Q: I've made resolutions before to get healthy—and then I lose my resolve. How can I break this cycle and finally meet my goals?
A: We've all been there—making resolutions that just don't stick. Maybe last year you resolved to clean up your diet, only to find your willpower fading. Or you swore you would exercise but just couldn’t find the time. Or perhaps you set a big weight-loss goal, never reached it and got discouraged. Here's how to fix some of the most common health-resolution mistakes.
Skipping meals Let's say you polished off an unusually indulgent meal last night, and now you feel bloated and disgusted. You’ve resolved to skip breakfast altogether—maybe lunch too—and, frankly, you’d like to eat one meal a day for as long as you live. That's an understandable reaction, but it's about to make things much worse. Here's the problem: If you skip meals, your body will respond by greatly increasing your hunger drive.
When you finally do eat, your hunger gets out of hand, and you binge. Now you're in a cycle of bingeing and starving, which is a disaster for weight control.
Here's a better way: Take the focus off how much (and how often) you eat, and instead, pay attention to what you eat. Have plenty of vegetables, fruits, beans and whole grains, and keep your fat intake low. These healthful foods will gently trim your calorie total without your even noticing it because they're full of fiber, which is naturally filling. Every 14 grams of fiber added to your daily diet reduces your overall calorie intake by about 10 percent—an easy way to feel full without feeling bloated and to get off the binge-and-starve merry-go-round.
Shunning carbohydrates You're addicted to carbs, you say. Given the opportunity, you can eat french fries, bagels and bread like there’s no tomorrow. But they make your blood sugar spike and, in turn, blood sugar swings drive your appetite out of control. Now you feel thoroughly carbophobic.
But going low-carb is not the answer. First of all, cutting out carb-rich beans, vegetables, fruits and grains deprives you of vital nutrients and fiber. Second, low-carb foods are often high in calories, fat or animal protein (think cheese and eggs). Eating high-fat foods raises your cholesterol level, and following a diet high in animal protein for long periods of time can increase osteoporosis risk and potentially harm your kidneys.
Here's the solution: Don't go low-carb; go low-GI. The Glycemic Index (GI) is a handy tool that rates foods based on how quickly they cause your blood sugar to shoot up. Low-GI foods are those that cause very little blood sugar rise—beans, vegetables and fruits are the best. On the other hand, table sugar, white bread and sugary breakfast cereals have a high GI. Find a more complete list at glycemicindex.com.
Replacing a good diet with specific exercises If it's getting a little harder to see your toes, you might be thinking of plunking down a chunk of money for a thigh trimmer or an ab toner. But if your experience is typical, the gizmo will soon be gathering dust in your basement. Here's the problem: spot-specific exercise equipment can tone and strengthen underlying muscles, but it essentially does nothing for the fat layer between the muscles and the skin. The flab stays put, and you end up discouraged.
Instead: Use exercise in addition to a diet change, not instead of it. This message is especially important for certain athletic types who sometimes say, "I eat pretty badly, but I burn it off." What they don’t realize is that you can't "burn off " cholesterol—particularly with exercises that focus on a specific body part. Even to burn off fatty flab, you have to include aerobic exercises as well as musclebuilding moves. The most muscular animals—elephants, bulls, stallions and gorillas—build their muscles entirely from plant foods. So can you.
Going it alone If you're changing your diet or starting a workout, it's tempting to just plunge in. But if you haven't thought about ways to bolster your resolve when it falters—and it will—your healthy changes may not stick. If at all possible, don't go it alone. If you make healthy changes along with your family, a loved one or a coworker, you'll have someone to trade recipes and books with and to be accountable to. It can even be long distance. I have two friends who don't live at all near each other but started an exercise program together. To stay on track, they call each other and talk while they do their half hour on their home treadmills.
Setting an unrealistic goal If you’re hoping to lose 50 pounds before swimsuit season, you're setting the bar way too high. Instead, don’t buy that revealing suit just yet. A healthful diet —the one I described above—can trim away about a pound or so per week and then help you keep it off. Do the math, set an attainable goal, reach it and take a bow.