There's something special about the start of a new year. We are rejuvenated with a fresh rush of motivation and blessed with a squeaky clean blank slate, providing the perfect set of circumstances to make a lifestyle change. In fact, research has shown that the most successful behavior change occurs during times of novelty. Whether it's a new house, new job, new school, or a new year, any new beginning is the prime time to create change. Yet, even with the power of novelty, change is challenging. It's no secret that one of the most common resolutions is to "eat healthier, lose weight, and improve wellbeing". But if the same resolution is resurrected and repeated year after year, this tells us one thing: our intentions are persistent, but we aren't so great at executing.
Here's to getting it right in 2017 and beyond! Follow this guide to cultivate a healthy lifestyle that lasts lifetime.
The trouble with resolutions is that they are tied to a one-year deadline. These time-stamped, temporary pledges will only produce transient results at best. If our true pursuit is lifelong well-being, it's silly to think a one-year commitment will provide a lifetime of health.
Instead, use the momentum of the New Year to cultivate healthy habits that you can repeat on a daily basis and maintain for a lifetime. The automatic, repetitive, and consistent nature of habits is the key to lifelong well-being. After all, what we do every day matters more than what we do once in awhile.
Get Back to the Basics
In the past, we've overlooked the basic fundamentals to healthy living, and placed our faith in "sophisticated" and complex fads, jumping from one trendy program to the next. But how can we knock the essentials if we haven't actually given them a chance to work their magic? This year, skip the trends and stick with the tried and true.
- Real food. Real food is energizing, disease-protecting, anti-aging, and mood-boosting - everything we need to live a long, healthy, and happy life. Colorful fruits and vegetables, fiber-rich whole grains, high-quality proteins, and healthy fats are perfectly packaged with the vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, and energy we need to thrive. Yet, studies show an estimated 50% of our diet is comprised of ultra processed foods that are not only devoid of beneficial nutrients, but also contain toxic and artificial additives.
- Water. The human body is comprised of about 65-70 percent water, an unmistakable indicator of its importance in human health. Water plays a critical role in supporting the function of every organ in the body, yet research estimates a striking 75 percent of U.S population is functioning under a chronic state of dehydration.
- Sleep. Sleep is our body's only opportunity to repair, rebuild, and recharge. Yet we tend to care more about recharging our iPhones than our bodies! Studies show over one third of the U.S population is sleep deprived.
- Movement. Our bodies were designed to move, yet each year we are becoming increasingly more sedentary. Studies estimate American adults spend an average of 13 hours sitting each day. Regular exercise promotes sleep quality, strengthens cognitive function, improves metabolism, relieves stress, enhances physical performances, and supports healthier food choices.
- Relax. It's no secret that our population is living under chronic stress, but the truth is, the more we give to ourselves, the more we can ask of ourselves. In fact, "unplugging" on a regular basis has been shown to improve productivity, creativity, energy, performance, health and happiness. Whether it's yoga, meditation, reading a book, taking a warm bath, sipping on tea, or doing a puzzle, taking time to relax and reset is critical to our health and happiness.
Personalize Your Approach
While the five basic elements to healthy living appear deceivingly simple, in practice, they are incredibly tough to implement. Here's the challenge: The basics alone are just a list of ingredients. What we need, is a recipe of how to actually put these fundamentals into action. And we don't just need any recipe, we need a personalized recipe that takes into account our individual traits, tendencies, preferences, as well as our unique biology and health requirements. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all formula to healthy living. Healthy living is about finding the unique combination of habits and practices that work best for you. Here's how to personalize your approach:
Get To Know Yourself Better
Your success will depend on how well you are able to identify strategies that align with who you are and what makes you, you. It's much easier to adjust your strategies to work in congruence with your personality than it is to try and wedge yourself into rigid framework that directly competes against your human nature.
Reflect on times when you've succeeded, and times when you have struggled. What circumstances led you to be victorious, and what circumstances distracted you or prevented you from following through? Consider taking a personality test to help you get to know yourself better. (Try habit & happiness expert Gretchin Rubin's Quiz). Here are a few questions to get you started:
How you answer these questions will help you identify the best strategies for bringing back the basics. For example, if you are someone that needs accountability, signing up for workout classes that charge a no-show fee, or finding a workout buddy may help you maintain a regular exercise routine.
Employ Habit Hacks
Now that you've identified habits that support your human nature, the next step is to activate these habits. Here are a few trusty habit hacks to help get you started:
The final step to cultivating a personalized healthy lifestyle is to put your lab coat on and study yourself. Use an app or keep a journal to track your habits and how they impact your mood, energy level, hunger level, performance, and weight. Not only will this serve as a source of accountability, but also the data you collect will start to reveal patterns.
While we all thrive on real food, ample sleep, regular activity, proper hydration, and daily relaxation, our needs within each of these categories will vary. For example, one person may find they can thrive on 7 hours of sleep, while others may require 9 hours to be their personal best. Similarly, two people served the same exact meal may experience drastic differences in blood sugar, energy or weight due to differences in metabolism, activity level, and so on. Logging this information will help you understand how best to manipulate variables in a way that works best for your goals — such as setting an earlier bedtime or eating small meals more often. Trust that this is just a temporary science project and enjoy the process of self-discovery!
Ready to begin? Here's a "real food" meal plan to get you started! (INSERT LINK)
Lindsey Kane is a Registered Dietitian from Philadelphia. For more nutrition tips and recipes, visit her website at biteforchange.com.