Your Health: Kicking bad habits in the New Year
December 28, 2013
First comes New Year's Eve — a night of frivolity and a time when the upcoming calendar looks so full of promise that you believe anything is possible and pledge to make a fresh start. Then there's New Year's Day — a day where too much celebrating the night before has culminated in a headache or stomachache and something that seemed like a great idea now seems like a hassle.
A New Year's resolution to improve one's health is likely worth the time and effort involved, but those who have a long track history of breaking these promises to themselves aren't likely to stick with it past January, let alone for the rest of 2014 or the rest of their lives.
When resolving to change something about yourself, be it something as small as ending the habit of biting your nails or something as monumental as shedding 100 pounds or more, the easiest part is the resolution itself. The number of people who give up after that step is too high to count.
One simple mistake is trying to do too much too soon, especially with weight loss. Lindsey Hester, registered dietitian for The Memorial Hospital, recommends easing into the process.
A weight-loss plan that fits your needs individually is key, Hester said. She emphasizes long-term aims known as SMART Goals — specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely.
"A specific goal would be to lose 10 percent of your body weight within six months time," she said. "That also takes care of the 'measurable' and 'timely,' and for 'attainable' and 'realistic,' those goals are set by what small changes they would actually stick to."
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Hester said those who expect to just stop engaging in their unhealthy behaviors immediately are usually just kidding themselves — going cold turkey rarely works.
"If a person is addicted to soda, it's not realistic to just say, 'OK, stop drinking soda,'" she said.
Attempting to alter your entire intake of food and drink will only prove frustrating. A better method is to cut down on undesirable parts of the diet, rather than trying to cut them out altogether.
"The smaller, attainable goals show way more long-term success than going cold turkey," Hester said.
The other part of keeping your New Year's resolution is actually sticking to it once it gets more difficult. Those who achieve weight loss in January and the following months may struggle by the middle of the year as their body acclimates.
A "plateau" is not uncommon, Hester said. Often this will be the time which determines who's really committed to the battle of the bulge and who is ready to quit when the going gets tough.
And, if you've made it that far, ditching your plan and trying to start over in a few months isn't a good idea, Hester said. Those who make a habit of starting, stopping and then starting the path to weight loss can damage their body with inconsistency.
"Yo-yo dieting can be dangerous because you're depleting your muscle mass, gaining more fat and screwing up your metabolism," she said.
Perseverance is the answer for any kind of lifestyle change whether or not it begins Jan. 1, but you don't have to do it entirely on your own. Like weight loss, resolving to quit drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes is something that can be made easier with support from family and friends.
The likelihood of making such endeavors a permanent part of your life is increased by having a strategy. For example, the web site for Colorado QuitLine states that more than 80 percent of active smokers want to quit and many who try must go through the steps multiple times before finally staying tobacco-free.
"It is important to keep trying," reads coquitline.org. "Stay positive. Reach out to others who can help you. Find the right tools and you will quit for good."
And, when it comes to New Year's resolutions, the amount of forethought is usually most telling, Hester said. A resolution made on a whim is one that's probably not going to happen.
"It depends on the person's motivation," she said. "If it's something they've been thinking about for a few months, and they just need that extra push, hopefully that means they'll stick to it."
Contact Andy Bockelman at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@CraigDailyPress.com.