We’re entering a new year and with that comes the infamous New Year's resolutions. Every year it seems like “eating healthy”, “losing weight”, and “getting in shape” are at the top of everyone’s list for the most sought-after aspirations, but every year it seems like our resolutions get lost in the shuffle of everyday life.
When we’re faced with unprecedented challenges, it causes us to lose motivation and retread back to our old ways, making it difficult to follow through on our resolutions year-round. A perfect example is this past year with the coronavirus pandemic, a challenge we’ve never faced before! As a collective, 2020 started off with the best of intentions, but unbeknownst to us- a global catastrophe stripped us from all inspiration and granted some of us permission to slip back into our old habits to find safety and comfortability during such an unprecedented time.
Nevertheless, New Year’s resolutions have the best of intentions, they’re a stimulus for growth, turning over a new leaf, leveling up to become a better version of ourselves. Despite naysayers that proclaim New Year’s resolutions are meant to be broken, there is evidence that shows resolutions have the potential to be a successful tool1 as a new beginning, a chance to start over, an opportunity to embark on a new journey that supports overall physical and mental health and well-being.
Research has shown that New Year’s resolutions that are restriction and avoidance-oriented are far less successful than those that are approach-oriented1. This is probably why dieting, weight loss, and detox programs are unsuccessful and tend to lead to rebound weight gain and a disordered relationship with food, diet, and exercise.
Instead, focus on making SMART goals this year! SMART goals are specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and time-lined. SMART goals are designed for success by making small, approachable short-term goals instead of BIG, overwhelming end-stage goals. Tackling one small goal at a time builds confidence which is foundational for success.
Having trouble knowing where to begin? Here’s some SMART goals that benefit everybody!
Lower your sugar intake:
Sugar is a naturally occurring energy source found in carbohydrates derived from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. However, the sugar in our food supply today is much different than what it was over a hundred years ago. Since the early 20th century, sugar consumption has increased dramatically due to the industrialization of food which has allowed sugar to be easily added to processed foods and beverages in its highly caloric, refined form. Now, refined sugar is ubiquitous in our food supply and is found in almost every packaged and processed food (i.e., cookies, cakes, pretzels, pies, pastries, cupcakes, muffins, crackers, chips, white bread) and convenience food (take-out, fast food, convenience store/gas station food). It’s also added to canned foods, breads, cereals, yogurts, and seemingly healthy granola bars and juices.
It is no coincidence that with the increase in sugar consumption from low-quality, nutrient poor ultra-processed foods has come with an accompanying increase in chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, obesity, depression, anxiety, IBS, metabolic syndrome, cancer, Alzheimer’s, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, high blood pressure, heart disease2, and the list goes on…
Sugar comes in many forms and goes by many different names. Artificial sweeteners are no better for our long-term metabolic health as an alternative to refined sugars. In fact, these stand-in sugar substitutes have actually proven to cause more harm than good by negatively altering insulin sensitivity and raising risk for other health conditions like cancer3.
Some helpful tips for lowering your sugar intake:
1. Increase consumption of high-quality fats
Examples- extra virgin olive oil, avocado, avocado oil, grass-fed organic animal products (meat, dairy), ghee, raw nuts, and seeds.
2. Increase consumption of high-quality protein
Examples- organic, pasture-raised, non-GMO poultry and grass-fed beef; organic, non-GMO plant-based proteins like tofu, tempeh.
3. Increase consumption of fiber in the form of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, sprouted beans and legumes
Examples- berries, apples, pears, cherries, broccoli, cauliflower, leafy green vegetables, onions, and garlic; oats, quinoa, brown rice, teff; sprouted lentils
4. Decrease alcohol consumption
Do it the SMART way:
Small- Start with one or more of the above interventions and once you feel comfortable and confident doing that, add another.
Measurable- Keep a journal and write down how you feel eating less refined sugar and drinking less alcohol. At first, it may be a challenge- and that’s to be expected! Write down everything you’re feeling. Refer back to the journal when experiencing difficulties staying on course, this will remind you of the progress you’ve made, how far you’ve come, and inspire you to keep going.
Attainable- Make a grocery list of whole foods before going shopping and stick to the items on the list! For whole foods recipe inspiration, click here to explore our Specialized Therapy Associates Pinterest board!
Realistic- You don’t have to cut out all sugar at once, unless otherwise directed by your doctor. Instead, focus on cutting out one or two major sources of refined sugar in your diet- like soda, sweetened beverages, fast food, or go-to snacks like chips, pretzels, or desserts. Then, after you successfully do so, proceed to cut out more and more sources of refined sugar and carbohydrates in your diet.
Time-line- Give yourself a few days to adjust to cutting out the major culprits of refined sugar in your diet. After you’ve successfully done so, remove more sources of refined sugar. Aim for complete removal of refined sugar in your diet and elimination of highly processed foods in a timeline of 3 to 6 months.
2. Increase physical activity & movement
There is no question that physical activity plays a major role in the status of our metabolic health. The sedentary lifestyle of Americans in the 21st century has come with innumerable health consequences. We know that physical activity helps with weight maintenance and weight loss, increases insulin sensitivity, lowers our risk for heart attack and stroke, cancer, diabetes, cognitive decline, polycystic ovary syndrome, depression, anxiety, osteopenia, sarcopenia, and osteoporosis4. To date, we know that physical activity is one of the most critical means of disease prevention, and yet, we still struggle with making time for it in our fast-moving lifestyle.
Exercise, by definition, is planned, structured, and intentional movement with the objective of achieving a fitness-oriented goal or maintaining physical fitness5. For some, exercise can be an incredible outlet for stress and boosting mood and energy levels. If that’s you, great! Aim for achieving 30 to 60 minutes of light to moderate intensity exercise in the form of aerobic exercise (i.e., brisk walking, jogging, cycling, Pilates) or strength training (weightlifting, kettlebell squats, dumbbell training, etc.) every day.
For others, structured exercise can be a daunting, mundane, and dreaded task that we force ourselves into with the hope of gaining some sort of health benefit. If that sounds more like you, you’re not alone! Regimented exercise is not the only kind of movement we benefit from.
We also benefit from physical activity, a different form of exercise because it can be either structured or unstructured and typically consists of activities you enjoy while still reaping the metabolic health benefits. Structured physical activity may look like walking, riding your biking, hiking, swimming, dancing, yoga, or rollerblading.
Unstructured physical activity consists of activities that coincide with daily living such as playing with your children, cleaning the house, gardening, folding laundry, grocery shopping, washing dishes, walking your kids to school, taking the stairs5, etc. These types of unstructured physical activity and movement add up and result in increased calorie expenditure which may lead to weight loss over time.
Here are some helpful tips for increasing your physical activity:
1. Take the stairs instead of elevator.
2. Go for walks on your lunch break or take time to stretch in between meetings.
3. Have a dance party in the morning while you’re getting ready for your day.
4. Stand up while folding laundry or doing desk work.
5. Clean daily- washing windows, vacuuming, mopping.
6. Do some form of pushups, squats, jumping jacks, or walking in place while watching TV.
Do it the SMART way:
Small- If you’re not an exercise buff, start incorporating small bits of movement a few times a week and work yourself up to incorporating movement into your daily routine.
Measurable- Write down the exercise or structured/unstructured physical activity you do and use a tracking app like myfitnesspal to look up how many calories you’re burning while doing so and log it in a journal.
Attainable- If engaging in a structured exercise routine, start with light workouts 15-20 minutes a day and gradually work your way up to longer time and intensity. If you’re trying to increase your daily movement, start with performing one of the abovementioned activities for 5-10 minutes when you have moments of downtime throughout the day.
Realistic- Don’t feel the need to make any drastic changes to your daily routine to incorporate rigorous exercise and physical activity. Start slow and gradually increase duration and intensity once your body adjusts. This will help avoid burnout.
Timeline- Aim for goals that are suitable for you and your lifestyle. There’s no rush to meet any fitness deadlines unless otherwise specified by a doctor, or yourself. Instead, focus on enjoying the movement you do incorporate into your routine to make sure its sustainable.
3. Be more mindful
Mindfulness is about paying attention in the present moment, on purpose, without judgement. Mindfulness means being able to bring direct, open hearted awareness to what you are doing while you are doing it. Practicing mindfulness helps you tune into what is going on in your mind by bringing awareness to your thoughts and emotions as well as your body by paying attention to any internal or external physical sensations. Mindfulness can be practiced in a variety of ways- meditation, breath work, walking in nature, exercise, physical activity and movement, cooking, eating, everyday tasks like laundry, cleaning, or even making your bed. There are countless moments throughout the day where one can practice mindfulness- ironically enough, you just have to pay attention to when those moments present themselves.
Mindfulness encourages curiosity and compassion for individuals and their environment. the evidence is clear that incorporating mindfulness into your lifestyle has a profound impact on our experience as human beings by tapping into a transcendental, restful state that beneficially alters our physiology thus improving quality of life. Practicing mindfulness has been linked to decreased anxiety, stress, depression, mood balance and regulation, emotional reactivity6 aging, improved immune function7, chronic pain management8,9, and better sleep10
Tip for increasing mindfulness:
1. Go for a walk outside, pay attention to your surroundings. The way the air smells and feels on your skin, the sounds of the wildlife or cars passing by, the color of the foliage, how your feet make contact with the earth with every step.
2. Be present while eating by paying attention to the way food tastes, think about where it came from, the journey it took to make its way onto your plate, what senses its satisfying, the texture, smell, and sound it makes while chewing.
3. Practice mindful breathing. Take deep breaths and pay attention to how your belly raises and falls with each breath. Feel your chest expand with air and release entirely.
Mindfulness is a personal journey, there’s no right or wrong way of practicing it. Simply, try and pay attention to the routine motions of your life and practice gratitude for being alive rather than simply existing.
1. Oscarsson M, Carlbring P, Andersson G, Rozental A. A large-scale experiment on New Year's resolutions: Approach-oriented goals are more successful than avoidance-oriented goals. PLoS One. 2020;15(12):e0234097. Published 2020 Dec 9. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0234097
2. Stanhope KL. Sugar consumption, metabolic disease and obesity: The state of the controversy. Crit Rev Clin Lab Sci. 2016;53(1):52-67. doi:10.3109/10408363.2015.1084990
3. Purohit V, Mishra S. The truth about artificial sweeteners - Are they good for diabetics?. Indian Heart J. 2018;70(1):197-199. doi:10.1016/j.ihj.2018.01.020
4. Booth FW, Roberts CK, Laye MJ. Lack of exercise is a major cause of chronic diseases. Compr Physiol. 2012;2(2):1143-1211. doi:10.1002/cphy.c110025
5. Ceria-Ulep CD, Tse AM, Serafica RC. Defining exercise in contrast to physical activity. Issues Ment Health Nurs. 2011;32(7):476-478. doi:10.3109/01612840.2010.525692
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8. Hilton L, Hempel S, Ewing BA, et al. Mindfulness Meditation for Chronic Pain: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Ann Behav Med. 2017;51(2):199-213. doi:10.1007/s12160-016-9844-2
9. Banth S, Ardebil MD. Effectiveness of mindfulness meditation on pain and quality of life of patients with chronic low back pain. Int J Yoga. 2015;8(2):128-133. doi:10.4103/0973-6131.158476
10. Black DS, O'Reilly GA, Olmstead R, Breen EC, Irwin MR. Mindfulness meditation and improvement in sleep quality and daytime impairment among older adults with sleep disturbances: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA Intern Med. 2015;175(4):494-501. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.8081
11. Paul-Ebhohimhen V, Avenell A. A systematic review of the effectiveness of group versus individual treatments for adult obesity. Obes Facts. 2009;2(1):17-24. doi:10.1159/000186144