New Year’s resolutions: Tips on eating better, exercising more

January 1, 2014 | by

Along with the midnight toast and the Times Square ball drop, New Year's resolutions are an annual tradition at the changing of the year. But for many who've resolved to lead a healthier life in 2014 through mindful eating and regular exercising, sticking with these promises for the rest of year — and beyond — is another matter.

When making New Year's resolutions, stick with steady, incremental improvements in your diet and physical activity rather than one drastic change, experts say.

When making New Year's resolutions, stick with steady, incremental improvements in your diet and physical activity rather than one drastic change, experts say.

Drastic changes, like going on a diet that eliminates entire food categories or suddenly engaging in rigorous exercise routines, can backfire, according to Peggy Mancini, M.S., R.D., a clinical dietitian at City of Hope, and Jeanette DePatie, a certified fitness instructor who calls herself "The Fat Chick." Not only are these changes difficult to stick with, they can be downright harmful, these experts say.

"Really long and intense workouts after being sedentary for a while ... are a recipe for pain and injury. That is why the sports medicine guys are so busy in February," DePatie says.

"Any diet that restricts a food group results in a loss of nutrients unique to that group. The lost weight is unlikely to be kept off if it's not an eating plan you can stick with," she says.

Instead, Mancini and DePatie offer these tips to resolution-makers so they can keep their promises for better health this year:

  1. Plan for incremental changes. Both Mancini and DePatie say that changes to diet and activity should be steady and gradual so they can be lifelong, sustainable habits. These small changes can include eating an extra serving of fruit or vegetable a day, switching from full-fat to low- or nonfat dairy products, and forgoing sweetened beverages. For exercise, DePatie says, weekly improvements should be no more than 10 percent per week (e.g. if you can comfortably break a sweat walking 10,000 steps today, do not aim for more than 11,000 steps by next week.)
  2. Find activities you enjoy. "If your exercise routine is boring, painful or just not fun, the TV will win every time," DePatie says. She encourages people to go "fitness dating" and try a wide variety of activities until they find something they enjoy. And they should continue to mix it up to avoid falling into a humdrum routine.
  3. Keep a journal. Keeping tally of your food intake and activity — either in a physical journal, online website or a mobile app — is a great way for resolution-makers to maintain awareness and build progress by letting them "review and decide what they want to improve upon," according to Mancini. Additionally, journaling helps one create an actionable plan with concrete goals ahead of time.
  4. Focus on intrinsic rewards. Both Mancini and DePatie advocate looking beyond external measures, such as a number on the scale, when engaging in healthy habits. "Changes in how you feel can occur after just a few minutes of exercise," DePatie says. Likewise, Mancini says people should see their resolutions as a "lifelong investment in themselves, their loved ones and others around them who will be inspired by their healthy habits."

Mancini and DePatie agree that resolutions — reasonable ones you can commit to —  have tangible and lasting benefits.

"In the short term, exercise lifts your mood, helps you cope with stress, clears your mind, strengthens your memory, helps you feel better, helps you sleep and helps you have a better sex life," DePatie says.

And for the long haul, Mancini says, a healthy diet and exercise regimen "reduces the risk of diabetes, many types of cancer, heart disease and hypertension."

Have questions about staying fit in the new year? Check out our TweetChat.

For more tips, or to share your suggestions and your goals, please join the tweet chat Thursday, Jan. 2, at 11 a.m. Pacific Time by following @cityofhope and @thefatchicksings on #COHChat.