Hi everyone! If you celebrate Christmas, I hope you had an enjoyable one. Now that the holiday season is winding down, I’d like to talk a little bit about New Year’s resolutions. Every year, you hear people talk about their New Year’s resolutions, and how the next year is going to be amazing and life changing. Then, two weeks later, everything is back to normal and people feel bad about not following their resolutions. So I’m going to explain a little about why I don’t really like resolutions and offer some solutions to help make sustainably positive life changes.
The main reason I don’t like resolutions is because people often set extreme health goals for themselves at this time of year. They promise that they will lose 30 pounds, or go to the gym every day at 5:00 a.m., or make a giant green juice smoothie every morning. I know it’s tempting to go on a crash diet after indulging at the holidays, but making such a drastic change is almost certainly setting yourself up for failure. Where this comes most into play is when I hear people talking about “going on a cleanse” after the holidays. These cleanses can take the form of a packaged detox program or one of a million sources on the internet that often emphasize juicing. I really dislike the concepts of cleanses for a number of reasons. The biggest thing I hate about cleanses is that they often promise to restore health by “removing toxins” from your body. Unless you’re eating a bunch of lead paint chips while simultaneously huffing glue, your body does a super job all on its own of removing waste products. People selling a cleanse will often say that the sluggish, grumpy, fatigued feeling you get on a cleanse is all the toxins being purged from your body. Uhh, no, it’s not. It’s because most cleanses are far too low in calories and nutrients, so that feeling is actually because you’re probably dehydrated and have low blood sugar. Some cleanses also incorporate herbs to help with removing toxins. This can actually be outright dangerous. Herbs, although you can buy them pretty much anywhere, are not always benign substances. Some herbs can interact poorly with medications, some can have serious side effects, and if the source of the herbs is not a good one (like if they are from overseas), they can actually contain things like heavy metals and pesticides. If you are interested in taking herbs, you should only be getting them from someone who is qualified and trained to prescribe them (like me!) rather than plucking something randomly off the shelf in CVS.
Cleanses that focus on juicing are often just as bad. In Chinese medicine, all foods have a taste and temperature (which may or may not actually correspond to the physical temperature of the food). Juices are considered cold and damp producing. In winter, it’s important to consume foods that help to balance out the already cold properties of the season, such as warming soups, stews, and roasted foods. Consuming a bunch of cold juices directly counters the idea of eating in accordance with the seasons. Eating cold and damp foods during winter can cause digestive issues such as diarrhea and bloating, as well as potentially causing fatigue, headaches, menstrual problems, and other issues.
Increasing your exercise drastically also can create problems. If you go from rarely working out to trying to run 6 miles on the treadmill, you’re going to be in for a world of hurt. Nothing discourages exercise like a fun set of shin splits from not gradually increasing your training levels. Making promises to go to the gym every morning before work will work for about a week or so, but once you hit snooze on day 6, it’s easy to feel that you’ve failed and give up on the idea that you’ll hit the gym every morning.
So what are you supposed to do if I’m discouraging you from making these profound changes to your health? Obviously, I am in favor of people trying to make positive steps to improve their health and well-being. However, it’s important to do so in a way that is sustainable. Rather than making grandiose promises of re-vamping your whole lifestyle, why not try making small goals?
Try to hit the gym twice a week in the first couple weeks and gradually increase over the period of a month or two to where you can exercise four or so days a week. Incorporate ways to make it fun. No one, including yours truly, looks forward to slogging it out on an elliptical for 45 minutes six days a week. Sign up for some fun classes at the gym, recruit a friend to go for a walk, or treat yourself to a couple sessions with a good personal trainer who can help you try out new exercises that you haven’t done before.
Rather than resolving to only eat kale and tempeh for dinner, why not start small? Buy a vegetable you’ve never cooked before and Google a recipe for it. Make a couple healthy meals on the weekend so that you can package them into portions for lunch. It’s a lot easier to eat a healthy lunch if you don’t have to wake up early to make it. Cook some eggs and veggies in muffin tins so you can microwave one in the morning, rather than grabbing a bagel on your way to work.
Try to incorporate some non-food and exercise related changes. Rather than focusing on losing a certain number of pounds, think about what other parts of your life you can improve. Try keeping a journal, meditating for five minutes every day, or finding someplace to volunteer. Find time once every couple weeks to do something to help you feel your best, like getting acupuncture, massage, or chiropractic care. When we nourish other parts of ourselves, it becomes easier to take better physical care of ourselves through nutrition and exercise.
By working to implement small and sustainable changes rather than dramatic overhauls, you can work to make 2016 a healthy and happy year without the guilt that comes from abandoned resolutions. I hope all of you have a very happy New Year’s celebration. Be safe if you’re headed out on the town, don’t drink and drive, and I look forward to sharing more with you all in 2016. Be well.