So you decided to get healthy in 2018? This is really the year? You’re not alone – 41% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, and a lot of those are health-related, according to Forbes and other media reports. But only 8% of people who make resolutions actually stick with them for the long haul.
How do the 8% make it work?It’s best to be specific, goal-oriented and organized.
“New Year’s resolutions are often lofty and long-term objectives for the new year. Such goals are often difficult to achieve due to the normal stressors of life,” said Dr. Carrie Feig, a psychologist with Well Springs Health in Chicago. “Shorter term, concise goals are more achievable, and if strung together could lead to a more successful long-term resolution in a more measured, systematic method.”
Given that diet and exercise are almost always the Top 2 New Year’s resolutions, I sought guidance for this story from two experts in these fields: for fitness advice, Kristen Wolf, owner of Superior Pilates in Lake Forest, and for nutrition and diet insights, Emmaline Rasmussen, a registered dietician with NorthShore University HealthSystem.
Here are slightly edited notes from our conversations:
Fitness & Exercise
Kristen Wolf, Superior Pilates
TNSW: Everyone says they want to get in shape. How do we start?
Kristen Wolf: The first step is to be clear on what you want the results to be. Do you want to firm up? Lose weight? Develop specific parts of your body such as strengthening your core or back or lower body? The second step is to remind yourself of what you like to do and choose something that is fun to you. If you dread it you won’t do it.
TNSW: How would you advise people to find/choose the right fitness program to begin with?
Kristen Wolf: Again, being clear about the results you want, pick a form of exercise that you know will create those results in a reasonable amount of time. That will reinforce your choice and keep you going back. That’s one of the reasons I like Pilates. People feel it right away, which is motivating. Joseph Pilates said, ‘In 10 sessions you feel better. In 20 sessions you look better and in 30 sessions you have a whole new body.’
TNSW: But how do really busy people really find the time to work out and keep working out? With a full-time job, family and daily commute – it’s hard for a lot of people to honestly work an hour of exercise – or even a half hour – into their schedules.
Kristen Wolf: I think it’s important in our fast-paced world to make sure you book some time for your own health and wellbeing. People are more productive and happier when they stay fit and feel good. So, you have to book that time like it’s an important item on your daily calendar. And don’t break that appointment with yourself! Think of it as your own wellness appointment. I often recommend that people work out first thing in the morning so then it’s done for the day. Work out to a video, take a walk, book an early-morning Pilates appointment. Just do it!
TNSW: We’re told ‘sitting is the new smoking’—but how do you deal with this if you have a job that requires you to sit all day as so many of us do?
Kristen Wolf: Part of the problem is the way people sit. They sit slumped over their computers instead of sitting tall using their core and back muscles. The goal is to sit with your posture in alignment so you avoid future injuries. There’s actually a term now called “tech neck” because people on computers and phones are throwing their necks, shoulders and spines out of alignment, causing pain.
Besides sitting properly, there are options such changing from sitting desks to standing or even treadmill desks.
And, if the work environment allows, a lunch break can be accompanied by a brisk walk around the area. And, don’t forget to skip the elevator and take the stairs.
TNSW: Once someone begins a new fitness program, what is the likelihood they will keep at it? How do you suggest that people remain motivated when they start to drift?
Kristen Wolf: Sticking with a program is much more likely if a person chooses to do something enjoyable that produces results. It’s self-reinforcing if you can see and feel results week to week and you actually look forward to the activity. Consistency is also a key to results. If you aren’t consistent, results don’t follow and you can start to drift from a program that was working. That’s why we even give people small programs that don’t require equipment for business trips or vacations. The goal is to love the results so much that you don’t feel right about yourself if you’re skipping out on your workout.
Diet & Nutrition
Emmaline Rasmussen, registered dietician with NorthShore University HealthSystem
TNSW: Just about everyone, it seems, wants to lose some weight. Is there a point where you’re OK just as you are?
Emmaline Rasmussen: If you (the collective you, meaning healthy people in general) are following a healthy diet, exercising regularly, sleeping well, and managing stress, if you are living a generally healthy lifestyle and you just can’t lost five pounds, you are probably a healthy weight for your body.
TNSW: What if it’s 10 or 20 pounds?
Emmaline Rasmussen: If it’s 10 or 20, you need to look at sticking to your resolutions. New Year’s is a really good time to make healthier habits.
TNSW: How to you suggest that we get started?
Emmaline Rasmussen: Write down exactly what you eat and drink for three days—two weekdays and one weekend day. You might not realize everything you put into your mouth.
Another thing is hydration. People often mistake thirst for hunger. When you write it all down, you become more aware of your hydration. You might be less energetic and turn to caffeine or sugar for a quick boost, but what you really are is thirsty. When you write it all down, you evaluate if there are extra calories coming into your diet, such as sugar in your coffee. Are you eating a snack that has a lot of calories but no nutrition? Are there sauces on your food that you can do without?
Writing it down helps to evaluate if you are fueling your body or eating things that are just convenient.
TNSW: What tools do you recommend for keeping a food diary?
Emmaline Rasmussen: There are many options available and worth trying. I like MyFitnessPal, LoseIt and Fooducate.
TNSW: And after the food diary, then what?
Emmaline Rasmussen: Write down a measurable goal. Sometimes we set goals that are not specific or concrete, like “I want to lose 10 pounds.” So instead of saying that, state: “I want to lose 10 pounds starting on this day, ending on this day, and here are three ways I’m going to do that.”
And remember small changes can really add up. We often take an all-or-nothing approach. We are on a strict diet or exercise plan, and if we break it we feel it’s a lost cause. So it’s important to make small, meaningful changes that can be sustainable, like redistributing the food on your dinner plate.
TNSW: Talk me through that …
Emmaline Rasmussen: One quarter of the plate should be a starch, like a sweet potato, or brown rice, or a piece of good quality bread. The other quarter should be a protein: fish, chicken, tofu, tempeh, beans, and depending on the individual, a lean red meat in moderation. The other half of the plate should be vegetables.
TNSW: What do you do if you’re still hungry?
Emmaline Rasmussen: If you are following a really low-fat diet consisting of a protein, vegetable and a starch, and there is no fat, that could be a reason you are still hungry. Many dieters cut out fat to cut out calories, but it’s good to use heart-healthy fat in moderation, such as olive oil on a salad or on vegetables or mashed potatoes.
TNSW: Is there a specific diet that you recommend?
Emmaline Rasmussen: I am a big fan of the Mediterranean diet – it has been shown to prevent Alzheimer’s, cancer and heart disease. It is good for managing weight. It is healthy for all people. Inflammation can cause a lot of minor conditions – headaches, aches and pains, and the Mediterranean diet is anti-inflammatory.
TNSW: Is there anything that you learned in 2017 about diet and nutrition that you incorporated into your practice?
Emmaline Rasmussen: That’s a good question. I have become more fat friendly in 2017. We used to say all calories are equal. But we have learned that some calories, like healthy fats, are calorie dense but don’t affect us the same way as calories from sugar, for example. A cookie that’s 100 calories is not the same as 100 calories of olive oil in terms of how they affect your health. So I have personally become less fat phobic, and I embrace healthy fats, which are important for our neurological function, for our brains.
DNS Reporter Emily Spectre contributed to this article.