitoring, the vegie-munchers reported much greater success – losing 20 per cent more weight on average, with the added benefit of reporting less hunger.
Health resolution 2: I want to stop food binges
Step 1 – Hire a new therapist: You
If you’ve ever dreamed about paying an expert to solve your health problems for you, you’ll be happy to learn that the most effective treatment experts use to overcome binges is something you can do yourself – and it’s free.
Called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), this involves challenging the negative thought patterns involved in your binge cycle, and replacing them with more positive self-speak.
If you binge whenever you’re worried or upset for example, you’d replace the thought pattern “I’m upset, but bingeing will make me feel better” with a sentence that directly challenges that concept, like “I’m upset, but the problem isn’t going to go away if I binge”.
Psychology-trained dietitian Susie Burrell explains how you can do this yourself. “Start by diarising all your thought processes before and after a binge,” she instructs.
“Once you understand why you are bingeing, you can start to challenge those thoughts with new ones.” It might take time, but keep at it. Retraining your thought processes is a critical step in overcoming bad eating habits, and there’s plenty of evidence to prove that it works.
The journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics reports that CBT is at least as effective, if not more, than any other psychological or medicinal treatment for binge eating ever researched.
Step 2 – Clear the dinner table
Reducing the frequency of your binges can be as simple as turning the TV off when you eat.
Researchers at Indiana State University taught 18 female binge eaters to focus on their meals (instead of watching TV) and without any other significant change, the women managed to reduce their weekly binges from an average of four to one and a half per week!
Another study found similar results: 25 adult participants of a 2006 study published in Complementary Health Practice Review, found that the frequency of their binges was decreased by “a large amount” when they learnt to eat mindfully.
Burrell believes that being mindful of your food makes a big difference because “it teaches you how to observe hunger and fullness cues, so you can learn how to listen to your body’s needs.”
To cut down on the frequency of your binges, include some mindful practices like eating slowly, concentrating on smells, textures and taste, and staying away from other stimulus like the TV or computer during meals.
You’ll do more than cut your binges too; studies have proven mindful eaters are more likely to be a healthy weight and meet nutritional requirements, plus less stressed and less depressed.
Step 3 – Nourish yourself regularly
If you were enlisting the help of an expert to kick your bingeing habit, they’d instil the importance of establishing a regular eating pattern, with three meals and two to three snacks each day. “Having a routine gives you structure, helps establish good habits and ensures you eat good-sized amounts,” explains Burrell.
If you do slip, a routine will also ensure you don’t skip the next meal too – lowering your chances of having a repeat binge.
To beat the ‘urge to splurge,’ plan out your week’s meals in advance and pre-prepare them whenever possible.
This not only reduces the likelihood of hunger getting the better of you, it gives you a sense of control over your eating – just what you need to banish the habit.
Health resolution 3: I want to exercise regularly
Step 1 – Start with something you’re good at
Common sense dictates that if you know you’re good at something, you’re much more likely to enjoy it. So why would exercise be any different?
“If you’re about to get back into exercise, you’re much more likely to stick to your routine if you’re doing something you really enjoy,” says Robyn Brass, certified psychologist and weight loss counsellor. The more you enjoy yourself, the more confident you will be in your abilities too – and greater confidence equals a greater chance of success.
Researchers from the University of Waterloo in Canada asked a group of volunteers aged 65 to 95 years to rank their self-confidence in walking unassisted. Those who perceived themselves as capable of the task were less likely to suffer from a fall than their less confident counterparts; this is despite the fact that they all possessed similar physical capabilities!
Start with something you know you can do, like walking or cycling along a path, if you’re just getting back into exercise. There’s no sense in setting off for a run only to find it so difficult and unenjoyable that you never go again. So go on, enjoy yourself!
Step 2 – Get SMART
Let’s say you’d like to trim down and feel more relaxed. It sounds good in theory, but “if you don’t set specific goals, you’ll never achieve them,” says Brass. If you really want to start an exercise program and stick to it, “it’s important that you work out some SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-specific),” she advises.
If it all seems a little too ambitious for you, consider this: setting specific goals increases your chances of sticking to your resolutions and goals.
A 2002 study that looked at members of a fitness centre found that people were more than twice as likely to stay with an exercise program if a goal was set. Only 30 per cent of the goal-setters dropped out of their exercise program, as opposed to 74 per cent of the non-goal setters – so give yourself a head start by specifying when, where, how long for and how often you’re going to exercise.
“Specific goals are much easier to achieve and give you a sense of empowerment, which is really important for maintaining motivation,” explains Brass.
Step 3 – Forget about the gym
It’s unorthodox advice, but if you can’t stand gyms, you’re just not going to stick with a vow to go every day, long-term. “It’s just not sustainable,” agrees Brass. If you find yourself renewing your resolve to visit the treadmill every few months, only to stop going after two sessions, it’s time to consider doing something else.
The good news is, as long as you’re raising your heart rate, you’re being physically active, so activities like dancing, playing with the children and walking are all beneficial. Just make sure your exercise routine has structure to it, and a moderate level of exertion.
“Otherwise you’re not going to see any results, and you may leave yourself too little time to exercise, both of which will affect your motivation,” warms Brass.
Health resolution 4: I want to eat more vegies
Step 1 – Swap old tastes for new
Can’t stomach certain vegetables? It could be that you’re objecting to more than the taste, says accredited practising dietitian Catherine Saxelby. If you spent hours being force-fed mushrooms at the dinner table as a child, “you’re probably reacting to the negative experience you associate with them, as much as you are the taste.” If that’s the case, you could try mixing them with your favourite foods, suggests Saxelby, “or you could research which foods have a similar nutritional profile and eat them instead.”
And if you just don’t like the taste of vegies in general? “Studies show that people don’t like the unfamiliar, so you might need to keep persisting until they become familiar. With time, anyone can learn to like vegies.”
If you’re still not convinced (or trying to convert a fussy eater) get smart and include more veg in your usual meals. Add finely chopped carrots, celery and zucchini to bolognese sauce; add a few cups of vegies next time you make soup, then purée the mixture to blend the flavours together; or learn to make tasty dishes like our Baked rice, tomato and zucchini recipe sent in by an HFG reader.
Step 2 – Educate yourself
If you knew Brussels sprouts might save your life, would you eat more of them? It’s a good idea to read up on the health benefits of your favourite vegetables – studies have shown that the more you know about their benefits, the more likely you are to eat them.
When researchers at Pennsylvania State University asked 113 consumers to read about the health benefits of edamame (soy beans in the pod) and then taste them, the number of people who indicated that they would be likely to purchase them was significantly higher than the amount of people who said they’d buy edamame after a taste test alone. This further indicates that knowing something is good for you can make all the difference to your diet and even your taste buds.
“If you’re about to sit down to a meal with broccoli in it, try reading something positive about broccoli just beforehand,” suggests Saxelby. “You could find you enjoy it more!”
Step 3 – Eat with your ears
If getting the whole family to eat more vegetables is challenging, you’re probably missing one vital ingredient: adjectives. When researcher Brian Wansink, director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab in the US, offered six different foods to cafeteria diners over a period of six weeks, they found a few extra words added greatly to the taste.
One dish was described at times as “Red beans and rice” and at other times was labelled “Traditional cajun red beans with rice”. Similarly, another dish was called “Seafood fillet” on some occasions and “Succulent Italian seafood fillet” on others.
The diners were then asked to assess which tasted better, and though the dishes were identical, the adjective-laden dishes were considered much tastier!
Try dressing the names up with gourmet words for older family members, and use ‘fun’ words for the kids’ meals, suggests Saxelby.
“A few select words can make all the difference, whether that’s changing ‘Steak and veg’ to ‘Juicy rump steak with Italian-style roasted vegetables’ or renaming ‘broccoli’ to ‘Dinosaur trees’,” says Saxelby. You could always remove some words, too, she points out: “‘forget’ to mention that the rice you’re eating is brown, and they probably won’t even notice!”
Expert tips for a healthy 2009
You’ve read about how to make your resolutions stick and you’re ready to eat more healthily and get fitter. Now read some helpful tips from the experts. You’ll see it’s all about balance – and yes, that includes treats.
Lisa Yates, Dietitian
Include a handful of nuts mid-afternoon – they’ll satisfy the 3pm munchies, help with weight management and reduce blood cholesterol.
Consider seeing an accredited practising dietitian as a first, rather than a last resort. There’s no quick fix, but professional help is a worthwhile investment.
Remember that every glass of wine takes 15 minutes of walking to burn off. If you don’t have time to exercise, don’t drink!
Nicole Senior, Dietitian
Imagine yourself as the healthy person you want to be. Think and act like that person.
Create a supportive food environment to make healthy choices easy. Stock your kitchen pantry and fridge with mostly healthy food and take lunch to work.
When weeks get busy, double your recipes and cook twice as much. Freeze the other half for your very own convenience meals.
Susie Burrell, Psychology-trained Dietitian
Don’t love it? Don’t eat it. Life is too short to eat poor quality food, so choose the best you can afford – and savour it.
Make a list of 10 quick and easy meals to stick on the fridge. Then, when you’re too tired to think about dinner, you’ll have some options in front of you.
Have a treat each day. A glass of wine or a small chocolate is essential for sticking to your diet the rest of the time. Make sure it contains less than 400kJ.
After an extended period of dieting, give your body a rest. A diet too low in kilojoules can actually stimulate appetite, so include a day off each week.
Robyn Brass, Psychologist
Work out exactly how you want to feel in December 2009. Set your health goals with that in mind.
Read up regularly on relevant health issues. If you suffer from any disease, keeping up-to-date can give you a sense of control.
Don’t set yourself up for failure. Your resolutions should be achievable, enjoyable and realistic – not impossible.
Caitlin Reid, Dietitian and Exercise Physiologist
Complete a fitness event. Whether it’s completing your first fun run or joining a team sport, sign up and start training.
Know your excuses. Is it ‘too cold’ to exercise or are you ‘too busy’? Develop ways to overcome them.
Plan your work-outs each week. Map out the time you plan to exercise, and exactly what you plan to do in each session too.
Aim for your snacks to contain less than 600kJ, with no more than 30g total carbohydrate and at least 5g of protein. This will help you achieve the right mix of low-GI carbohydrates for energy and protein for fullness.
Catherine Saxelby, Dietitian
Eat a salad every day. They fill you up without overloading you – even with dressing.
Think ‘health,’ not ‘diet.’ Give up on restriction and aim to nourish your body with the essential nutrition it needs. This means a fresh peach or mango is suddenly a healthy food to enjoy, not a ‘low-kilojoule diet snack.’
Start each meal with a large glass of water. It’ll reduce sensations of hunger, distend your stomach and leave you feeling fuller.
Don’t ‘overhaul’ your diet. Big changes never last, but you can stick to small ones. Try cooking two new healthy recipes each week or having two nights free of alcohol during the week.
The numbers on resolutions
Did you know that only one in four diets succeeds or that only half of those who begin an exercise program will stick to it for longer than six months? The natural response when you have a health lapse is to feel like a failure. But take heart, it’s generally not your fault. The key is having the information to succeed. So read on and find out how stay on the path.
What are your health-related New Year’s resolutions?
21% of respondents said they are aiming to lose weight.
I’m going to get down to a healthy BMI by my birthday at the end of March – and maintain it.Jayne Campbell, 24, NSW
To get back into the healthy weight range for my height.Kat Devantier, 25, QLD
To lose enough weight to be able to get my knee replacements.Name supplied, via email
To resist chocolate a little more often!Sue Leach, 61, SA
I’m going to relax more.Joan Whitlam, 56, QLD
The same as most other years – to stay healthy and alert, and do my bit for the world.Lorraine Mace, 59, VIC
To stop the yoyo dieting.Name supplied, via email
To stop blaming others for my food choices. I am the only person responsible for the food I eat.Shelly, via email
33% of you said you’d like to exercise more
Get fit and be more active.Marnie Cannon, 30, NSW
To try out new activities, such as kayaking and dancing, to add interest to my fitness schedule.Patricia McMinn, 54, QLD
My new year’s resolution is to maintain my weight by adding weights and yoga to my exercise routine, and to cut down on the dark chocolate!Toni Zeppelini, 39, QLD
To make use of my gym membership and new bicycle.Virginia Cullen, 44, VIC
To walk 40 minutes, five times per week.Kim, via email
To drink more water, and to push myself ‘just a little bit harder’ during exercise.Jill Davis, 50, VIC
I’m going to take the guilt away from food, replacing ‘should’ with ‘could’ so it’s a matter of informed choice.Doris Stutley, via email
48% vow to eat more healthily
To get fit and start eating more healthy foods.Jacqueline Sher, 28, NSW
My new year’s resolution is to not eat carbs after 3pm. More protein, less carbs.Sandra Cabrelle, 41, NSW
More balance, be it activities, exercise, rest or food. And that means eating treats too!Kathy Lange, 48, QLD
Eat less junk food and less carbs after 2pm.Denise Mitchell, 52, SA
I’m going to increase my intake of fruit and vegand lower my red meat intake – without depriving myself of a few treats.Name supplied, via email
To have four alcohol-free days every week.Name supplied, via email
To lose a few more kilos, exercise more and have a good laugh while doing it. And to keep reading Healthy Food Guide for great tips and recipes, of course!Bronwyn, via email