The holiday decorations have been stowed away (right?), and now it’s time to look ahead to 2020. Entering the new year is an excellent opportunity to start with a clean slate and adjust some of our behaviors.
The most common New Year’s resolutions are wellness-related, like getting more exercise, losing weight and giving up that nightly glass of wine.
The problem with these broad resolutions is that they can feel overwhelming, and it’s easy to get discouraged and give up entirely when we don’t see immediate results. If, instead, we opt for more specific, attainable New Year’s resolutions, we’re more likely to stick with them throughout 2020 and beyond.
We asked local experts for their tips on how to replace the common, overwhelming resolutions with more realistic ones that set us up for success. Here’s what they had to say about diet, exercise and dipping into our vices in moderation.
Resolve to eat for energy
One of the most common New Year’s resolutions is to start a diet, and the goal is often weight loss. But rather than focusing on a number on the scale, Christy Goff, a registered dietitian at Pacific Medical Centers in Seattle, suggests eating for energy instead. After all, each calorie is a unit of energy and eating enough calories per day is crucial to maintaining the stamina we need to go about our daily lives and engage in the physical activities we enjoy.
“To eat for energy, you want to choose nutrient-dense foods to make sure your body is well-nourished,” says Goff. This means maintaining a diet that includes protein, fats and carbohydrates.
Eating regular meals and snacks will regulate your blood sugar and ensure that you’re consuming enough calories. Goff also recommends choosing foods that are rich in B vitamins and magnesium, such as vegetables, whole grains and nuts. Try to incorporate these foods into each meal. “[They] assist in the energy production process in our bodies,” she says.
Make sure you’re drinking plenty of liquids throughout the day because, as Goff notes, dehydration is a common cause of fatigue and sleepiness.
Lastly, she suggests avoiding added sugars, excess caffeine and alcohol, and pre-packaged foods. Not only do they zap your energy, but they can also interfere with your sleep.
Another reason to shift your focus away from the number on the scale is because weight simply isn’t the best indicator of health. “We know that with healthy behaviors and lifestyle choices, we can be healthy at many sizes,” says Goff. “Health can be gauged more by how we feel emotionally, as well as what our blood labs and energy levels are telling us.”
Furthermore, people who are not looking for a specific weight outcome tend to stick to their healthy diet habits for longer.
Exercise to improve your mood
“Getting in shape” and striving for a rigid exercise regimen is another common New Year’s resolution. Rather than thinking of exercise as a way to lose weight or get killer abs, Cedric X. Bryant, the Redmond-based president and chief science officer at the American Council on Exercise, suggests thinking of exercise as a way to feel better mentally and emotionally — especially because we kick off our resolutions during the dark and gloomy winter months.
A major benefit of exercising to boost your mood is that you feel the results almost immediately. Bryant says that you’ll quickly notice that you’re better equipped to handle stress, you’re sleeping better and your mood has improved. Getting that reinforcement so early in the process means you’ll be more likely to keep up your fitness regimen. In contrast, if you exercise with the goal of losing weight, it takes at least several weeks before you see any results and it’s easy to get discouraged and throw in the towel.
Be mindful about your vices
Whether it’s a glass (or three) of wine or eating a few cannabis edibles, it’s common to have a vice that we turn to after a rough day. If you feel guilty about your intake, it may seem like resolving to give up all your “sinning” is the perfect New Year’s resolution. But a more realistic resolution is to be mindful about your intake rather than attempting to give up everything forever.
Carolyn Watson, a Seattle-based mindfulness expert and certified pilates instructor at Balanced Body, explains that our vices typically trigger dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter that gives us pleasure and makes us feel good. The reason most vices are labeled as such is because many of them have potentially negative side effects if they’re frequently used.
“Mindfulness is easier to maintain when people understand how much power they have to choose how they get their dopamine release,” says Watson. “Especially when the days are short and our region is engulfed in a perpetual blanket of gray, it can be challenging to feel good without actively seeking some type of stimulating activity.”
Watson notes that in the winter months, many of her clients have an increased consumption of caffeine and alcohol, drinking coffee all morning and then switching to alcoholic beverages after dark. But she recommends diversifying the ways you get your dopamine fix. “Exercise, food, water and kind touch all cause the release of dopamine,” says Watson.
This is where mindfulness comes in — rather than consuming three cups of coffee and two glasses of wine, and eating a cheese plate for dinner, make the conscious decision to engage in a healthier activity that also releases dopamine. For example, Watson suggests taking a 30-minute walk, cuddling with a pet or having a few ounces of chocolate. “Eliminating all the vices can make many people feel depressed and quite unwell,” says Watson. “A better strategy would be to aim for diverse and moderate dopamine triggers.”