The New Year stirs a sense of fresh beginnings. We tend to feel inspired, motivated and hopeful about setting our health goals for the prospective year.
All too quickly however, the glamour of our New Year’s resolutions starts to wane. Before long, we get caught up on the hamster wheel of modern life.
As the year gains momentum, we can easily slip back into habits that don’t serve our health goals but simply keep us afloat for the present.
As a dietitian, I have insight into the real-world challenges that people face when addressing health goals.
This intimate knowledge of health behaviour reaffirms for me what the research also tells us; instigating health change is the easy bit but sustaining health goals can be downright difficult. At times it’s confronting, emotional and plain hard work.
If it wasn’t, we’d all be happily healthy, right? Yet as a nation, it would appear that our diet-related health issues are not for lack of trying or wanting to change.
More Australians than ever before are dieting and the lucrative weight loss industry does not look set to falter soon. Paradoxically, despite the rising incidence of weight loss diets, obesity rates have reached an unprecedented high.
Furthermore, ninety-five percent of people who embark on a diet regain their lost weight within two to five years. Whilst these statistics paint a grim picture, they illuminate a helpful truth; commercial diets that promise fast results teach us lots about restricting food but little about setting realistic goals and making sustainable health changes.
Strict dietary regimes are doomed to fail, for the human psyche rebels against food deprivation. Besides, a lifetime of avoiding carbs doesn’t exactly sound like my idea of fun! (What happens when your birthday, holidays, weekends and food-centred events pop up?)
So how do we set goals effectively and with respect to our other priorities in life? Afterwards, how do we maintain the potent elixir of inspiration and motivation that incites us to make change the first place?
Here are my top industry insights into what works and what doesn’t when it comes to setting health goals… And smashing them! If You Want To Lose Weight, Consider The Bigger Picture In theory, the premise behind weight loss is to simply create an energy deficit.
In practice, the psychology of eating is far more complex. In other words, losing weight involves more than merely deciding to eat less.
Our relationship with food is influenced by our environment, metabolism, genetics, emotions, social factors and biological responses to the modern high fat, sugar laden diet.
Furthermore, food represents many facets of our lives. Let’s face it – we don’t just eat to satisfy our hunger. Throughout human history, food has been intrinsic to our very culture. Why do we celebrate birthdays with cake?
Why do social occasions tend to centre around food? Even many religious rites incorporate food and wine. Therefore, if you’re setting health goals, consider how they impact all areas of your life. This also works conversely; what areas of your life are influencing your food decisions?
Reflect upon how your habits, feelings and social interactions play upon your food decisions. This process will help you to identify non-food factors that may need addressing.
It also re-frames your health goals in a realistic way that fits within other life priorities. Forget Quick-Fix Diets. If you were asked to run a marathon tomorrow, how would you feel? Daunted? Defeated? Unless you’re already an elite athlete, it would be unrealistic for most of us to attain that fitness overnight.
Likewise, when we set unrealistic health goals, we are setting ourselves up for failure. After all, however old you are right now is how long you have spent cultivating and reinforcing your current health habits.
Would you expect all that to change within the brief span of time that most diets take? Changing your eating habits permanently requires consistency and practice, something that quick-fix diets don’t offer.
As humans, we tend to resist drastic changes. Changing your dietary routine in smaller increments can feel a lot more manageable and will keep you invested in your goals.
There is a Chinese proverb that speaks of ‘death by a thousand cuts’. Whilst one cut makes little impact, thousands are lethal.
If you focused on changing one eating habit per week, in the blink of a year you would have achieved fifty-two changes!
I encourage you to break your overarching health goal into smaller, achievable changes that you can integrate into your lifestyle with baby steps and feel good about.
Embrace The Process Of Change Accept in advance that failures are inevitable.
If we were to chart the typical process of human change, it would not be linear. The line from pre- to post-transformation would look more like a Mr Squiggle sketch!
In fact, the line never really ends. We are humans, not robots, and as such deserve some grace for ourselves as we transition through health changes.
We all have days when we’re not perfect and slip up despite our best intentions. If you accept that you will digress from your health goals occasionally, you can adopt a more healthful mindset to move through these hiccups.
Ultimately, mistakes can be our biggest teachers and give us great insight into our inner workings. For example, If we understand why we ate an unhealthy food (perhaps fatigued and seeking a quick energy fix), we are better placed to address our underlying triggers (i.e. the things in our life that drain our energy).
Yet so often I hear clients beat themselves up over food indulgences (since when was eating chocolate a crime, anyway?) Ironically, this sabotaging self-talk is a common trigger that proceeds a full junk food blow out.
If you can identify, accept and learn from inevitable slip ups, this can prevent you from relapsing back to Square One and abandoning your health goals entirely. Know That You Are Worth More Than What You Weigh Or Eat Health and weight messages infiltrate every corner of our lives.
They are inadvertently conveyed by our media ‘slim bias’ and overtly touted by health industries. In our technological era, health information is also more accessible than ever before.
Most people are acutely aware – sometimes cripplingly so – if they need to lose weight or change their health.
However, any health or weight loss journey is not ultimately about being skinnier. Remember and fiercely protect the real reasons that lie at the heart of just about any health goal.
We want to feel good, be happy and inhabit a body that allows us to live a full and wonderful life. When you are kind to yourself and focussed on your happiness, food seems more of a peripheral issue.
The complex and confusing ties to eating tend to dissipate and food is stripped back to simpler concepts – fuel for our bodies, a daily pleasure and an opportunity to sit down and connect with loved ones. So please ask yourself; how can I manage my health goals in small, manageable stages? In what ways can I be more kind to myself in this process?
What does health and food really mean to me and my life? Once you open your heart to these answers, watch the real magic happen as your goals spring into fruition!