It’s generally around this time of year that we begin thinking of what we want to achieve in the new year, especially in terms of health because all of the holiday indulgence has left us feeling like slugs who needs to shed some slime. If you are looking to go for a few goals in 2021, that's great! But before you put your pen to paper, here are a few tips for your goal planning:.
“Health is a journey, not a goal to be attained.”
1. Start small
Health isn’t a list of tasks that you can check off a to do list. It is a life-long journey created one small habit at a time.
What your body needs largely depends on your age, gender and lifestyle; and those needs consistently evolve over time. We are also creatures of habit and if you try to change too many things at once, you will find yourself tired and without the will to keep any resolutions. That's why it is imperative that you start with one small thing, for instance switching to oatmeal at breakfast instead of having a muffin. See how your body feels with this change. Does it feel more energized or sluggish? If the change feels great, then keep going with it. If it doesn’t then try something else – maybe a smoothie or even continuing your overnight fast until lunch. Once you find what works, stick with it and over time it will become a habit and you can begin focusing on the next one.
2. Try to get adequate sleep.
What is adequate sleep? Well, that depends on your body. Generally, adults need somewhere between 7 and 9 hours a day. Usually all at night. How much your body needs will depend on a lot of things and will even change over time. See how you feel after a few nights of sleeping 8 hours. Do you wake up naturally before the alarm? Then you probably don’t need as much. Do you still feel tired? Then maybe try allowing yourself to sleep a little more.
Make sure that the sleep you are getting is quality sleep. Keep all electronics out of your room (a cell phone set to airplane mode is the exception) and keep all lights off at night. Your body will learn that when it goes into the bedroom, it is time to sleep and you will find yourself falling into a slumber much more quickly and easily.
3. Move your body.
Speaking of sleep, have you ever been exhausted but you couldn’t sleep? Or have you gotten into an afternoon slump at the computer and felt like you might conk out on the keyboard in front of you? This could actually be a sign that you need to get moving.
Our bodies were made for physical exertion and need it to be in top working condition. The biggest pitfall with New Year's resolutions is that people go from doing next to nothing to acting like they are training for a marathon. It's better to start small and move up from there. If you haven’t been moving at all during the day, then try to add a 20-minute walk into your schedule. (If others can have smoke and coffee breaks, then you can most certainly take a walking break!) See how you feel with that and then move onto more intensive cardio if you feel that your body needs and wants it.
The same goes for weight training. If you feel you want to incorporate that into your day, then great! Start small with some resistance training or using your body weight like pushups. Allow yourself to modify exercises to your level, like doing vertical pushups on the wall or pushups on your knees. Never be ashamed of where you are. It’s just your starting point and you will move up from there in time.
4. Drink water
More than 50% of our bodies are made up of water. Drinking enough water throughout the day is integral for bodies to function at their best. Try to incorporate more water into your day, working your way up to drinking 2 liters (1 gallon) of water per day. The key word is TRY. Don’t stress yourself about reaching that goal. Your body has been going without that much water this whole time. I can assure you that it won’t just give up on you if you forget to do it once you’ve started trying. Do your best to add more water into your day and you will feel all the better for it. Warning: once you start drinking more water, it will take your body 3-5 days to adjust to the new liquid amounts which means that you will be visiting the bathroom more frequently until your body does adjust.
5. Crowd out
There are a lot of amazing influencers and health experts out there who have great meal plans to help you achieve the fit and sculpted bodies that they have. These plans, however, are extremely restrictive which makes them difficult to follow over a long period of time. They are also wholly unnecessary if your goal is just to be healthier or try to lose some weight. Their restrictive nature can even fall on the unhealthy side, leading to eating disorders like orthorexia.
If you want to focus on eating healthy, then start with the idea of crowding out. Crowding out means packing so many fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, protein and whole grains into your diet that you don’t have space for as much junk food. When you eat a lot of these natural foods which are low-calorie and high in fiber, you have a lot less room for processed, high-calorie foods which will lead to less calories overall and, therefore, weight loss.
6. Cut out alcohol
I know that this one can seem a little impossible, especially when meeting up for a drink is an important part of social life where alcoholic beverages are assumed. You don’t have to give up alcohol 100%, but I would suggest working your way down to 1 drink per week. When we consume alcohol, the liver has to work overtime to detox it from our bodies and doesn’t have the capacity to focus on detoxing the rest. Reducing this one thing will make a big difference in how you feel.
7. Trust your body.*
The human body is extremely resilient. Think about all that you have put it through up to now and it’s still functioning. Your body can take quite a beating, and will continue to fight for life and health. That is its job - to ensure that we stay in a state of health. It’s not your job to make it healthy. You just need to give it all of the aforementioned tools to achieve optimal health. Listen to your body and respect what it needs. It will lead you in the right direction.
*I realize that this idea may be triggering for some people after so many years of being told that we have to work against our bodies and ignore signs like pain and hunger. If you are feeling triggered by this, please reach out to me or another professional who can help you to work through these feelings.
8. Forgive yourself
We all have days where we are too tired to work out or where we were so stressed that we find ourselves binging on mounds of chocolate and potato chips. That’s okay. Yes, it's O.K.! You won’t lose the muscle you’ve gained by missing one or even three workouts. You won’t gain 5lbs from a day of binge eating. More damage will be caused by stressing over these things. Remember that your body is resilient. Let go of the fact that it happened and don’t worry about making future promises. Just focus on the present and what you can do now.