If you’re anything like me you love the idea of new years resolutions, but struggle with the follow through. This year my focus is on following through. My plans to improve my physical health involve:
- My short-term health kick (I’m aiming for 6 weeks)
- Adjusting my habits for better long-term health
The short-term health kick
“Health kicks”, like a detox program, can be worthwhile in preparation for long-term lifestyle changes that focus on a more sustainably balanced diet. However, I’ve learnt the hard way the importance of setting realistic goals.
When I hear the word ‘detox’ I run in the opposite direction, occasionally pausing to sit on the floor in the foetal position whilst quietly reassuring myself coffee, chocolate, wine, beer and red meat will always be there for me.
I decided to talk to (read: negotiate) with a practitioner. How I could get the most out of a detox program without having to give up the things I love? What I realised was my hesitation in undergoing a health kick was due to an “all or nothing” approach that I had subconsciously developed.
My practitioner explained organic red wine – ½ a glass per night was ok. She suggested drinking water before and after the wine and to stay off other alcoholic beverages for 6 weeks to help my liver rejuvenate. As far as red meat goes, thin slices of lean grass fed red meat once a week and chicken and fish each twice a week. Sugar was a big no-no – but I felt like I could get through it as long as I could have meat on most nights. Coffee we had a bit of a battle on, but I decided to replace some of morning brews with swiss water decaffeinated coffee.
With this and some other detox tips in mind I decided to focus on small, achievable day-to-day objectives. It’s important to break up bigger goals into bite-size chunks – much easier to swallow. It also means I can give myself a pat on the back multiple times a day which creates nice little dopamine spikes. A couple of things I’ve found helpful include:
Focusing on how I want to feel – Do I want to feel more energetic, attentive, calm, present, happy and/or strong? By thinking about the things that I can gain in each of the four pillars of health I feel like I’ve got so much to gain and so little to lose.
Not worrying or focusing too much on weight loss – In the past this has been a measuring stick of success and as soon as I’ve hit a plateau I find myself giving up soon after. It’s common for diets that focus on weight loss. A detox program is about giving your liver a break. Whilst you will typically lose weight as part of a liver detox program, it’s not the number one priority.
I’ve also found it important to accept small setbacks or roadblocks as part of the process. Sticking to a straight and narrow path can be difficult, especially after the initial eager period wears out and I’m ready to murder someone for some chocolate or a cup of coffee. At the end of the day, making a few “mistakes” is ok.
Part of the reason participants of strict “dieting” programs find them difficult to stick to is because they become fixated on “mistakes” and failures – becoming anxious about making these errors and guilty when they do. This cycle of negative emotional feedback can lead to things like yoyo dieting which can be detrimental to our health.
Some things that I’ve told myself to remember when I “fall of the wagon” are:
To consider the root of my behaviour – why did I want to force-feed myself half a block of chocolate and a packet of chips? Why do I feel like drinking alcohol after a hard day of work? By considering emotional motivations for poor health choices I can find alternative ways to cope.
Keeping a logbook of my day-to-day activities – I got this idea from a well-known creative thinker, Austin Kleon. He uses a logbook to track his daily activities as a source of motivation and inspiration for his creative work. I’ve found this helpful for tracking habits that I’m trying to cease or cut down on. That way I can see and understand what I’m remembering to do, what I’m forgetting and what I’m finding challenging in my day-to-day life.
Part 2: Living a healthier life
Following an intensive health kick I know it’s important for me to find ways of making longer term changes to some lifestyle choices. Understanding the advantages and significance of taking care of my health will be an important starting point for my plan for healthier living.
A big part of facilitating healthy lifestyle choices is in taking personal responsibility for our overall health and wellbeing. I find that by being honest and open with myself about the status of my health I am able to seek out resources for the challenges and obstacles I am facing in my own journey towards optimal wellbeing.
In fact, doctor’s and complimentary practitioners alike recognise that patient education and facilitating personal responsibility in their patients is a key strategy for better patient outcomes. By documenting my habits and discussing them with my healthcare provider I’ve been better able to engage in preventative medical strategies that decrease my risk of illness and chronic disease.
As I work through stage 1 of my new years resolution, I am preparing myself for stage 2 and have begun to formulate a shortlist of tips for myself. These are based on things I have learnt about health in researching and writing for the “What you ought to know about your body” series last year. Compiling a list of self-advice can be a really practical great way of talking to your future self. I find this particularly helpful in moments of forgetfulness or struggle. Here is what I’ve written to my future self so far:
1. Don’t over-do it with the coffee. I like starting my day off with a coffee, but if I start having too many I don’t feel to good. By sticking to 1 coffee per day in the morning I will keep my caffeine consumption low which will help to protect my adrenal system, an important component of the body’s stress response.
2. Drink alcohol in moderation. I find no alcohol difficult but too much alcohol is definitely a lot worse in the long-term. When I’ve drunk too much I feel sluggish and start to rely on alcohol to get to sleep. Besides the many documented risk factors that increase with too much booze, I feel like my quality of life improves when I drink less. So, I’ve decided that I’ll enjoy a glass of wine and a beer every now and or a particularly favourite low-sugar drink of mine – vodka lime sodas, but leave higher alcohol consumption for rare and special celebrations rather than part of a weekly weekend ritual.
3. Prevention is better than infection. I look after your immune system by adopting effective ways to deal with stress and taking supplemental support if I feel I’m coming down with a cold or flu.
4. Remember to drink water. I try to drink water whenever I realise I’m thirsty. The problem with this is that sometimes I forget to pay attention to my body. I find that keeping a flask of water with me prompts me to actually, you know, drink it.
5. Avoid too much sugar. I find my sugar cravings drop when I eat less sugar making avoidance of sugar more sustainable after doing a short-term detox program. As with alcohol, I plan to make sure that I don’t increase my consumption of sugar by too much after I complete my health kick.
6. Eat slowly and consciously. Food addictions and bingeing often involves this sort of unconscious “hand-to-mouth” thing. It’s ok to indulge in the occasional treat every now and again but its important to appreciate it – I like to think of this as “mindful eating”. Enjoying this slowly and consciously helps me to not overdo it.
If you’re thinking of changing some of your health habits, don’t be daunted by the how difficult some habits seem to break from the outset. Spend some time documenting and reflecting on why you want to make these changes and what healthy habits you can replace your not so healthy ones with. Start one day at a time – one day is better than no days, one week is better than five days, two weeks is better than one week – keep one foot in front of the other – it will get easier with each step.