I am not a fan of New Year's resolutions. I appreciate the sentiment behind them, but I believe most resolutions are doomed to failure. Why? Because resolutions are generally too vague (or extreme) and most people don't know how to create a realistic plan for making them happen.
I think you should give resolutions the boot and try something new in 2014. My recommendation? Make small, sustainable changes that will move you toward your goals of happiness and health instead.
Research shows that new habits are much more likely to last if you take them slow and focus on only one change at a time. In my newly published book One Simple Change, I lay out a plan for readers to make one small change per week. The changes focus on lifestyle adjustment, dietary transformation, and attitude overhaul: There's definitely something for everyone! Make all 50 changes if you wish, or make only the changes that resonate with you. The book is meant to be a guide: nothing is "do or die."
January's right around the corner. It's the perfect time to start working on new habits (just be sure to keep in mind that permanent change does not happen overnight). Here are 10 of my favorite small changes from the book...changes I think everyone should make next year.
1. Stop Dieting
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Be done with the "I overdid it over the holidays so I have to eat far less food (or no carbs or no sugar) this month" mentality. Isn't it fairly obvious by now that our bodies don't respond well to the cycle of binge and then restrict? I recommend finding a health-promoting way you can eat today and from now on. (This does not mean you must give up the foods you enjoy. You can and should consume what you want and you shouldn't feel bad or guilty about doing so: I find that when I eat about 85% whole, nourishing foods and about 15% everything else, I feel great and I never experience any sort of deprivation.) I also recommend you figure out which foods really work for your body and which ones don’t. Your health will may improve if you do this, and you may drop some pounds, too.
2. Cook More
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People who eat out frequently are more likely to consume fewer fruits and vegetables and more unhealthy fats, and added sugars (and more food overall) than those who don't. Eat as much home cooked food as possible; this is generally far healthier than food made elsewhere. When you make your own food from scratch, it will taste better, it will benefit your health, and you'll save money. It's also more eco-friendly to avoid frequently getting take-out because of all the packaging you end up throwing away. If you don't know how to cook, then take the time to learn to prepare your own meals with real-food ingredients (or arrange for someone you live with to cook for you!).
3. Get a Good Night's Sleep
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A good night's sleep each and every night allows us to be at our best every day. When we are deprived of sleep, our well being may suffer: Not sleeping enough can have numerous negative consequences for your health. Try to get to bed by 10 pm and sleep for at least 8 hours every night: Deep rest keeps your immune system strong and optimizes your metabolism. Another reason to prioritize your sleep: Not sleeping enough can disrupt your hormones, including those that regulate your appetite. Things that can help you get a good night's sleep on a regular basis include keeping to a schedule, exercising daily, making sure your bedroom is very dark, and eating regularly, and enough, during the day.
4. Move Your Body
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Exercise may have dropped to the bottom of your priority list during the busy holiday season, so now's the time to start fitting it back in to your schedule. Exercise has so many benefits: It's vital to heart health and good overall muscle tone, it's associated with improved mood and immunity, better sleep, and a decrease in one's overall stress level. I enjoy Crossfit and lifting weights so I go to the gym 4 times a week but maybe yoga or Pilates is what floats your boat, or maybe you like running or spin classes. It doesn't really matter what you do as you do something (how about walking?) consistently! Keep in mind, however, that working out harder is not always better. If you haven't been very active in the past, do not (I repeat: DO NOT) start going to boot camp style exercise classes every day. If you do that, you will probably end up injuring yourself or you will simply burn out.
5. Manage Your Stress
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Are you able to roll with the punches, or do the stresses in your life constantly trouble you? Life can absolutely be stressful, but the ways you deal with your stress determines how it affects you. To help your body manage stress well, be sure to get enough sleep (not sleeping enough is a physical stress in and of itself). It's also a good idea to exercise regularly and to support your body with good nutrition. Be careful about caffeine (too much can make it hard for your body to manage stress) and make sure to focus on being mindful/in the moment: This forces you to stop thinking about all the things that may be stressing you out so you can focus on what you are presently doing.
6. Don't Skip Meals
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Lots of people skip meals in an effort to lose weight or to "save their calories for later" but this is not a health-promoting strategy. Skipping meals can really mess with your blood sugar: It's much better for you to eat three balanced meals each day and to have wholesome snacks in between if you are hungry. The most commonly skipped meal is breakfast, but most people feel better when they eat something in the morning (note that a cup of coffee does not count as breakfast). I personally feel best when I eat something that contains protein, fat, and carbohydrates in the mornings, and I make absolute sure to eat a proper breakfast on the mornings that I exercise.
7. Slow Down
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Slowing down can do wonders for your mind and your body but many people don't allow themselves to slow down. We're all so accustomed to racing around and trying to complete so many tasks each day that we typically deny ourselves the downtime required to de-stress and recharge. In addition, many of us are seriously overcommitted...know that it's really okay to say "no" sometimes! Going for a walk outside or doing some stretches or other form of gentle exercise is a great way to slow down. If you find "slow down" time impossible to come by, try this: Close your eyes and take 10 very slow breaths in and out whenever you are feeling anxious or overwhelmed.
8. Eat Healthy Fats and Oils
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Most people are extremely confused about how much fat to eat, and which fats are healthy and which are not. I cannot tell you exactly how much fat to you need in your diet but I can tell you which fats are the best to eat. Consume natural fats, including butter, coconut oil, olive oil, avocados, egg yolks, full-fat dairy products, whole coconut milk, and fatty fish (and avoid refined vegetable oils and unnatural hydrogenated fats.) The best way to ensure you are consuming healthy fats and oils is to stock your kitchen with them and do your own cooking most of the time (a meal out now and then made with fats/oils that aren't ideal isn't going to harm you, however...don't stress about it).
9. Get Some Culture
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Cultured foods (also known as lacto-fermented foods) are high in natural probiotics. They foster a healthy digestive environment and may help to strengthen the immune system, contributing to optimal wellness. I recommend consuming cultured foods on a daily basis, if possible: dairy products such as yogurt and kefir; the soybean paste miso; the beverage kombucha; and vegetable preparations such as kimchi, lacto-fermented pickles, and sauerkraut are all examples of cultured foods you can add to your diet. Cultured vegetables are particularly beneficial since they're high in nutrients and fiber; you can add them to all sorts of dishes as condiments. (I personally eat tons of yogurt and I am a huge fan of kimchi...I add it to pretty much everything!)
10. Be Kind to Yourself
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If we were all kinder to ourselves, I think we'd all suffer a lot less, and there would be less need for so many people to be medicated for anxiety and depression. Does your inner monologue regularly engage in overwhelmingly negative banter? This can eat away at your self esteem and keep you from being truly happy and healthy. Banishing negative self talk can take time but it's important to work on it if you are accustomed to being unkind to yourself. Things that have worked for me in this regard include: surrounding myself with encouraging, supportive friends, reciting positive affirmations (don't knock it until you try it!), learning how to be in the moment, and making a conscious effort to choose optimism over pessimism.