After The Champagne, the Resolutions?

I apologize for my poor use of the language. You see, every January at my gym, the parking lot gets crowded, the locker room gets jammed, and suddenly strange people are mobbing the classes that the rest of us attend the rest of the year. The gym staff refer to these new attendees as “resolution-ers”. They are the people who make those New Years resolutions to get in shape.

It’ll be back to normal by the end of February.

I’ve never understood the whole New Year’s resolution thing. I suppose it’s a traditional response to the overindulgence of the holidays, and a psychological new beginning in a new year. It also seems like it doesn’t work. Especially come February, when all those committed people have stopped coming to the gym.

Most of us do want to change something for the better, like eat more vegetables, or eat less desserts. But will we?

For a behavioral change to take, it really takes some thought and planning. Psychologists have defined the stages of change. The first is called “pre-contemplation.” That is the period where you get really, really sick of yourself. You are in denial about the issue, but it’s there. Some people never get to stage 2, as they rationalize the status quo.  It’s part of the process, because this motivates you. Looking in the mirror and saying “I am so sick of  ____” is the unpleasant beginning of many great transformations.

Stage 2, “contemplation,” is when you start consciously thinking that you can do something to turn it around. You see all kinds of reasons not to make change, but you start working it through in your mind.

Stage 3 is “preparation.” It’s essential to start collecting information and trying out some initial steps. This would be when you start forming realistic goals and the ways that you will achieve them.

Stage 4 is “action,” when you full-on commit to the new program. Now that you have laid the groundwork and set yourself up with new habits, you are ready to act.

Stage 5 is “maintenance,” the stage at which all those gym-goers lose their way. It’s one thing to start a diet, and another to finish it, you might say.

So, for the January 1st date to really work as a starting point, you need to have started this thing by now. Let’s say that you want to eat better, and you are good and sick of the results of your current habits. What does that mean in practice?

Are you somebody who needs to get a menu plan and follow a diet, or can you just adopt a few new resolutions, like eating a salad every day and only having treats on the weekend? How can you work your new commitment into your schedule, so that it becomes a habit?

We all work a little differently, but we are all brought down the same way. To see your positive changes through to stage 5, you have to make them easy to do. When it comes to eating better, the absolute most important thing is planning.

You can have all the best intentions, but unless you plan out your shopping, cooking and snacking, you will be swimming against the current. We are surrounded by unhealthy, easy options and advertising that urges us to indulge. If you come home too tired to cook and order pizza alot, find some foods that you can keep on hand for those nights. If you skip breakfast and end up eating donuts mid morning at work, stock up on better breakfasts.

So if you, like millions of other people, want to make some healthy eating resolutions for 2011, let the planning stage begin. When will you do your menu plan, shop, and cook? Be realistic, that always helps. Have some better options in the pantry, in your desk at work, in the glove box of your car, if need be, to keep you from falling into the hunger trap. Make the right choice the default, so that you don’t have an excuse.

Whether you are resolving to eat less, eat better, or just eat more plants, you can do it. You just have to make it as easy as possible for yourself while you are feeling energetic and committed, so that when you aren’t feeling that way, it’s easier to just stick with the plan.

And if you need the month of January to get to stage 4, that is ok, too. It’s far better to make a change that you will be ready to stick to at any time of year than to take another failing stab at it just because everybody else is.


Low Fat Vegetable Soup