New Year, NEW YOU

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By Barbara Quinn, MS, RD, CDE

It’s the new year. Time to turn the page and start fresh. Never mind that half the people who make new year’s resolutions abandon them within six months. Make this the year you reach your goals by looking at RESOLUTIONS in a new way:

Reflect on the changes you will need to make to reach the goals you have for this NEW YEAR. It is true that “if nothing changes, nothing changes.” So, as you turn the page on this calendar year, set your mind on one or two lifestyle habits that you may want to approach differently for the next 365 days.

Expect progress, not perfection. Go ahead. Try that low-fat milk. Take an apple to work for an afternoon snack instead of grabbing a candy bar. Order a salad instead of cream soup at a restaurant. Each step along the way will get you closer to your preferred destination.

Specify what you will do. Educators say we are more likely to accomplish goals that are SMART—specific, measurable, appropriate, realistic, and timely. For example, instead of vowing to “get more exercise,” a SMART goal is to “walk for 20 minutes on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday this week.” This approach makes it easier to track your progress as well.

Organize your calendar. We schedule appointments and lunch dates; why not set aside time to accomplish the goals that are important to us? Taking some “me” time is not only smart, it’s essential for long-term health and well-being. Like the old adage says, “If you don’t take time to be well, you will have to take time to be sick.”

Let go of “all or nothing” thinking. I only set myself up for failure if I vow to “never eat sugar” or “always exercise an hour a day.” Set goals to be achievable, not impossible.

Understand how your diet, exercise, and medications work together to improve your health and well-being. When it comes to understanding complex medical issues that affect our day-to-day functioning, it’s true that we “don’t know what we don’t know.” For example, if it’s been awhile since you had an update in how to manage your diabetes, this would be a good year to schedule an appointment with your doctor and/or diabetes educator.

Take time. Life happens. Not every day of every week will go as perfectly as you plan. Changing habits takes time and patience. Aristotle said: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.”

Invest in a pedometer. It is one of the simplest—and cheapest—ways to track your physical activity goals. Think you need to accomplish 10,000 steps a day, as many health experts suggest? Use a step counter to see where you are on a typical day. Then you can set weekly goals and track your progress over time.

Offer yourself rewards along the way. Behavior that is rewarded is more likely to continue, say experts. Improvement in A1c values (a measure of our average blood sugar levels), weight, cholesterol lab values, or energy levels are all reason to celebrate the progress we are making.

“Never, never, never give up,” said British statesman Winston Churchill. Each day is a new opportunity to practice what and how we want to be. With practice, we can learn to respond in new and better ways to the challenges of life.

Barbara Quinn, MS, RD, CDE is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator in Carmel Valley, California. Ms. Quinn writes a weekly column ON NUTRITION for the Monterey County Herald. She is the author of The Diabetes DTOUR Diet, Rodale, 2009.

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