It’s that time of year when we see an influx of advertising focused on helping you achieve a skinnier, healthier, fitter version of yourself. Your Facebook feed becomes inundated with gym offers, TV commercials urge you to sign up for meal kits to help you lose weight, and online articles (ahem, yes, WYZA is guilty of this) are telling you to detox after the silly season.
Some of us may feel the pressure to exercise more, drink less, or look at 2018 as our year for self-improvement. Others simply ignore the idea of making a resolution because — let’s face it — it’s easy to write down a goal you want to achieve, but it’s also easy to break it.
So, how can one stay committed — well past February — to improving their health? Simone Austin, accredited practising dietitian and spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia, shares key ways to make your long-term health goals stick.
1. Forget diets
When the new year rolls around, weight loss is at the top of many people’s list, and that often means dieting. “I don’t think anyone should be dieting as such, so I think it’s really important to look at long-term health as overall health, and diet is only one part,” explains Austin.
It could be as simple as asking: Do I eat enough plant foods? “That’s a simple one that we should all be doing more of,” says Austin. “If you don’t eat enough plant foods, why don’t you? Is it because you don’t make the time to go shopping? If so, schedule time in your diary to go shopping. If you don’t like them, you might need to learn to cook them in more interesting ways — adding olive oil, and some herbs and spices.”
2. Set realistic goals
What you don’t want to do is set yourself up for failure, especially when it could discourage you from making goals later on. “Don’t make resolutions like, ‘I’m never going to eat sugar again’ — that’s ridiculous, of course you are,” says Austin.
“So, what is a more reasonable solution for you? Perhaps, 'Okay, I’m going to eat sugary foods a couple of times a week’. Whatever you might decide, it has to be realistic long-term, otherwise it’ll last three weeks and you’ll be over it.”
Bring along friends to exercise to help motivate you
3. Buddy up
Hitting the mark with your goals can be hard to achieve on your own, so why not try and set them with other people? You could bring a friend along to exercise outdoors, or rather than eating out, you can alternate the preparation of meals with them.
“Who else in the household might be able to get home early and start preparing dinner? If your goal is to eat less takeaway food, maybe you need other people to help you cook during the week,” adds Austin.
4. Be adventurous with your food
Cooking at home more and mixing up your meal choices can be a fun way to incorporate essential fruit and veggies into your diet. And if you don’t like salads? It doesn’t matter!
Austin encourages creativity in the kitchen: “Have cooked vegetables if that’s what you like; have vegetable soups; or have a chili con carne where you add in some extra corn, mushrooms, and zucchini. Make vegetable kebabs on the barbecue to go with your meat. Cut up your sweet potato, your mushrooms, your eggplant, your zucchini — put that all on the barbie and cook it all.”
Taking time to prepare a home cooked meal can make you more mindful about what you eat
5. Don’t enforce guilt
Simply put: be kind to yourself and focus on enjoying your food. “If you’re going to eat the chocolate bar, there’s no point in feeling guilty about it — enjoy it and you’ll be less likely to want more.”
“Being a sports dietitian, I like to come from a ‘wellness model’ not a ‘sickness model’, so look at your food intake from how it’s going to make you well rather than just preventing illness,” explains Austin. “Rather than looking at what you can’t have, ask yourself ‘What can I have that’s great for my health?’”
For instance, you can choose to eat a banana every morning as they are good source of energy, or eat a handful of nuts a day because the fats are great for your heart.
6. Nourish yourself
If you find yourself cooking for just one or two, Austin says this could mean you might not be making as much effort to cook, so a good goal might be to prepare a proper meal each day.
For those who need to gain weight, eating regularly while still having nutritious food is key. “You don’t want to gain weight by going through the drive-thru all the time — it’s still got to be nourishing food. Weight is not necessarily a predictor of health, you’ve got to look at other health factors: What’s your blood pressure like? What’s your blood sugar like? What’s your bone density like?”
You might want to get a check-up at the start of the year to see where you are health-wise, then set goals around that, suggests Austin. “So if you have weak bones, you might add more calcium in your diet [or] you might need to go walking and do some weight-bearing exercises.”
The bottom line
When it comes to goal setting, look at what you do now and what you would like to do, then put skills, support, and strategy in place to actually make it happen. It might simply be to make a healthier choice — planning is key!
“I suppose it’s also reminding people it’s not about being perfect,” adds Austin. “To be healthy, your diet doesn’t have to be 100 per cent all the time.”
What’s a health resolution you want to keep?