New Year, New You? A Dietitian’s Tips for Getting it Right in 2020

Fitness and Workouts, Nutrition and Diet

Ahh, New Year, New Me!

After spending the last several weeks enjoying the holiday festivities (and all of the delicious treats it has to offer), it’s no wonder that weight loss is one of the most common New Year’s resolutions made year after year. 

Planning to eat a healthier diet, finally getting to those early morning gym sessions, or learning to say no to the office donuts? Nothing helps us deal with overindulgent holiday eating like telling ourselves that things are going to be different come January 1st. The diet industry marketing teams are also salivating over this new year new me mindset so they can push their detoxes, supplements, and diet programs to guilt-ridden consumers.

Unfortunately, though when it comes to keeping up with those new year’s resolutions long enough for them to pay dividends, the success rates are pretty terrible. Between unrealistic expectations, failure to plan for success, or just plain forgetting altogether a teeny 8% of people actually see their New Years resolutions through to the following year.

What gives? Why is it that so few people are able to make lasting changes to their lifestyle so they can finally quit making the same resolution year after year? 

It’s because our approach is all wrong!

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard from someone (be it clients, friends, family, or coworkers) that they feel they just need a “boost”, a “kickstart”, or something to “get them going” when it comes to their weight loss. This usually means some sort of detox, 21 day fix, or challenge to get them amped up and “on the right track” like once they lose weight it’ll be much easier to simply maintain and keep it off.

The problem is that’s just not legit.

The reality is, when you lose weight quickly with dramatic measures that are unsustainable long-term that weight is much more likely to creep back on once you slip into your old habits. Which is almost inevitable if the focus of your weight loss was not changing your habits in the first place! This is often demonstrated in weight loss research. Many different approaches have been shown to achieve weight loss in participants in the short term (low carb, low fat, keto, very low calorie, using meal replacement shakes etc), but few are able to maintain that change over two or more years. Often this is referred to as “regression toward the mean”, basically suggesting that over time we tend to revert back to our usual tendencies that are part of our typical environment.

Picture This

You sign up for a 4 week diet and fitness “challenge” that promises to completely change your life by Valentine’s day. You don’t eat a single carb for a whole month, and workout EVERY. SINGLE. DAY until you want to puke. Hell, maybe even twice per day because you’re just that motivated. Now let’s be realistic; is the average person going to be able to keep that up forever? Probably not. It’s too rigid and restrictive to provide the balance and quality of life most of us are really after. We want to have our cake and eat it too, and that’s ok! So, after the challenge is over and you’ve been starving yourself for a month, guess what you’re going to do first?

That’s right, EAT…

As research has shown, you’re actually very likely to eat more than you did before. When we drastically cut our calories we actually can increase our preoccupation with food, experience an increase in hunger signals, and tend to take in more calories when we have the chance than people who have never dieted (a restrict/binge cycle). We find high calorie foods harder to resist, and keep eating even after we’re full. Pair that with a lower metabolic rate from all the dieting and we have a perfect recipe for weight GAIN, and a further damaged relationship with food and our bodies.

So, in a few month’s time when we gain some of the weight back we sign up for another challenge, buy supplements or detox tea, and keep running on the weight loss hamster wheel. It’s a never ending cycle for so many people.

Are you ready?

Ready to be done with all that? Ready to start the path toward a healthier lifestyle won’t require you to make the same resolution year after year? Are you ready to change the focus in your life to something OTHER than your weight? Then read on!

But first, a pep talk

Shifting your focus from just losing weight to putting an emphasis on doing the simple healthy things is what it really comes down to. Start by making small changes to your daily routines that support a healthier overall lifestyle. Over time, these small changes become easier to maintain, and add up to an overall healthier you. Remember, when we make big dramatic changes all at once, the tendency is to ‘regress toward the mean’. If we don’t look at ways of building from the ground up instead of the top down we’ll always be in the same vicious cycle. Read this post for my simple healthy living checklist!

Here are my top tips for starting your new year off the right way, by keeping your money in your pocket and putting the focus on forming healthy habits that you’ll actually stick with well into 2021!

1. When it comes to exercise, focus on just showing up

There is no perfect workout. There is no secret program that will get you any more fit any more quickly than just showing up. Find a way to move that you love, and that you look forward to doing enough that it will keep you coming back.

Our brains are hardwired to avoid things that cause us pain and discomfort. This helps to keep us from doing things that are going to cause us harm. Trying to exercise at a capacity that is way beyond your fitness level that leaves you gasping for air or so sore you can’t walk is probably going to turn you off exercising completely. I hear from people all the time “I hate working out, it’s too hard!”

But guess what? You’re probably trying to exercise at a level that is way beyond what your body is ready to do. Exercise should feel GOOD, and invigorating, not like punishment (and exercise should NEVER be used as a way to pay for overeating!) We need to walk before we can run (and I mean that literally).

Exercise at the fitness level you’re at, not the level you want to be at!

The most important thing about activity is that you should like it so much that you want to do it again. Whether it’s a dance class, or walking, or skiing, or weight lifting, or swimming, or cycling, or skating, or running, or crossfit, or yoga, or any of the other hundreds of activities there are out there, find something that you LOVE. The results will come with time and consistency.

2. Skip the supplements and fad diets and get back to the basics of healthy eating

Do you usually make a trip to the health food or supplement store in the new year? Run out and buy some detox tea or subscribe to WW? Instead, spend that money on healthy food this year! Focus on cooking more meals at home, eating less packaged foods, processed foods, and takeout. Invest in a slow cooker or instant pot to help save time if you feel like you’re too busy to cook every night. Discover new ways of cooking healthy meals that you’ll actually enjoy eating.

You can skip the fad diets too. You don’t need to be on a ketogenic, gluten-free, raw  vegan, whole 30, or any other diet to be healthy. As humans we have evolved to eat all things, so eat closer to nature (less processed foods), and get as much variety as possible on your plate.

For meal ideas and recipes, follow me on Pinterest!

3. Reconsider your relationship with the scale

Maybe take a step back from the daily weigh-ins. Take two steps back if you’ve gotten into the habit of multiple daily weigh-ins.

When we get too focused on the number on the scale we can lose sight of what is really important in all of this- our health! People might do all kinds of drastic things (sometimes even dangerous things) to get the scale to budge; but at the end of the day if these things negatively impact our physical and mental health, was it really worth it to be a few pounds lighter? How many times have you tried to make some lifestyle changes, but got frustrated when the pounds didn’t just fall off? Despite knowing that what you were doing was better for your health, it can becoming frustrating when we’re only using the scale as our measure of success.

Other ways to measure health improvements that have nothing to do with weight:

  • Fitness level (are you getting stronger? Are you finding your workouts easier than when you first started?)
  • Energy levels (how do you feel? Do you have more energy to make it through the day?)
  • Sleep quality (how many hours are you getting in and are you feeling more rested after a night of sleep?)
  • Hunger and satiety (do you feel satisfied after eating? Are you eating foods that are nutritious that you also enjoy?)
  • Biomarkers (are numbers like your blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugars, etc improving? Are you needing to take less medication than before?)

The Bottom Line

Remember, extremely quick weight loss often isn’t sustainable, and building new healthier habits doesn’t just happen overnight. Our bodies also change over time so perhaps our “goal weight” from when we were 20 years old just isn’t realistic anymore. Perhaps we can also feel great mentally and physically without a significant change in our weight, and that’s ok too.

Be kind to yourself. Take things day by day. Set small goals (like cooking one additional homemade meal per week, or exercising twice per week even for just a few minutes) rather than trying to make a huge lifestyle change all at once. This all or nothing way of thinking fills us with unrealistic expectations and can ultimately backfire when we can’t keep it up. When we stop hyper-focusing on our weight, widen our scope to include other measures of health we can stop worrying about seeing results only in what the number on the scale tells us. Instead we can feel satisfied that we are healthy individuals simply because we do the healthy things.

So, instead of becoming one of the 92%, why not do things a little differently this year? 

About the Author:

Stephanie Hnatiuk is a Registered Dietitian and Personal Trainer based in Winnipeg, Manitoba. She believes good health doesn’t need to be complicated, and that you don’t need to be afraid have your cake and eat it too.

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