January 15, 2024

Near Year, Intentional Me

A new year can be a fresh start, a time to make food and exercise choices that are completely different from the ones being made on December 31st. It can also be a time to set thoughtful intentions for the coming twelve months and to look ahead with a gentle approach to nutrition and exercise-related goals.

While New Year’s resolutions get the ball rolling for many each year, they often reflect the things we feel we “should” be doing already, rather than offering realistic steps toward the routines and patterns of behavior we would like to be in long-term. It may appear that resolving to hitting the gym three times per week and only snacking on fruits and vegetables is perfectly healthful and achievable. But are those things enjoyable? While they may be, for many they are also unrealistic and unnecessary.

It is a beautiful thing to strive to make better-for-you choices all day, every day but do consider the motivation behind the desired change and what obstacles may pop up along the way. Are you setting this resolution because it is an annual tradition? Or because there is societal pressure to do something differently? In the new year, you are the same you. Let’s give thought to how we can build on behaviors that are already in place and step into the new year with intentionality.

Introducing New Foods

Let’s talk about cutting out “junk food.” Firstly, what defines a food as junk to you? And what is it about this classification of food that bothers you? Oftentimes, having a particular food is not what concerns people, but rather, frequently having it in large quantities. A common resolution, quitting a favored food cold turkey, is largely an overcorrection.

When there is pressure to avoid a food that once brought joy, there comes guilt and discouragement when that food eventually makes its return. All foods have their benefits, including pleasant taste and our enjoyment of them in good company. Rather than taking foods out, what missing foods can be included in a normal day of eating? One small step toward feeling more in control of junk food may not be giving it up, but instead pairing preferred choices with a greater variety of nutrient-dense foods, like fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, yogurt, and whole grain breads/crackers.

We eat for a lot of different reasons, and finding a balance between all foods may be helpful in seeing eating habits change by 2025. Adding nutrient-dense foods to the current menu, rather than restricting what is already on it, creates room for new opportunities and for more choice while building satisfying meals and snacks. Some applications of this include trying a new veggie each week and swapping a white roll for whole grain bread every other sandwich. Including all your favorite foods and finding favorites from all food groups may lead to greater enjoyment of choices and be helpful for long-term maintenance of behavior change.

Gentle Movement

Exercise is defined by carrying out a physical effort over a sustained period for the purpose of improving health and fitness. It is common to begin an exercise regimen on January 1st, though an overlooked aspect for some, is if the regimen is one that they can look forward to regularly doing until the next January 1st.

Striving for an hour of weightlifting four times per week or a 30-minute walk each day undoubtedly has some benefits. Also beneficial is moving your body when you can, in ways that you enjoy. Exercise involves structure and specificity, while movement can be fit in when it is comfortable. Fitting in intentional physical activity, regardless of the when and where, is another seemingly inconsequential strategy that improves health gradually. I’m not saying you won’t be able to keep up with an exercise schedule; I am saying that rigidity is not for everyone. Passing on the gym one day does not have to equal regret or the end of your road to sustainable change.

Many factors kickstart the desire to increase overall physical activity. At the start of the new year, commonly overlooked factors are fun and mental stimulation. Some days a scheduled exercise may feel taxing; You may want to opt for rest or gentle movement at times. Gentle movement can be taking a walk to clear your head or standing from your desk to stretch your muscles lightly. Playtime with your pet is movement, taking the stairs is movement, and tidying up your home is movement. Adding spurts of recreation to your day has benefits to both mental and physical well-being, and these quick, spontaneous activities can really add up!

Seeking Enjoyment

It can be exciting to set the bar high and to crush goals. It can also be very easy to be deterred from a new routine, simply because it’s uncharted territory and the related habits haven’t stuck. Sometimes we get overly ambitious and forget to think about potential roadblocks.

Maybe work or family life takes priority. Maybe the thing we want to do regularly becomes tedious. It can absolutely be helpful to create a detailed routine and to stick to a schedule. Though at the same time, doing so can create constriction to this routine and feelings that once a meal, a day, or a week doesn’t go as desired, the whole plan is out the window. By seeking enjoyment in day-to-day behaviors and making intentional choices, you give yourself grace and room to reassess the long-term goal. Consider your starting point and pick one small step that will get you closer to where you want to be. Structure can be helpful but think of it as a guideline. The rules surrounding your New Year’s resolution are self-imposed after all.

New Year’s Day means it’s time to break out a new calendar. It doesn’t have to mean it’s time to put excess pressure on yourself. Remember that improving well-being is a process and that there is joy to be found in the journey. The journey can include both sweets and vegetables, along with days of rest among the active ones.