A new year is here: it’s time to renew the quest for a better self. Whether you start the year with a detox program or a new diet or exercise routine, the trick is to get past February to accomplishing lasting change. So it must be a goal that’s challenging yet still achievable. It must make a difference at the end of the year.
What, honestly, is really important? Define your terms – what would make you healthier?
A popular option is detoxification. Basically, it means cleaning out any poisons or accumulated junk that are overwhelming our normal filtration systems. It usually means some sort of fasting. The Master Cleanse, also known as the Lemonade Diet, features lemon juice, maple syrup, salt water and cayenne for 10 days. Many supplement companies offer packages of nutrients, fiber, and colon cleansers to be taken along with a limited list of other foods for 21 – 30 days, thereby bypassing the starvation factor. Since motivation is high at the beginning of the year, many people like to start strong with a detox so that the larger goal of eating clean is easier as life crowds back in. It’s not a long-term diet, but a yearly cleanse to release old junk and jumpstart a new, healthier lifestyle. It’s just very difficult to get through the first few days: the body hits panic buttons when the usual crutches of caffeine or sugar don’t arrive on cue.
Dieting, as a longer term strategy, has unlimited options. When choosing what’s right, it’s important to know what the real problem is. Is overindulgence the issue, or is there a food sensitivity that’s causing inflammation? Or is the body depleted of a particular nutrient that’s driving overeating? It’s easy to see this in teenagers, who eat almost embarrassingly at a party and yet still continue browsing the snack table because their bodies need something that hot dogs, chips and soda aren’t providing. Limiting amounts of food isn’t the right solution. I’ll go into different types of diets in future posts, but for now, if this is where you’re heading, choose what seems right and achievable.
Be aware, too, that an overarching change in diet, while it may be a good idea, can be pretty formidable. The body doesn’t respond well to edicts, and a sudden overhaul with no comfort foods and no end in sight is not a recommended path to lasting change. Better to start with smaller changes and more gradually adapt to mostly whole foods. Leave the complete vegetarian or ketogenic status for later, when your body is closer and can make a step to that level.
Exercise is always a good idea, as long as it’s approached realistically. Beware of the “couch to tri-athlete in 5 weeks” plans. Start with a shorter-term exercise routine and take it up a notch as you progress. Darebee.com has a ton of free exercise programs, challenges and fitness information at all fitness levels to get you started and keep you going. No gym required!
Whatever the goal, put it on the planner or set an alarm, and don’t rely on good intentions to get it done. The routines and muscle memory aren’t in place yet. Habits are ruts that we fall into that make moving through the day easy. They should help us by doing tedious work while we plot bigger things. So the hardest part of achieving a resolution is getting out of the bad habit rut. In order to change the tracks, we have to fall off the edges back into the bad rut many times before the new, good track is formed. Making it permanent comes with learning how to overcome failure and strengthening muscles to hold the intended course. Once a good rut is formed, the routine takes over and there is no discussion about whether you will stay on the diet or do the exercises today. Healthy habits have become part of the routine.
Treat yourself like you’d like to be treated. Don’t lay down the law for your body and expect it to obey. Set real-life objectives that allow for interruptions and don’t require around-the-clock toilet access. Some great plans that allow for actual life are:
– Study or exercise plans that take weekends off, allowing for catch-up if you’ve missed or taking a break if you haven’t
– Six day diets that are fairly strict but then the seventh is a free day to eat whatever you like
– Exercise programs that mix things up daily to maintain interest
– Intermittent or partial fasting: either not eating for a period of time each day, or excluding a particular food. Both can be a great way to take control of health.
The takeaway is not to expect perfection. You are regrooving a rut – the aim is progress in the proper direction. If you take a break on the wrong day, it’s no big deal. Just keep going as though you kept to the plan. It’s more important to finish strong than make every step perfect. Look for improvement and celebrate it. It may not be what you shot for, but it’s a step in the right direction. Positive motion – or lack of negative motion – is more certain than unsustainable perfection. I went 12 weeks once on a diet and exercise program before the scale let go of that number. Frustration was mine, but I wouldn’t let it be the last word. I put a picture of myself with a cow on the fridge and vowed to be able to discern the two when summer came. By the end of the year, I’d dropped 30 lbs. Celebrate the score days and don’t sweat the dropped ones. Each day is new; just start back over on the plan.
You’ll get there. Hopefully I can give you some useful information that will help move your health in the right direction this year. What would help you the most? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll put it on the list of topics!