Each year as we bid farewell to December and ring in the New Year, people across the globe make goals and resolutions, many of which focus around living a healthier lifestyle.
Surveys show that each year, health trends like eating better, dry January, exercising and dieting spike in the first months of the year.
A 2019 survey from Inc.com shows that the top four resolutions that year focused on dieting and eating healthier, exercising more, losing weight, and saving more money (or spending less).
While goals and resolutions are a good thing to have, some health experts caution against setting unrealistic goals.
Kelsey Beamish is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist (RHN) and Personal Training Specialist (PST) here in Cranbrook. She owns and operates a business, Kootenay Nutrition, and she is the nutritionist and trainer for members at Fitness Inc.
Beamish says that resolutions can be a great tool to recognize the goals that someone wants to achieve, but can often be made with little to no plan to actually achieve them.
“I always say New Years is the adult holiday because we develop this blind faith that when the clock strikes midnight, everything can change,” she said. “Children think of it no different than any other day, but for adults we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to make changes on January 1st.”
Beamish specializes in helping people reach their health goals by improving their relationship with food, along with incorporating whole foods into their diet. She says she became an RHN after struggling with an eating disorder herself.
“I wanted to make a difference in the health and nutrition space and help others who are lost and confused with their journey, as well as their relationship with food,” she said.
Beamish says she sees a lot of resolutions crash in February because of a lack of planning, an unrealistic plan, or because a moment of imperfection made that person quit.
“I hear ‘I want to lose weight’ or ‘I want to eat healthier’ all the time, but without a good, sustainable plan, these won’t be achieved. Life comes up, a child gets sick, a pandemic hits the planet, stress, family, anything can come up and knock us off course. But a good plan can [help us] adapt to these things, rather than make us quit entirely.”
She adds that setting unrealistic goals can be worse than setting no goals, because of the guilt that can come with not achieving them.
The solution? Starting small and going slow, says Beamish. Rather than promising yourself that you’re going to hit the gym every day – commit to three times (or more) per week. Rather than swearing off fast food completely, commit to adding more vegetables into your diet. Meal planning, cooking at home and going for walks are also attainable goals, Beamish says, that allow people to create a habit.
She adds that if you have set out goals or resolutions and slip up, don’t let it throw you off course.
“Many people let slip-ups and imperfection throw them completely off track. I see this a lot in the nutrition and fitness space, with people thinking they’re either on or off ‘the wagon’. I don’t know who’s wagon it is or why the rules are so strict, but we’re all human and things come up. Life happens. That doesn’t mean we should throw in the towel and swear we’ll try again next January 1st.”
That goes for healthy living all around, whether it’s your physical fitness, your mental health, what you eat, or your financial well-being.
According to a 2015 study, it is far more effective to encourage eating and exercising for optimal health, rather than weight loss. Part of that involves developing interventions to reduce weight stigma and discrimination.
Christy Harrison’s book ‘Anti-Diet’ says that obsessing over what you eat is bad for your health. Harrison is a registered dietitian and according to her website, intuitive eating can be far more effective than dieting.
Beamish agrees, saying that shifting your focus to living an all around healthier lifestyle is key. She says to focus on well-planned goals, implementing habits slowly, and not restricting yourself.
“Diet culture loves pushing cookie-cutter plans and plans that are meant to be one size fits all. But everyone is very individual in their bodies, goals, health status, lifestyle, and their relationships with food and their body. These plans often aren’t the right fit and can create even more confusion and frustration,” Beamish said, adding that no one should ever need to cut out an entire food group unless it’s for medical reasons.
“You can have pizza, pasta, chocolate, red wine, or any foods you love in the diet, while still working towards your goals,” she said.
Ultimately, according to Beamish, restrictive diets can put someone into a dieting cycle that ends in weight gain, and people feeling unhappy with their bodies.
At the end of the day, Beamish says it’s important to be honest with yourself, and seek help if you need it.
“Be honest with yourself and your current habits. If your habits aren’t conducive to your goal or resolution, create small habits you can build off of, and go slow,” she said. “Working with a professional can also be really helpful to take some of the confusion out, to help with support and accountability, and to get a plan that is truly individualized.”
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