By Colleen Doyle, MS, RD
I just heard on the radio the other day that spring is more than halfway over. Before we know it, the year will be halfway over - and at that point, I always like to reflect back on the last six months, think about those resolutions I set at the beginning of the year, and see how I'm doing. It's a time for me to take stock, get real, and get back on track if need be.
At the beginning of the year, I did a little research to see just how popular setting New Year's resolutions is. According to surveys, about 50% of us will make some kind of resolution. And likely, those resolutions will be related to eating better, being more active, and losing weight.
All lofty goals, of course, but according to those same surveys, only 8% of us will achieve what we actually set out to do. Forty-five percent of us will have thrown in the towel by the end of January, and most of the rest of us? Well, by Valentines' Day, love may be in the air, but chance are, those New Years resolutions are getting the boot. And by the mid-year mark, well...let's just say, most people are asking, "What resolutions?"
So what's the deal? When the year begins, we have such high hopes to eat better, we're so motivated to exercise more, and we so want to live a healthier life. Why is it so hard, then, to keep these promises we make to ourselves?
Part of 'getting real' is figuring out how to set ourselves up for success - how we make it easier on ourselves to achieve what we set out to accomplish. Especially when it comes to eating better and being more active, there are some solid steps we can take to help us on our path to living a healthier life. If you've wandered off that path, now is as good a time as any to get back on track! These tips will help:
Start small and be specific
Be realistic in your expectations of yourself and what you expect to achieve. Take large or long-term goals and break them down into smaller, more manageable goals: running a marathon may not be a realistic goal, but training for a 5K and building to a 10K might be. It's also helpful to be specific: the more specific you are in identifying your goal, the more successful you will be in developing an effective plan of action to achieve it. Instead of "I want to eat more fiber", you might start with "I will add 2 servings of fruits and vegetables to my diet each day." Rather than "I'm going to walk more," try "I will walk one more mile each day."
Write it down
Many studies show that keeping a food and/or activity journal can help keep you on track and motivated. If you set a goal that involves improving your diet, keeping a food diary will give you insight into not only what and how much you consume, but can help you uncover why you are eating when and what you are. You'll figure out if there are particular times of the day that are challenges for you and whether certain circumstances (or people!) cause you to overeat. Keeping track of the progress you are making toward your exercise goals can help keep you motivated - seeing how far you've come is a great incentive to keep going! And try writing down your planned exercise sessions in your calendar, elevating them to 'priority status,' just like other appointments you have.
Don't rely on willpower
Our surroundings can have a huge influence on our behavior - both positive and negative. Temptation is all around us, but being proactive about reducing these temptations and creating an environment that makes it easier to eat better and be more active will help set you up for success. If you're trying to eat less sugar but that 'hot doughnut' sign tempts you on your way to work, find a different route. If you've set a goal to drink more water and less soda throughout the day, keep a pitcher of water close by. If you are committing to getting up early to work out, save yourself some time in the morning by setting out your clothes and shoes the night before so they are ready to go first thing when you roll out of bed.
Set up a support system
Support from family and friends is an important part of making and sustaining healthy lifestyle changes. Begin to think of who is most supportive in your life and who can provide encouragement - and help you hold yourself accountable - along the way. You might find your friend is better at keeping you motivated and your co-worker might support you best by providing you with creative healthy recipes. Let your family and friends know how best they can support you! For a great way to make a plan and set a support system, join the American Cancer Society Choose You movement.
Reward your successes
Treating yourself for milestones you achieve - from eating more fruits and vegetables to not succumbing to the vending machine at work to fitting in those jeans you've wanted to wear - is another way to help keep you encouraged, motivated and on the right track. What's important is choosing a reward that is right for you and that helps you continue moving toward your goals to live healthier (like new workout clothes or a bubble bath, instead of chocolate, when you meet your exercise goal for the week).
So, what about you? Have you set any goals to eat better and be more? How have you set yourself up for success? What challenges have you encountered? How have you overcome them?
Colleen Doyle, MS, RD, is director of nutrition and physical activity for the American Cancer Society.