It's a new year! Many of us will resolve to lose weight and exercise more in 2011. But instead of making resolutions that are often quickly forgotten, now is a good time to take personal inventory of our lives and our goals for improving our health, says Temple University psychologist and professor Frank Farley, Ph.D.
He suggests making a list of those goals for the coming year. Then share your list with family, friends or a professional so that you have a support system as you work toward realizing your resolutions in the year ahead.
That support can help you overcome some of the most-common psychological reasons why so many of us dig in our heels when it comes to putting on those walking shoes and stocking the fridge with fruits and veggies. Here are some of the most common, along with some suggestions for hoisting ourselves over the hurdles:
° NOT TAKING YOUR OWN LIFE SERIOUSLY. "We get busy driving, picking up kids, worrying about keeping track of everything but ourselves," says Lynn Fischer, author of more than 20 healthy cookbooks. "But your number-one priority has to be your own health. It's true what the airline flight attendants say: You must first put the mask over your own mouth and nose, and then you can help your child."
Try this: Decide right now to make your health a top priority. It's not selfish. In fact, it's the best thing you can do for your family, says Fischer. But you have to mean it. It's amazing how spouses and kids pick up on wishy-washy intentions. (After all they've heard this all before, right?) So get serious. "You'll be amazed at how supportive your family can be," she says.
° FEELING DEPRESSED. It's a tough cycle to break, says Scotts Valley, California fitness-motivation consultant Ron Useldinger. "When you're depressed, exercise is the best medicine, and it has no side effects," he says. But if you're not feeling good about yourself, it's tough to get motivated to exercise or eat healthfully. "I recently attended a conference on depression and learned that one in five people today are clinically depressed," Useldinger says. "That's 10 times more than we had 20 years ago." Is increased depression tied to decreased fitness? "Absolutely," he says. "If your body isn't rested, properly fed and exercised, you will feel the effects emotionally."
Try this: The first few times you put on your walking shoes and head out the door, you may have to just trust the experts who say exercise really is good medicine. But have faith. You should start to feel better fairly quickly, says Useldinger. Try to look at those walks, or those laps in the pool, as a gift to your well-being. Of course, if your feelings of depression continue, you'll want to talk with your doctor.
° IGNORING YOUR QUIRKS. So you can't stand the thought of exercising after working all day? You crave sweets? Well then. Might as well give up, go buy a giant Snickers bar and rent a few videos, right?
Try this: Work around your likes and dislikes, suggests Fischer, who hates to exercise at night. "I work out at 6 a.m.," she says. "By 7:30, I'm home and I've already accomplished the toughest part of my day." And because she has a sweet tooth, Fischer doesn't deny herself the occasional piece of cake that helps her say no to other temptations. "But I don't make it a habit," she says.
° SAYING "IT'S HOPELESS." It's common, when the weight has piled on and your stamina has gone the way of your waistline, to feel like you've passed the point of no return. And it's easy to give up.
Try this: Just start. Today. "If you're down in a hole, so what?" says Fischer. Just face the fact that, as with any change, it will take a lot of effort for the first two to three weeks. After that, your new healthy routines will become a habit, like brushing your teeth. So don't overthink it. (Or overthink it to your heart's content — while you're walking around the block.)
° HANGING WITH THE COUCH-POTATO CROWD. If moms' night out consistently turns into margaritas-and-nachos night, you may be in a high-fat, low-activity rut.
Try this: If you can't convince the nacho noshers to try something a bit healthier, you may want to plan a few active outings with fitness-minded friends, suggests Fischer. "You don't want to spend time with people who are going to poo-poo your efforts," she says.
° BECOMING A REBEL. This is a tough one, because it's hard to recognize it in ourselves. After all, you love yourself, and exercise is good for you, right? But have you ever heard this little voice in your head? "I have to get up at 6 a.m. for work. I have to do the laundry. I have to sit on the freeway every morning. And now they're telling me I HAVE TO eat right and exercise, or else something horrible will happen to me? Oh yeah? I think I'll go flop on the couch, watch 'Seinfeld' reruns and have a big slab of coconut cream pie. So there." "It's as if these healthy things become just more pieces of work that we have to do, says Robert Ochs, M.S., LCSW, a Los Angeles exercise physiologist and psychotherapist who specializes in working with clients' exercise-related issues.
Try this: Make your choices the reward, not the torture. "People have to find things in their life that are soothing," says Ochs. "None of us can do well if we're just going from chore to chore." Especially in the early stages of a health-behavior change, try tying the change to a reward, he suggests. Allow yourself a massage after a certain number of workouts. Or exercise while chatting with a friend, reading or listening to music. "Now the new behavior becomes associated with something more pleasurable, and you probably won't dread it," says Ochs. "Maybe you'll even look forward to it."
° TAKING AN ALL-OR-NOTHING APPROACH. It's easy to get psyched and start off with great intentions, only to over-do it and quit on day three. "We know that the three biggest days for exercising are January 2, 3 and 4, and then it drops off quickly," says Useldinger. Enough said.
Try this: "Your new behavior cannot be so punishing that you give up, so start with baby steps," suggests Ochs. "One little change at a time."
Pretty soon, getting away from your desk or from that pile of laundry and out into the sunshine for that blood-pumping daily stroll might just become your favorite part of the day, Ochs predicts. Because after you make fitness a habit, "the exercise itself becomes the thing you look forward to when you have all those other chores to do."
Now that seems like a choice worth making.