As sure as Christmas gatherings mean overindulgence, the arrival of Jan. 1 is accompanied by a resolve to change past behaviours in the coming year.
For many, resolutions are as much a part of the holidays as a second or third helping of turkey or gulping down that extra cup of eggnog.
“Typically, you do notice a sort of increase in referrals for healthy eating, weight-loss, come January – that’s sort of a motivation,” says Jan Inguanez, a registered dietician at Woolwich Community Health Centre (WCHS) in St. Jacobs.
As always, the most popular resolutions tend to have something to do with eating healthier, exercising more and smoking cessation. Indeed, this year some people are already taking a preemptive swipe at their New Year’s resolutions.
“They want to get a head-start on it and they want to be proactive, which is very positive to sort of try to minimize the weight-gain over the holidays and try to carry it on for the new year,” says Inguanez, who has taken on three new clients in December.
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“That’s the first time I’ve ever seen that happen, but typically you’d see a slight increase of people that will come on board in January with the intent of better habits, healthier habits.”
As far as resolutions go, WCHC professionals suggest that planned, prepared and more moderate approaches tend to be the most effective. While some people can react positively to “crash” diets or regimens after a week of indulgent eating, the majority slip back into their old ways within weeks.
Long-term, more gradual, less drastic resolutions are without a doubt the most effective for most people, even from the get-go, says Dr. Mark Lysyshyn, a physician with the Public Health Agency of Canada.
“People often try to go on these crash diets that will change their weight maybe drastically for a few months, but they can’t maintain them, so their weight just comes back to where they were before they started the diet,” he explains.
“I think it is really important to make changes that you can imagine maintaining for the rest of your life.”
Instead of eliminating carbohydrates from a diet for a period of two weeks, for example, it is healthier and more effective to incorporate healthier eating habits – such as eating more vegetables, choosing whole grain versus white bread, lean meats instead of fatty meats and using unsaturated oils – on a daily basis.
“Slow and steady wins the race. It’s changes that you make for long periods of time that really affect your health particularly with respect to diet and physical activity, because they’re things that prevent chronic diseases that take a long time to develop,” says Lysyshyn, adding that daily exercise is also crucial. Adults should get up to 60 minutes worth of exercise per day and children up to 90. That doesn’t mean continuous exercise and is quite easily fulfilled when factoring in household chores, walking to school, and spending less time in front of the computer or the television.
With the resolution set comes the most difficult part: putting it into action.
As Joy Finney at WCHC notes, the action-plan can be much easier if the goals are more realistic.
“[It’s] important, when you’re going to set a goal or a resolution, that it be something that you really want to do, that it’s not based on guilt because you’ve overeaten during the Christmas period or whatever,” says Finney, noting the health centre offers a number of courses to help local residents stay on track with their resolutions.
It’s important to select reasonable goals that are behaviour-specific. For example, wanting to lose weight is not based on behaviour, but not eating after dinner is. When shooting for a goal, then, it’s crucial to be specific: one must ask what, how, how much?
“You really rethink that goal – be careful not to set yourself up for failure,” says Finney, adding that confidence in one’s ability to go through with the resolution is also key.
Simply repeating last year’s failed resolution and tackling it in the same way isn’t a good idea.
Citing a book by Gary Blair, Goal Setting 101, Finney highlights four characteristics of people who stick to their resolutions: they believe in their own ability to change; they don’t indulge in self-blame or excuse making; they avoid wishful thinking and concentrate on results; and they understand their motivators and the reasons why the resolution is important.
As the Christmas season winds to a close, and the new year is on the horizon, resolutions are a positive way of taking on the coming year. Personal betterment is never a bad thing, but there are ways of maximizing efforts and making attempts more successful.
“All of those types of things that we know from work that we’ve done here at the public health agency [show] that income, type of work, and education all have powerful effect on health, so these are all things people can do in the interest of health – it’s all about setting realistic goals,” says Lysyshyn.