On Resolutions: How we Think and What to Do About It.

So here we are in 2012!  May I personally state that I think this is going to be a great year, impending apocalypse notwithstanding.  And how could I write a blog post in January and not address Resolutions, the majority of which involve becoming healthy and/or losing weight.

While I don’t think you necessarily need to purchase a new calendar to make changes in your life, most of us do decide to get back at that “health thing” in January.  We may not say it out loud or even really articulate the thought, but somewhere in our brains we look back at what we’ve been eating over the Holidays and think “Oh dear…enough of that now!”   It’s just kind of a reflex to follow a period of overindulgence with a period of restraint.   The problem is that this restraint only lasts until March at best.

So I’m going to write a couple posts on that “health thing.”  Whether you want to lose pounds or inches, run farther or lift more, or just simply feel better about yourself, there are three basic areas you’ll need to make changes in.  I will talk mostly specifically about weight loss, but I do think that these things can be applied to any goals.

So here’s my first topic: How we Think.

I don’t know how intense this can be for men, but I know personally as a woman that it can be terribly hard to break out of the vicious cycle of self-loathing and guilt.  It’s a well-crafted trap:  You don’t like how you look/feel, which makes you feel guilty, so you shrink back from taking action because it’s easier to deny there’s a problem than to admit that you’ve made a mess of yourself.  Then you still don’t like how you look and also know that you’ve done nothing but exacerbate the problem by shrinking back, so you feel guilty and try to tell yourself it’s not so bad, and the whole thing starts again. And usually there’s a lot of deep-frying involved.

This has to stop.

..and gnawing a leg off won't help

So let’s start by taking an honest look at ourselves, and I do mean that.  Constructive criticism means taking an appraisal of both the negative and positive and finding solutions to the negatives.  Don’t stand in front of a mirror and bash yourself, but also don’t stand there and make excuses:  we’re aiming for somewhere in the middle.  Make yourself add compliments in there if you have to.

Part of being honest is simply being realistic.  You may never be a size zero, but you also may never be an astronaut (something that I am still in denial about).  Let’s start with a realistic look at our expectations.

Really, what do you need to achieve?  I will always tell you to start small, and once you’ve achieved that, re-assess.  I cannot emphasize enough how personal this decision is: Everyone’s body is different, and 50 pounds looks different on a 5 foot person than a 6 foot person, never mind what their body is shaped like!  Don’t feel like there’s some universal standard you need to meet: you set your own standards. After all, you know yourself better than anyone else, and you know when you’ve done your best and when you’ve dropped the ball.

We all have that inner critic, whether if it’s a muted voice in the back of your brain or an obnoxious voice spewing venom.  You need to make peace with this guy: make him be reasonable and kind.  This voice is a valuable tool, and like all tools, it can be abused.  It should be pushing you to do well, not beating you down about not doing well enough.

Like this, but with less drugs.

Allow yourself to feel good about going to the gym or sticking to your diet today.  Don’t devalue what you accomplish.  Trust me, if you hit the gym and mentally beat yourself up afterwards for not “doing enough”, you won’t be likely to go back…after all, you’re associating it with feelings of guilt!  Instead, be proud of yourself for going!   Hell, look at yourself in the mirror and tell your reflection that “you done good!”  if you have to.

And keep track of your progress! Record your weight and take your measurements, time yourself or whatever you need. Take a “before picture” if you like.  Never, ever, for any reason, use an image of someone else as a “goal!”  This is setting yourself up for failure: You cannot become someone else, you can only become the best you.  Remember to check your progress often, and don’t let early days frustrate you. It’s normal to gain a little and plateau for a while before starting to lose weight. You will have to learn to be patient with yourself:  the sad fact is that establishing new habits just takes time.

Losing weight and keeping it off is a long term endeavor.  The longer you keep your body at a certain weight, the more it believes this weight is “normal” and the harder it fights to keep you there.  Silly meat machine, it only wants what’s best for you!  Honestly I didn’t start losing weight until I’d kept at my eating and exercising resolutions for at least four months.  It will be a slow process, and we sure like instant results in our society.  You can look at this negatively…like it’s going to take slaving away forever to get anywhere….or you can look at it like you aren’t rushed, and can take your time with this.

And do you really need one more thing in your life to hurry at?

If you really want these changes to stick, you will have to change the way you do things….  And yes, change is hard.  If habits were easy to break, New Years Resolutions wouldn’t be a thing in the first place.  But it’s easier to move a mountain one stone at a time than all at once.  So start small.  Pick one or two doable things and get that down before you move on to larger issues.

If losing weight is your goal, a diet plan may help but definitely watch out for a couple things.  Any plan that says you can lose weight without any changes and just add supplements is suspect in my eyes.  The “no changes” approach is unlikely to work.   Same goes for any plan that says you have to eat only their foods.  Extreme change is hard to sustain, and the odds are that after you finish your plan, you’ll go right back to eating like you did before:  If you lost 50 pounds but stop what you’re doing and go back to eating for a body 50 pounds heavier, guess what happens?  Pick a plan carefully: find something with lessons you can apply long term, whether that’s about portion control or creating well-balanced meals.

Above all, changes need to be sustainable.  Overhauling your entire life at once is just too drastic: you need to adapt into changes slowly and they have to be incremental.  You can start by cutting out pop and juice, and then move into adding more fruits and veggies into your diet.  Start trying to get your recommended daily glasses of water!  Switch from sugary, salty pasta sauces to plain crushed tomatoes and add your own seasonings.

But one step at a time.  Nutrition is a whole other topic, and we’ll get there!

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