The most common New Year’s resolution is to get fit and healthy. Typically, that involves dieting and losing weight. Making any change, especially one that has lasting effects, is a process.
It starts with a goal and a reason for it.
“Keep on coming back to the why, and what is the real purpose behind that,” said Capt. Joshua Lockwood, chief of Madigan Army Medical Center’s Clinical Nutrition Services, regarding the establishment of a new diet. Outlining the end goal is vital to designing a path to achieve and sustain it.
If the end goal is to drop a few pounds to pass the tape measurement portion of the physical fitness test, the ideal choice is likely a strict and quick diet. If improved health is the intent, significant changes to habits both in terms of diet and physical activity are likely necessary, Lockwood said.
Once the goal is defined, Lockwood recommends doing a baseline assessment.
“Usually awareness is the number one factor of change, so just become more aware of what your current habits are,” Lockwood said. “Just for a week, record one to three days, and just kind of see what that looks like, see if anything jumps out at you. From that point, you can start making changes because the general recommendations for nutrition have not changed.”
Tracking food, physical activity and even sleep — an often overlooked element vital to overall health — can be done simply with a notepad or by taking advantage of a plethora of smartphone apps, many of which are free.
When choosing a diet and exercise plan, there are many aspects to consider. How much energy is needed for the typical day and expected activity level? What sort of metabolism is at play? What foods are particularly challenging, for example, are carbohydrates a favorite food that would be particularly difficult to completely cut out of a diet?
“There are so many variables, and that’s where coming in and talking to your dietitian can help,” Lockwood said.
He would also recommend that diabetic and renal patients consult their providers before changing their diets. Young teenagers should also receive some attention to ensure there is no development of eating disorders or overuse injuries due to changed diets or physical activity.
Attending a class offered by the Nutrition Clinic at Madigan could also prove useful in getting started on planning and goal setting for increased health. Class options focus on requirements for the physical fitness tests, civilian weight management and cardiac care. Classes do not require a referral.
“Environment plays a big role, whether the physical environment or the social environment,” Lockwood said.
A significant key to success that is part of the social environment is support, according to Lockwood. A class may offer some support, as would walking groups at work and engaging family and friends at home in a health improvement effort.
Establishing a support system around realistic goals will help make the effort more fun, and therefore more sustainable, and inject accountability. People are more cognizant of their behavior when there is an expectation of reporting on it.
Changes in the physical environment can include placing treats out of sight. Lockwood explained that studies show removing visual cues helps resist emotional eating — eating because of boredom, loneliness, exhaustion or unhappiness instead of hunger.
Making the physical environment conducive to making healthy choices can also happen through planning for the realities of life. Given that weekdays are busy and cooking a healthy meal at home is not always realistic, having quick go-to options that are still healthy can help.
Doing some meal preparation ahead of time, like on the weekend, can work. Also, involve the whole family in choosing and using new recipes.
“Bouncing ideas off of other people works very well, and asking each family member to come up with a new recipe for the week,” Lockwood said.
Visit the Army Quartermaster Corps’ Joint Culinary Center of Excellence nutrition page for additional information and resources to include an index of recipes and training materials on the Army Food Program at tinyurl.com/7u94un7. Nutrition information can also be found at choosemyplate.gov.
Editor’s note: Suzanne Ovel contributed to this story.